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Found 8 results

  1. Older Brother is an interesting study of what it is to be a Muslim in modern day France. The two brothers have Syrian heritage but moved to France many years before the current Syrian conflict. Their father is an atheist communist, and they have French Breton ancestry on their mother's side. So in fact, the two brothers are only Muslim through people's assumptions rather than their own upbringing. However, this is enough to create a distance between them and their French neighbours. The older brother drives for Uber. His father has invested his pension fund into an official taxi licence and has to sit watching helplessly as the Uber wave washes away the value of the official licences. The younger brother is a trained nurse who has volunteered with a shadowy NGO to offer healthcare to embattled Muslim populations around the world. Perhaps he is in Syria. The story foll0ws the brothers as they reunite in Paris - the younger brother having fled from Raqqa after finding the Islamic dream was really a nightmare. But France does not welcome returning jihadists, suspecting that many are sleeper agents pursuing a suicide-terror agenda. The novel explores themes of conflicted loyalties - the loyalty to a brother or to a state; loyalty to a heritage or to a future. There are questions of trust; how far can you trust someone when their story keeps changing? Is this someone gradually coming clean or someone further obfuscating? And as older brother is expected to side with the state and the law, he finds that the state and the law do not reciprocate. The story is compelling and complex. The pacing, however, starts off quite slowly. There are parts of the older brother's voice that feel quite clunky and it isn't clear whether this is supposed to reflect a narrator who is not completely comfortable speaking French or whether it is a sign of poor translation from French to English. Overall, though, these are minor considerations in a novel that is readable, suspenseful and addresses important and current social issues. ****0
  2. Review of History of Violence by Edouard Louis, translated by Lorin Stein The follow on to the autobiographical novel of The End of Eddy and Eddy is now living in Paris and heading to his apartment after a Christmas Eve meet with friends for Dinner. He is stopped in the street by a stranger and while Eddy tries to get away, eventually they both go back to hi with the night ending in Reda raping, assaulting and trying to murder Eddy. The novel deals with the event and aftermath, told through both Eddy's point of view and from listening to his sister tell her husband about what happened. This I found to be a very engrossing, heartfelt, afflicting read about the trauma of a traumatic event, trying to tell it to the French police the incident but responses of racism as the perpetrator was of North African descent, trying to deal with friends and family about the incident. The narration of the event takes on a kind of slow motion in it. Definitely not a book for everyone but I did feel that despite the difficult subject of the novel, that it was an excellent, affecting and absorbing read. * * * * *
  3. Review of The Bear and the Paving Stone by Toshiyuku Horie, translated by Geraint Howells This short story collection has three stories in it. In the first, the title story, a man visits his friend from Petanque in Western France and has a weird dream involving the footpath becoming bears. Further to this, both recollecting of the past and looking at the present where the narrator gets to know the friend's neighbour and her blind son. The friend is Jewish and there is remembrance to events of World War 2 in the novel. The second story is about the narrator joining a woman on a beach to remember the anniversary of her brother's death (his friend) and the third involves two friends breaking into an old castle, one where the groundskeeper would even refuse the President of the Republic if he didn't have proper authorisation The Bear and Paving Stone * * * * * Sandman is Coming * * * 1/2 The Old Castle * * * * All three stories were very good and I really enjoyed this collection, rather than full plotted stories, this is more about interaction between people than intrinsic plots and complicated storylines. At times, funny, other times heartfelt, it is always a pleasure when a short story collection does not let me down in the reading of it. Good collection * * * *
  4. Review of The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis, translated by Michael Lucey This is a novel based on Louis' own upbringing, growing up in the 1990s in northern France (a small village in the Picardy region). To this life, Eddy is born as his father's first and mother's third child (her first husband died from cirrhosis of the liver). His father also seems to be going to go that way, with an alcohol problem mixed with a fighting problem. His father's alcohol fuelled rages often descending into tirades against homosexuality. Eddy as a boy is effeminate and this causes difficulty as where he is growing up, an importance is placed on the gender roles of masculinity and femininity (indeed this showed when eddy's father was annoyed when he found out in the home care job that his mum was doing, she was earning €1,000 so had forced her to give it up), role that as a boy Eddy doesn't fit. His father found it humiliating when he had to try to find reasons why young Eddy didn't want to play football. Eddy was also better friends with girls than with boys (later on when refering to boys he hung around with, he would use mates italicised to indicate that he didn't really feel that way. Despite this, the homophobia expressed by his parents, there are some tenderness in their relationship and his father despite some protestations, does love Eddy as shown I could really identify to the problems in part 1 that Eddy experienced, trying to fit in in gender roles when you don't naturally fit in to them. Part 2 not so much but part 1 about the difficulty of trying to fit in to an ideal that you don't fit into, I can relate. There is a brutal honesty in the narrative which I appreciated. It was a novel I really liked and a real credit to Louis' writing. * * * * *
  5. How's The Pain is an odd little French novella. It opens with a death, and then we spend the rest of the piece trying to work out how we got there. Broadly, the novella features Simon Marechall, who works in pest control, hiring Bernard, the indolent son of Anais - a woman who pretends to run a shop to mask her own inactivity - to drive him to and from one last job. On the way they meet various people and discover more about each other. There is an air of menace throughout and one fears for Bernard. Bernard is intriguing; optimistic, very selective in the application of his moral scruples, and desperately in need of a life away from his mother. Anais, too, casts a long shadow despite featuring only briefly. Her belief that the world owes her a living is staggering; she refuses to carry money and resents even the one night Bernanrd is away from home. Simon is thinly drawn; he seems not to have much meaningful past and really just plays a role of listening to Bernard. Not much happens. It's a bit like Pulp Fiction where the two guys spend time nonchalantly discussing life, the universe and Royales with Cheese in between acts of evil. Here in France we have those conversations in servoes and campsites rather than in diners and parking lots, but the idea is the same. How's The Pain bills itself as a full novel. It isn't. It is a competent novella but it lacks the depth and character development of a novel. It does create an atmosphere of menace but doesn't do much with it. Being a French work, set in France, it is too easy to categorise it as Noir, but the comic repartee should really disqualify it from that category. I think this is the kind of book that a publisher would decribe as “hard to place”. It's the second Pascal Garnier work I have read; both were OK but not hing to suggest I should seek out a third. ***00
  6. Having been impressed by this author's 'Alex' (existing thread) I was keen to read his earlier police procedural. The description of the first crime scene is certainly not for the squeamish. Any of you who are fans of American noir thriller-writing might cotton on earlier than others what is going on here. Commandant Camille Verhoeven starts to cotton on himself. It is not quite as absorbing or tightly written as 'Alex' but nevertheless clever. An excellent translation as well.
  7. This is a bleak little novella. We visit a new gated retirement village sold on promises and goodwill. Alas, the five residents (two couples and a single lady) don't really like each other. Nor do they like M. Flesh, the caretaker. Their dislike is reciprocated. In a Ballard-esque way, the retirees gradually break down and their humanity disintegrates. Fans of High Rise and Concrete Island will enjoy Moon in a Dead Eye. There is an inevitability to it all - you aren't reading Pascal Garnier for a love story - but it is intriguing to work pout exactly how it will all unravel. The characters are relatively straightforward although some of them only become clear towards the end. The atmosphere is done well, with a feeling of isolation and helplessness, the initial optimism that things might work out evaporating slowly. There is surprising subtlety in a work this short and the reader is left wanting more. ****0
  8. First off: don't read Tom McCarthy's introduction - it gives away the whole thing. So, Swimming Home is a very short novel that starts with an intriguing two page snippet featuring a man who has been unfaithful He just wants to get back home to his family. Most of the rest of the novel is a dissection of how that situation arose. The situation turns out to be a famous poet, Jozef Jacobs, on holiday with his wife and daughter and two family friends in the Alpes Maritime in France, mid 1994. Their holiday gets off to an unusual start as they find a stranger at their holiday villa. They welcome the stranger into their midst which, previous novels would suggest, is unlikely to end well. The strength in Swimming Home is that although the menace is ever present, it is not clear exactly how it will manifest itself. Who will end up hurting whom - and why? The characterisation is not great. Only Kitty Finch, the interloper, seems to have any trace of a third dimension. It really isn't intended to be a character driven novel and the short length wouldn't offer the space for such depth. Instead, it all hinges on atmosphere and suspense, which is why Tom McCarthy's introduction is all the more reprehensible. So where does Deborah Levy score in Swimming Home? Well, some of the imagery is memorable. Some of the phrasing is quite appealing. And there is real atmosphere. It's just it doesn't feel quite enough. And too much hinges on a poem of devastating power and significance, but the poem is never revealed. This starts out to be tantalising but ends up making the reader suspect that Levy was simply not able to create such a poem. The novel doesn't feel complete and the short-term gratification from reading it soon evaporates, leaving not much trace behind. Swimming Home will pass some time (but not much time) but it's difficult to see it as anything more significant. ***00
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