Tag Archives: french books

Dutch Literature Month… and how I’m turning into George Bush Jr

I feel as though I’m about to do a metaphorical GWB Jr.: biting into the massive (still metaphorical) pretzel of my dreams, knowing that I might forget how to chew and pass out on the floor… What is this ‘pretzel’? Another couple of reading challenges. XD

The first and most interesting of the two is Dutch Literature Month as hosted by iris on books. My only exposure to Dutch literature is Within Temptation’s song lyrics and a really cool poem by P.A. Génestet, which goes something like:

Oh land of filth and fog, of vile rain chill and stinging,
A sodden fetid plot of vapours dank and damp,
A vast expanse of mire and blocked roads clogged and clinging,
Brimful of gamps and gout, of toothache and of cramp!

Oh dreary mushy swamp, oh farmyard of galoshes,
With marsh frogs, dredgers, cobblers, mud gods overrun,
With every shape and size of duck that therein sploshes,
Receive this autumn dirge from your besnotted son!

To mud your claggy climate makes my blood set slowly;
Song, hunger, joy and peace are all withheld from me.
Pull your galoshes on, ancestral ground most holy,
You – not at my request – once wrested from the sea.

Anyway, I aim to read 2 or 3 titles for this challenge and am open to suggestions. So if anyone’s read a book by a Dutch author that they particularly enjoyed (or didn’t) then I’m happy to hear about it. 🙂

(As yet un-named) Second Challenge

This challenge is my self-imposed ‘pretzel-swallowing’ one. Between the 23rd May and the 2nd July, I have three aims. Firstly, to read thirty books, secondly, to watch either 30 films or ten television series. Thirdly, I hope to complete the Michel Thomas basic Polish course in preparation for going to Poland and meeting the other half’s family. I’m doing this to make up for all the time I spent reading academic articles and grammar books instead of fiction and non-university related stuff. I’m also going to try to read three of those books in Spanish (I read really slowly in Spanish).

Fortunately, Aix has some really beautiful places to sit and read in and none of them are more than a thirty-minute walk from my doorstep. (So I can listen to the Polish course for short bursts without getting to tense). This also means I’ll get a fair amount of fresh air every day and the chance to read whatever I feel like. Am I crazy? Quite possibly, but this is almost certainly going to be the last summer when I’ll be able to call myself a student. So this summer I’m going to do all of the cool, fun, crazy things I did during the summer holidays when I was little. There will probably be other, equally insane challenges for July to September. Again, ideas are welcome, so if anyone wants to do a read-along or ‘genre-fest’, then I’m totally up for it. 🙂
Enough about me.

What’s everyone else up to over the summer?


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Newsflash: Books TBR mission failure

Report to Field Marshal T.B.R. forClass


Yesterday, I went to the main town library on mission Only One. Instructions were clear:
find one book entitled, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal.
Get book out using library card and whatever other wiles necessary.
Return to base immediately.

 Upon entering the non-studying section (where this small but vital piece of work was rumoured to be hiding) I realized that there was a problem. The layout of the room had changed since my last mission there, two weeks ago. As I tried to look for landmarks to guide me to the afore-mentioned book’s home I heard a sound, a susurration that seemed to come from one of the nearest shelves. Warily approaching, I spied a slim book that was trying to escape. It refused to say more than its title: Plus tard, tu comprendras [you will understand later].

Twenty minutes and three books later I spied the book I needed to get. As I neared the table it was on, another pair of books jumped out and surprised me. They swore that I would not be able to leave without them.

I am not sure as to what happened next… over an hour later, I left with the book I had set out to take as per my orders and six others.

I am sorry for my disobedience and shall endeavour not to put my grades at risk for the sake of these books and any others that cross my path in the future.

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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Books


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{Review} A Way of life (Une Forme de Vie)- Amelie Nothomb

In the land of quirky literature, it is sometimes difficult for a book to garner enough praise to gain it anything but the dubious honour of a loyal cult following. If her position in the French book charts is anything to go by, Amélie Nothomb’s work definitely appeals to a growing number of readers.

And it is definitely surreal. Prior to winning the ‘Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française’ in 1999 for her fierce Fear and Trembling, she and her work were  continually derided by critics who tended to view her work as flights of fantasy that were best left unread.

The question is this: is Nothomb still able to deliver the unique experience that endeared her to her judges over a decade ago?

‘This morning, I received a different kind of letter.’
One morning, Nothomb receives a letter from one of her readers, an American soldier called Melvin Mapple, who is fighting in Iraq. Horrified by the endless violence around him, he takes comfort in over-eating. Over-eating until his fat starts to suffocate him and he can barely fit into XXXXL clothes. Disgusted with himself, but unable to control his eating, he takes his mind off his ever-growing bulk by naming it Scheherazade and pretending that he is not alone at night with his flesh.

Although initially repulsed, Nothomb is fascinated and begins exchanging letters in earnest with Mapple.

Nothomb carefully unravelled the story from the start, developing the main characters gradually. Just fast enough to keep the story going, but not so fast as to be unrealistic. By the time Mapple started to get into the details of his life, I was hooked.

Whilst Nothomb is the narrator and plays a significant role in the novel, it is the character, Mapple’s story-telling abilities that come to the fore. The first clue we have as to this is his naming of his excess weight after the story-telling wife in Arabian Nights. For every instance that Nothomb’s character sits and tangentially contemplates her life and woes, Mapple’s gets to the heart of the issue he wishes to address in his letter.

And Mapple chooses his subjects carefully. His first letter uses strong, abrupt language to describe the war in Iraq. In later letters, he uses more nuanced language to write about his opinion of the invasion. But this criticism forms only a small part of his letters: his main focus is his weight. His size obsesses him, fascinates him, disgusts him at times and alienates him from a vast number of people, especially his slim colleagues.

In the army canteen, they mock him and his clinically obese colleagues.

‘So what did you do in the war apart from eat?’ they jeer.

They look down on the obese as undisciplined grotesques who pad themselves out with fat to make up for all manner of (supposed) deficiencies.

 Mapple writes about these daily struggles to Nothomb, who ‘will not judge’ [him]. He gives a voice to a group that previously suffered in silence, and this voice is usually eloquent and compelling.

 There are also moments when Mapple becomes repulsive, particularly when he starts to note down every calorie he has consumed in an attempt to make his body into a living art project.

The end of the novel spirals quickly out of control and into the surreal bleak comedy that made Fear and Trembling so exciting to read. Here, events move so rapidly compared to the middle section of the novel that I felt somewhat cheated by the neatness of the ending and how quickly it was wrapped up. Although that feeling was probably mostly due to my desire to have the two characters continue to exist and develop.

Experimenting with the epistolary style whilst interweaving her own private beliefs and experiences in asides to the reader; this is Nothomb at her best. She dwells on issues that have not received much press coverage, such as obesity in the U.S. Army and brings up issues that have been mentioned in the press. Such as her way of using surrealism and extended metaphors to lend weight to her work and, in some paradoxical way, to make it more real than it could otherwise have been.

Wild Night In: Win!

Read for the Read French Books and European Reading Challenges


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