Alan Hollinghurst is a gifted English author, whose work I’ve only just discovered. I need your help for recommendations – which of his other books should I read next? The Stranger’s Child, his latest novel, impressed me with its clearly-articulated themes: what it means to be English, the place of literature in our lives, the vagaries of memory, the changes in social attitudes to gay relationships. Continue reading
Monthly Archives: May 2012
Payneham Library and Community Facilities Complex, 2 Turner Street, Felixstow SA 5070
In this workshop you will learn the basics of binding, how they get those ridges on the spine and the delight of making something majestic. So come and join Samantha Winston over 4 fantastic sessions and make a Medieval book. Monday May 28th, $th June, 18th June & 25th June, 4 x 4hr sessions. Cost $20
What a brilliant way to celebrate The National Year of Reading: learning to bind beautiful, real books (Payneham Library, Adelaide)
To conclude the May theme with the origin of the phrase ‘Mayday’ (Venez m’aider – help me), we’ll look at some French fiction. Here are five must-read gems from one of the most beautiful languages in the world.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782)
What the French do best: sex and scandal. Laclos’ novel is written as a series of letters, giving each character their own distinctive voice and their own perspective on the strange events that unfold in some very, very dangerous liaisons. If the plot sounds familiar when you read it, that may be because you’ve seen one of the film versions – think Michelle Pfeiffer and John Malkovich, or Reese Witherspoon in Cruel Intentions. Try this translation.
Madame Bovary (1856)
Flaubert’s most famous novel, about a very unhappy woman in a very unhappy relationship. Emma Bovary is a wonderful creation, the archetypal desperate housewife seeking love and luxury outside a dull marriage. The real gift of the novel is how the author manages to make this silly, greedy, overly-romantic character into one of the great tragic heroines of literature. Inevitably, it all ends in tears – the reader’s as well as Emma Bovary’s. Try this translation.
Camus’ existential novel opens with one of the most famous lines in literature: ‘Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. Ou peut- être hier, je ne sais pas.’ (Today my mother died. Or maybe it was yesterday. I don’t know.) Meursault is one of life’s outsiders ; his lack of feeling is incomprehensible to most of the people he meets. When he commits an apparently motiveless murder, he is put on trial for what he is rather than for what he has done. (Remember that Lindy Chamberlain made the mistake of appearing cold and unemotional , too.) Try this translation.
Eugénie Grandet (1833)
One of Balzac’s most famous and beautiful novels, part of his magnificent series, La Comédie humaine. Eugénie is a gentle, good-natured country girl who is mistreated by the two men who should protect her: her father and her cousin. Grandet is extremely miserly ; he even begrudges his daughter a candle to light her way to bed. And the girl’s adored cousin Charles is fickle and selfish, unworthy of the affection that she lavishes on him. A poignant story, exquisitely written. Try this translation.
Le Silence de la Mer (1942)
Another novel about intimacy and mutual incomprehension, this work by ‘Vercors’ is set in a France that is ravaged by World War II. A German soldier is billeted in a French family’s home; the owner and his niece despise him, but slowly learn that he is like them – a human being trying to come to terms with the changes that war has brought into his life. Very powerful, very moving – and, for me, very nostalgic (it was on the school syllabus, one of the first French novels that I read!) Try this translation.
Mayday has a very specific meaning in Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale (1985): it is the name given to the underground resistance movement opposing the totalitarian regime in the Republic of Gilead. Essentially, Mayday is a cry for help : the ‘republic’ is a powerful theocracy that violently oppresses its people, especially its women. Whereas the citizens of Oceania in Orwell’s 1984 are suppressed for political reasons, the people of Gilead are subjugated by a fundamentalist reading of the Bible. Continue reading
There are many ways of celebrating books and reading in the National Year of Reading and this is one of them : last Friday’s Adelaide screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous black-and-white film Rebecca (1940). Based on Daphne du Maurier’s best-selling 1938 novel, Rebecca is a classic of twentieth-century Gothic fiction. Continue reading
1984 was written in 1948, and it’s included in the May Day collection because of its ties to socialism. The well-known English author, George Orwell, was a political activist as well as a writer, and his most famous works were driven by his profound opposition to totalitarianism. Just as Joseph Heller gave us the expression Catch-22, George Orwell presented us with Big Brother.
One of American playwright Tennessee Williams’ most famous plays is being performed in Adelaide this month. The Glass Menagerie (1945) is one of Williams’ early works, and deals with his major theme, a preoccupation with the intimacies and tragedies of family life. Two years after he brought Menagerie’s shy Laura and her domineering mother Amanda to the stage, he wrote his greatest play, the tragic Streetcar Named Desire.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Adelaide director and cast’s discussion of the current production of The Glass Menagerie at the wonderful Burnside Library (one of our public libraries that does the ‘we do more than lend books’ thing with style and integrity – I get so tired of simplistic claims that public libraries are suddenly ‘relevant’ to Australians because they are “as likely to help you apply online for a parking permit or submit a legal form digitally as find you a book.”)
Catch-22, Joseph Heller’s brilliant, black novel about the horror of war, gives us a bleak version of Mayday: the international radio distress signal used by ships and aircraft, the signal that foreshadows disaster.
The protagonist, Yossarian, is an American fighter pilot trapped in the insanity of World War II. The craziness of the danger and terror he experiences - people who don’t know him are trying to kill him – is exemplified in the army’s rules. A pilot who is declared insane doesn’t have to fly any more combat missions. But there’s a catch.
‘Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.’ Continue reading
The first of May, May Day, contains a multitude of meanings. Traditional rural English celebrations include maypoles, Morris dancing and the crowning of the May Queen (think Midsomer Murders: village greens, duck ponds, cottages with thatched eaves.) But May Day also has significance as International Workers Day, a time of celebration for labour and socialist movements, commemorated with marches and demonstrations in the streets of cities and towns all over the world.
Then there’s the military usage of Mayday, the universal signal for ‘help!’, derived from the French expression ‘Venez m’aider’. This is where we’re going to start with suggestions for this month’s reading, but we’ll cover all of the meanings of May Day in one way or another – and look at some of the world’s best 20th century fiction.