Re-read: The Fall

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Read 01/12/2016

Rating: 4 stars

I first read Camus’s The Fall in sixth form. I took General Studies as an extra A-Level because I’d had to give up some subjects I loved and GS gave me the chance to pretend I was still studying them. We had time with teachers from a range of subjects, and our English teacher came armed with a list of authors that I’m ever grateful for meeting. Margaret Atwood, Anita Brookner, Julian Barnes, Michael Frayn. Her aim was to make us read widely and contemporarily.

The Fall was less contemporary and while I enjoyed it, I’d say that aged 17, I didn’t have the life experience I needed to understand it. Continue reading

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Bonjour Tristesse

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Read 30/08/2016-31/08/2016

Rating: 4 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Olympic Challenge

The cover of this translation of Françoise Sagan’s classic coming of age tale has a quote that calls it thoroughly immoral. The back of the book tells me that it scandalised 1950s France with the main character’s rejection of conventional notions of love.

What was love like in 1950s France, then? What’s immoral about finding pleasure in desire and enjoyment in sex?

Continue reading

Archive Fever

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Read 01/04/2016-03/04/2016

Rating: 3 stars

This book has been on my shelf for almost a decade. People who think about what archives are and what archiving is refer to it a lot. I was at a conference recently about the role of research in museums, and I found myself thinking about my own attitude to research, and to reflection. I came to the conclusion that I am a do-er rather than a thinker. I would rather do the practical job of being an archivist, gaining satisfaction from collecting archives and describing them, then making them accessible to the people who do the thinking. I’m not one for contemplating my own navel, which is how thinking about archives feels to me. That’s why I’ve never picked it up before now.

I picked it up now because I nominated it for the March Madness challenge on The Reader’s Room. So I had to read it! Continue reading

Zazie in the Metro (Zazie dans le Métro)

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Read 10/11/2015-11/11/2015

Rating: 4 stars

Continuing my French interlude, while we were in Paris we dropped into Shakespeare and Company. I wanted to visit this iconic bookshop that specialises in English language publications and sits almost at the centre of Paris because of Mrs Hemingway. Hemingway had a habit of taking his conquests for the approval of its owner, Sylvia Beach. I didn’t realise, though, that the shop at Kilometre Zéro, is a different shop. Beach’s original Shakespeare & Co, haunt of Hemingway, Eliot, Pound and Joyce, was at Rue de l’Odéon. The shop we visited opened in 1951 and got its current name in 1964. A different Sylvia runs it.

It’s still a wonderful shop. I could have spent hours in there, but it’s so tiny and so busy that I decided not to linger. I was searching for a copy of Claudine in Paris by Colette, but they were out of stock. Instead, I picked up Zazie in the Metro. Continue reading

Vertigo (Boileau-Nacejac)

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Read 08/11/2015-10/11/2015

Rating: 5 stars

Read for week 4 of The Reader’s Room Halloween challenge.

I was intrigued to read the book which became a Hitchcock film. Especially because I read that Boileau and Nacejac wrote it with Hitchcock in mind, after he failed to secure the rights to their first novel. I like the film. The book is just different enough to make it better than the film. The setting of Paris at the start of WW2 adds to the melancholy of the anti-hero Flavières. I think his status as a young enough man not at war is more important than his titular vertigo. The second part of the book is significantly different, and more satisfying, than the film. The story is exquisitely turned, the characters sighingly believable. Continue reading

Life: A User’s Manual

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Read 02/10/2015-14/10/2015

Rating: 5 stars

We went to Paris for my birthday last October. In preparation, I wanted to read a novel set in the city and a popular history of the city. I didn’t choose wisely with the popular history, but I had more joy with the novel. I’d sensibly gone to the Shakespeare and Company website and checked out staff member Camille Racine’s bookshelf French titles for the Uninitiated for ideas. I picked out Life: A User’s Manual based on its description.

It’s a wonderful puzzle of a book, with pieces of people’s stories slotting together. It’s no coincidence that jigsaws, crosswords and recursive images are scattered throughout the narrative. I loved the structure of the story, the setting of the apartment block and the way the inhabitants were gradually inventoried, their stories unfurling. At times it made me think of Wes Anderson films, with their compartments and vignettes. I wonder if he has read this novel. I felt sad when it ended. I enjoyed getting to know the inhabitants of this Parisian apartment block. They led extraordinary lives. And it prepared me very well for our stay in an apartment in Montmartre, too.