Sunday, 22 April 2018

Poolside Reading

With a major holiday on the horizon, it has got me thinking about holiday reading. Kate recently mentioned two books that she read whilst lying poolside in her latest #6degrees meme; one was a good choice, one not so much.

We've all done it.
In the excitement of planning a holiday; we forget one of the most important elements. What will we read on the plane? at the end of each day? on a rainy day? or by the pool?

As an avid reader, I have rarely been caught without a book and I usually go home with more books than I originally packed! My ability to pick the right book for each holiday has almost become an art form in and of itself. But I have got it wrong occasionally.

Reading Stephen King's Pet Semetary in a quiet, dark caravan park on the north coast of NSW surrounded by rustling trees was one of those not so inspired choices. Attempting a reread of The Odyssey as I was travelling around Europe in 1991 seemed like a good idea at the time, but Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs was the more practical (& social) thing to do. After reading it, I simply passed it on the next person on the bus - it gave us all something to talk about and scare each other with for the rest of the trip. With The Odyssey I was on my own!

My holiday reading depends on the reason for the travel in the first place and the choice of destination. If I'm heading off to a beachside resort or bungalow with a pool for a relaxing break, then my book selection is very different than if I'm planning a major overseas jaunt to somewhere new and exciting. Poolside reads often have nothing to do with my location, but major overseas holidays are definite candidates for book matching.

My first trip skiing saw me travel with Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow by Peter Hoeg - perfect!

My first trip to England saw me read so many books (I was in London for 6 months) it's hard to recall all of them, but the highlights were Forever Amber by Kathleen Windsor, discovering Monica Dickens and binge watching Police Rescue when I felt homesick!

On my second trip to the UK, I read On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, on Chesil Beach.

We also visited Lyme Regis in honour of Persuasion and The French Lieutenant's Woman and we watched a performance of The Merchant of Venice in The Globe Theatre. And thanks to a little library in a B&B near Hadrian's Wall, I discovered Daphne du Maurier's Mary Anne. Curiously I had taken my much loved copy of Brideshead Revisited on the holiday with me, but couldn't read it at all. The tone and atmosphere was all wrong. It was too hard to be ironic and satirical whilst in happy holiday mode.

In Adelaide I read Kerry Goldsworthy's Adelaide and on a soccer trip to Canberra I read The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers. In New Zealand, many years ago, I made myself read Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff.

My first time in WA was with Salmon Rushdie oddly enough. Midnight's Children had nothing to do what I was seeing and experiencing, yet the book was so powerful that it will now forever be linked with WA and WA with Midnight's Children. My second time in WA seemed the perfect opportunity to reread Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. It was. My third time in WA revisited some of the same ground that I had explored in the first. It was really weird having memories of India pop into my head in certain places! The book I actually took on this trip, though, was a disaster. It was my CCspin book The Brother's Karamazov - most definitely NOT a holiday read.

My first time in Bali saw me pack Inspector Singh Investigates: A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul which was a great choice. But even better was the book I found in a local Seminyak bookshop, Love and Death in Bali by Vicki Baum.

Our trip to Vietnam was busy and tiring and I didn't have much time for reading, so a book of short stories was the right choice in the end. The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith was beautifully written and slightly creepy at the same time. The stories were set in the USA and Vietnam and they were full of fascinating characters both real and spectral.

In Cuba I read Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana - the descriptions of Havana and Santiago de Cuba were so spot on thanks to the time-stood-still feel in much of this country.

Our honeymoon in Hawaii was a Kiana Davenport-fest. Song of Exile was a vivid, memorable story whilst House of Many Gods didn't leave as big an impression. Whilst in Honolulu, at the end of our trip, I picked up a copy of Moloka'i and Honolulu by Alan Brennert. Not the cheeriest of topics, but if you're ever going to read a book about leprosy (then Korean brides), then Hawaii is the place to do it.

In Hong Kong I found a copy of Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses to see me home from my adventures in China.

My fast approaching trip to Japan has been filled with oodles of travel guides and preparatory reading but going with me on the trip is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (light and easy for the plane and when I'm tired & weary), The Narrow Road to the Interior by Basho for the train trip to our overnight stop in Yamadera and Kafka on the Shore by Murakami for a more modern version of Japan. All three are relative slim, B-format books - another factor to consider when packing holiday reading - when you refuse to embrace e-readers!

What have been your best (& worst) holiday reads?

Friday, 20 April 2018

La Curée (The Kill) By Emile Zola

La Curée is the second book in Emile Zola's Rougon-Macquart series of books set during the Second Empire in France. I read it this month in honour of Fanda's #Zoladdiction2018. I have many, many thoughts about this story - I'll start off in point form -
  • The translation of the title
  • Haussmann
  • the parks and avenues
  • the art - the images - the pictures
  • the excess
  • Phaedra
  • Narcissus
  • mythology and myth making
  • consumption & speculation
  • property bubble, creative accounting, deception, greed, avarice, materialism
  • construction - destruction
  • the cyclic nature of time/history
  • gender
  • the ailing Napoleon III
  • morality, desire, sexuality
  • Dynasty meets the Kardashian's
  • book worlds collide
The Quarry (La Curée ) 1856 Gustave Courbet - Museum of Fine Arts Boston
So, the title of the book in English. It has been called The Kill or The Game is Over in most of the book or movie versions that I've found so far. The painting above also gave another twist to the translation which is rather apt as well and fits in with the #Zolastyle theme that Fanda was running this year.

Haussmann was a fascinating character; Paris basically looks the way it does today because of what he did. He opened up avenues and boulevards to create light and space. Beautiful spaces, trees, parks and new buildings were designed to being communities the expense of ripping apart old neighbourhoods. The addition of sewers, fountains and aquaducts made huge improvements for all Parisians but at the time the demolition and construction works were controversial and traumatic.

Avenue de l'Opéra, Camille Pissarro (1898).
There is no doubt that Zola was a master of imagery.
I've already written a post about his descriptions of the Bois de Boulogne, but he also included many magnificent details about the clothing, architecture and the interiors of homes. The excessive materialism and decadent lifestyle has to be read to be believed.

Phaedra: though married to Theseus, Phaedra fell in love with Hippolytus, Theseus's son by another woman (i.e. her stepson). But Hippolytus rejected her. In revenge, she told Theseus that Hippolytus had raped her. What happens next to Hippolytus depends on which version of the myth you read, but the end result is that he died. Themes of rejection, denial, shame, guilt, despair and jealousy - the perfect play for Renee and Maxime to see, although Zola played around with the ending.

Phaedra 1880 Alexandre Cabanel
The Narcissus and Echo tableau vivant (living picture) that occurs in chapter 6 seems utterly bizarre to the modern reader (i.e. me!) What a curious way to host a dinner party. To dress up and pose scenes from well-known myths, stories and legends. The 19th century version of the selfie, I guess.

The excessive consumption and speculation boom that Paris experienced during this era reminded me a lot of what is happening right now in many Western countries. The crazy stupid property bubble that exists in Sydney and Melbourne at the moment is just as ridiculous and just as prone to shady deals and greed and corruption as the one in Zola's Paris.

The women come off badly in this story, especially Renee. Maxime gets to live a guilt-free existence whilst Renee is riddled with doubt and self-reproach. Her behaviour is frowned upon whilst Maxime gets a socially acceptable 'high five' from his dad. Although I like to think that Renee had a moment at the end when she realised how shallow, false and destructive her life style had become. Sadly this reflection didn't lead to any form of happiness, fulfilment or satisfaction for her. C'est la vie.

I hadn't realised how old and doddery Napolean III was by the end of his Empire. Zola neatly shows the Empire decaying and rotting right along with his ageing body.

I was surprised by how much sex there was in this novel. Having read numerous bio's and novels about the Royal families in France over the years, I knew that mistresses and sexual deviation was fairly par for the course at that level of society. It was fascinating to see the post-revolution nouveau riche picking up where the old courtiers left off.

La Curée had all the glitz, big hair and large shoulder pads of Dynasty (are you old enough to remember the 80's TV show)? Combine the Ewing's obscene wealth with the self-conscious, over the top spectacle that the Kardashian clan make of themselves and you'll get some idea of the fake, shallow world inhabited by Zola's characters.

I love it when book worlds collide: as many of you know, I'm doing a chapter a day LesMis readalong. Yesterday's chapter was Vol 2 Book 5 Ch 1 - Twists and Turns. Every now and again, Hugo inserts himself into the story. His most famous one is the 19 chapter diversion back in time to the Battle of Waterloo, but here he has done it again,
For some years past the author of this book, who regrets the necessity to speak of himself, has been absent from Paris. During this time the city has been transformed....But in the process of demolition and reconstruction, the Paris of his youth, of which he cherishes the memory, has become a Paris of the past. He must be allowed to talk of that Paris as though it still existed....
Those places we no longer see, perhaps will never see again but still remember, have acquired an aching charm; they return to us with the melancholy of ghosts, a hallowed vision and as it were the true face of France. We love and evoke them such as they were; and such as to us they still are, we cling to them and will not have been altered, for the face of our country is our mother's face.

Hugo was obviously feeling very nostalgic and sentimental about his home country from his exile on the island of Guernsey. Just like Zola his political views had forced him to leave his birth country (Hugo for 14 years; Zola less than 12 months) and just like Zola he juggled a wife and mistress for much of his adult life.

I love it when one book leads into and informs the next. Without La Curée I would not have known about the Haussmannisation of Paris and would not have know what Hugo was referring to in this section. Timing is everything or as the more romantic Hugo would say, 'some invisible presence was guiding' us!


Thursday, 19 April 2018

Dewithon 2019

I recently spotted this at Paula's Book Jotter blog:

Why am I so excited?

My name is the first give away - Bronwyn (although my variation is apparently a masculine Anglicized take on the traditional Welsh spelling of Bronwen).

My mother's ancestors are the next clue. 
My grandmother's maiden name was Llewellyn, although less salubriously, it was her grandfather who first came to a convict (he stole a copper pot).

My Pop had closer Welsh ties.
His dad immigrated to Australia (from Llantrissant via the California goldfields) in the late 1800's.
We are still in touch with the children and grandchildren of his siblings back in Wales.

I have also visited Wales twice (which is quite a feat when you think about the distance between Sydney and Cardiff - 17 165 km to be precise!) My first visit was all about the family history; the second was about rugby!

One of the things I love about Wales is the resurgence of pride in local customs and language. All the sign are in English and Welsh.

Llantrissant Church were some of my ancestors are buried.
With all this ancestor pride and interest, you'd think that I would have read tons of Welsh books or books set in Wales. Wrong!
I'm hoping that #Dewithon19 will rectify this.

What exactly is #Dewithon19?
Dewi is the diminutive form of the Welsh name Dafydd (David) and the readathon is all about the literature of Wales. Paula has various links on her blog to help us discover Welsh authors, books, events, prizes and publishers.

The one and only book I've read set in Wales, by an English author, is Patrick O'Brian's Testimonies. The main female character was called Bronwen, hence my interest. Testimonies (or Three Bear Witness) was only the second book I have ever read with a Bronwen protagonist (the other being Bronwyn's Bane - book 3 in a children's fantasy series). Bronwyn is not an unusual name in Australia but it's not common either. My name has never been found on bookmarks, mugs, pens or door plates. I went to Wales thinking I would finally find a keyring or notepaper or something with my name on it, but no, it turns out Bronwen is an old-fashioned name in Wales and not considered mug-worthy!

I visited Dylan Thomas' home/museum in 1991 but have yet to read any of his work, although I have seen one production of Under Milk Wood.

I have read a few Roald Dahl books in my time, but even though he was born in Cardiff, the books never felt particularly Welsh to me, so it wasn't a connection I registered until seeing his name on one of Paula's lists. 
Philip Pullman also spent most of his childhood in Llanbedr, North Wales, but again. I don't feel a Welsh connection when I read his books.

Have you read any Welsh writers or read any books set in Wales that you can recommend to me?
I'd love to explode Mount TBR!

It's time to get our Welsh on (cael ein Cymry ymlaen)!

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

If I ever had any doubts about whether I was a cat person or not, The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa decided me! I defy even the most hard-hearted, adamant cat-denier to not be affected by the relationship between Nana (so named because of his tail that curled like a number 7) and his cat-loving friend Satoru.

Translated by Philip Gabriel (best known for his work translating many of Murakami's novels) this lovely, gentle story appears slight on the surface, but is actually power-packed with messages about the art of caring, love, friendship, loyalty and generosity. Not many books make me cry, but I shed a quiet tear at the end of this bittersweet story.

Arikawa makes her cats come alive. Anyone who has loved a cat of their own will instantly recognise the moods, behaviour and attitude of Nana and the other cats in this story. Not so common though, is having the cat as the narrator of the story. This gave Arikawa the freedom to indulge in all sorts of cat wisdom, that again, any cat-lover will recognise instantly.

'If you don't mourn a dead cat properly, you'll never get over it.'

'Satoru glanced at me in the passenger's seat, where I was now sitting in a tidy ball, my tail around my front legs.'

'I stretched up, placing my front paws on the passenger window, and enjoyed the passing scenery for a while, then curled up on the seat.'

'I sat up, rested my paws on the passenger-seat window and craned my neck to see out.'

'Among cats, when a female chooses a mate, it's a very clear-cut thing. Not just among cats, but with all animals, the female's judgement about love is absolute.'

'I arched my back as high as it could go and make my fur stand on end.'

'The curled-up chinchilla's tail had been twitching all this time, and it was obvious to me that what he was feeling was annoyance and irritation at the dogs' incessant chatter.'

'I purred till my throat hurt, rubbing the top of my head over and over against his body.'

Each chapter begins with a lovely black and white illustration as Satoru and Nana travel around Japan visiting Satoru's friends to see if one of them will be a good fit for Nana. We don't really know what the 'unavoidable circumstances' are that make it impossible for Satoru to continue to care for Nana, but our suspicion and concerns increase with each visit.

Most of us cat-lovers are sometimes left wondering if our beloved cats actually care for us as much as we care for them. The Travelling Cat Chronicles proves to us that yes they do!

Sunday, 15 April 2018

CBCA Eve Pownall Information Book Shortlist 2018

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books

Books entered into this category should intend to document factual material with consideration given to imaginative presentation, interpretation and variation of style, for kids aged anywhere between 0-18 years. 

The 2018 shortlist for the Eve Pownall Award looks a little like this: 

Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost (Illustrator)

Can microbes be made fun for kids? Ben-Barak, a microbiologist amongst other things, thinks so. Min is a cartoon-style microbe whose interactive approach to teaching us about microorganisms is designed to get kids excited and wondering...and washing their hands!

M is for Mutiny! History by Alphabet by John Dickon and Bern Emmerichs (Illustrator) 

An Australian alphabet viewed with an Indigenous perspective in mind. Each letter depicts well-known historical people and events as seen with a European and a first peoples point of view - from first settlement, to William Bligh, from Joseph Banks to the naming of our flora and fauna and from Yemmerrawanne to Terra nullius. Indigenous peoples and culture gets to shine right alongside that of the European settlers to embrace our shared history.

My only concern is a couple of factual glitches that jumped out at me. I'm not sure the Captain Cook was actually eaten by the natives of Hawaii in 1779, but the line in question may have just been a fun, throw away line said for effect rather than authenticity. I'm also not really sure that you could say that the area around The Domain is the Parramatta River either. Yes, technically the Parramatta River flows through Sydney Harbour and out to sea, but it's not really how we think of this body of water. Perhaps, though, there is an Indigenous perspective here that I'm unaware of?

Left & Right by Lorna Hendry

A sturdy yet soft, flexy book cover full of fascinating facts and figures about lefties and righties. From tips on how to remember which is which, to what ambidextrous means plus ancient beliefs, unusual customs and misconceptions. Curious but true information about reflections, symmetry, clockwise, spirals and our brains plus little known facts about left and right in the animal kingdom.
Clear photography and graphics illustrate the various points and facts being made throughout.

Amazing Australians in Their Flying Machines by Prue & Kerry Mason and Tom Jellett (Illustrator) 

Prue and Kerry Mason are both pilots who like to restore classic aircraft. In this book they share with us their love of flying in this book about ten of our early aviators. They include 'amazing facts' and 'did you know?' text boxes for each pilot as well as their planes and aviation in general. Jellett uses old photographs, illustrations and humour to bring the text to life.

The Big Book of Antarctica by Charles Hope

This is one of those books that is very school-y in style and intent, which isn't to say that the photography isn't stunning. It is, but it felt rather dry to me. A worthy contender but nothing outstanding.

Koala by Claire Saxby and Julie Vivas (Illustrator).

A coming of age story for our young koala as he leaves his mother and his tree to find his very own tree. Naturally he faces a few adventures and hazards along the way. Saxby dots the story with little fact checks while Vivas dots the illustrations with love and tenderness.

Friday, 13 April 2018

#ZolaStyle - The Bois de Boulogne in La Curee

April is #Zoladdiction month and this year Fanda is encouraging us to find the art in Zola's writing.

Literal Painting: 
Zola had great interest in paintings. He had been a strong promoter of Impressionism; supported and befriended young artists such as Manet and Cézanne. His literary style often had quality of a painting. Quote and share those literal paintings you find from the book you are reading, or any book you have read; add paintings or pictures too if you like.

This year I'm reading La Curee (The Kill) which is set in Paris during the mid 1860's at the height of the Haussmannisation of Paris. Napoleon III, the self-styled Emperor of the Second Empire 'pursued a policy of modernisation and 'progress'. He determined to make Paris clean and salubrious, and above all 'modern' according to my Introduction by Brian Nelson [1]. Georges Eugene Haussmann was the civil servant charged to bring about these monumental changes.

Huge open boulevards and new apartment blocks were carved through the old streets and suburbs of Paris. Land and homes were ruthlessly appropriated. Trees were planted and new parks were created, but
the real aim of Haussmann's works was the securing of the city against civil war. He wished to make the erection of barricades in Paris impossible for all time. [2]

All of this was achieved via creative accounting!

The Bois de Boulogne was created between 1852-58 from an old meadow that had been allowed to run to wrack and ruin. It is now the second largest park in Paris, situated in the 16th arrondissement. It has lakes, a cascade, two race tracks, greenhouses, a castle, a zoo, an amusement park and a tennis park where the French Open is now held.

Much of the action at the beginning of La Curee occurs around the Bois de Boulogne, where all the newly wealthy folk like to parade, showing off their wares.

The great slice of sky hanging over this small piece of nature caused a thrill, an indefinable sadness; and from these paling heights fell so deep an autumnal melancholy, so sweet and heartbreaking a darkness, that the Bois, wound little by little in a shadowy shroud.
Bois de Boulogne, M.H.Hiver. 1855 

The greensward ran on, with gentle undulations, to the Porte de la Muette, whose low gates, which seemed like a piece of black lace stretched along the ground, were visible in the distance; and on the slopes, in the hollows, the grass was quite blue.
The Satyr in the Bois de Boulogne, Félix Vallotton, 1904

Here and there, on the other side, along the roadway, were late strollers, groups of black dots, making their way slowly back to Paris; and high up, at the end of the procession of carriages, the Arc de triomphe, seen at an angle, stood out in its whiteness against a vast expanse of sooty sky.
Amazzone al Bois De Boulogne, Giuseppe de Nittis, 1874.75.

On the left, at the foot of the narrow lawns intersected by flower-beds and shrubs, the lake, clear as crystal, without a ripple, lay as though neatly trimmed along its edges by the gardeners' spades.
The Path in the Bois de Boulogne, Henri Matisse, 1902

On the drive home, the barouche was reduced to a crawl by the long line of carriages returning by the side of the lake. At one point they had to pull up completely.
Bois de Bolougne, Jean Béraud 

The warm October day, which had given the Bois a feeling of spring and brought the great ladies out in open carriages, threatened to end in a bitterly cold evening.
Allustante Porte Dauphine Bois de Boulogne, Joaquín Pallarés, 1872

The line of carriages was still travelling along the side of the lake, with its even trot and noise like a distant waterfall.
L'avenue du Bois de Boulogne, Georges Stein.

[1] Nelson, Brian, Introduction in The Kill, Emile Zola (Oxford University Press 2008)
[2] Walter Benjamin, Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century, in id., The Arcades Project, trans Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, Mass, and London: The Belknap Press 1999)

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Sharing and Caring with Picture Books

A number of years ago I fell in love with Wendy (the adventure seeking chicken) then Herman and Rosie (the lonely, jazz loving New Yorkers). I loved the quirky humour and the sophisticated style that Australian author/illustrator Gus Gordon injected into every page, although I wasn't sure how well the stories would work with actual children. Which is a slight, although not insurmountable, flaw in a children's picture book! The Last Peach reminds me a little of those first loves, but with bugs! And with more accessible themes for children.

I loved the appropriate little French notes tucked into the collages. The snappy dialogue story had me chuckling away from the beginning. My heart swooned when one of the bugs recited a poem for the peach. Layered into the story are themes on problem solving, how to share, who to believe, generosity, beauty and perception.

As an added bonus, Gordon has created gorgeous peachy end papers to drool over.

I almost wish that I was still preschool teaching so that I could try this book out on a group of four year olds!

Another funny book about sharing on our shelves at work at the moment comes from UK based author/illustrator Anuska Allepuz.

That Fruit is Mine! features five elephants who are determined to get to the 'MOST delicious-looking exotic fruit that the elephants had ever seen.'

However it takes five equally determined but cooperative mice to show them how it's done. The value of friendship, team work and persistence shines through here. The can-do attitude of the mice and the elephants contrasts nicely with the more creative, philosophical bugs above.

These two books are the perfect combo for that sharing-impaired person in your life!

Other books about sharing and cooperation include:

Sharing a Shell by Julia Donaldson
This Is Our House by Michael Rosen
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Little Red Hen

I deliberately did not include The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister in this list because even though sharing his beautiful shiny scales appears to main the theme, I really struggle with the underlying theme that seems to assume that all the fish will be happier if they're all exactly the same with their drab colours where no-one gets to shine or have special talents.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

#6degrees April

#6degrees is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best.

Oftentimes I haven't read the starting book for this meme, but I can assure you that I only play the next 6 books with ones I have actually read. 
If I've read the book during this blogging life, then I include my review, otherwise, you just have to take my word for it!

This month the starting book is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.
Are you game?

Old image alert - Kate @Books Are My Favourite & Best now hosts #6Degrees but this is a good refresh of the rules.

I haven't been a very good player lately.
Each month seems to roll around faster than the last.
In my head I was still thinking of links for Room, until I realised last night that it had been and gone.
Apparently it's April already and our starting book is Memoirs of a Geisha!

Which is about as perfect as life gets right now!
I have not read Memoirs of a Geisha, but it is THE VERY book sitting on top of my TBR pile ready to come to Japan with me in just a few short weeks!

I could now simply pick 6 more books set in Japan and be done with it....but that would too easy!

I little research revealed that Golden was sued for breach of contract and defamation by one of the retired geisha's he interviewed for the book.
Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help faced a similar problem when her brother's maid sued for "an unpermitted appropriation of her name and image."

One of the reasons I took The Help on holidays with me (way back in my pre-blogging when) was for the pretty birds on the cover.
A shiny, pretty bird cover was also part of the attraction for picking Robyn Cadwallader's The Anchoress.

But the main reason I wanted to read The Anchoress was Cadwallader herself. 
I saw her talk at the Sydney Writer's Festival a few years ago and came away from it determined to read her book ASAP.

Another author that I was inspired to read thanks to her participation in the SWF, was Canadian author, Kim Thuy.
Ru was a beautiful, poetic story that was a delicious mix of fact and fiction.

Blurring the line between fact and fiction is something that Jeanette Winterson does so magnificently in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

My actually cover is the one in the middle of the bottom row, but I loved this montage of covers and I rather wish that my book was more like the one on the bottom right instead.

Cover love brings me to a more recent favourite.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar.

The cover is a collage of three of Azar's own paintings called The Poetry Night, Two Birds and Red Bird & Moon (more birds!)
Red bird and moon was all the prompt I needed to make my final link this month.

Okay, it's not exactly a moon, but the mockingjay is definitely red.
Well, red with a bit of orange, but oranges are not the only fruit, or colour, so let's leave it at that shall we!
And let's see what May brings us.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Battle of Waterloo the Victor Hugo Way

I can't believe that readers past and present have complained about the (lengthy) Waterloo scenes in Les Miserables!

Actually, yes I can.

Battle scenes are not for everyone. Jumping back in time and breaking the narrative flow also annoys many readers. The sudden appearance of the writer in the story can also disconcert. But this is Victor Hugo and after 3 months in his company, I've already learnt that everything has a purpose.

I first became interested in the French Revolution when I read A Tale of Two Cities in my late teens. Since then I've read loads of fiction and non-fiction about this era - from Jeannette Winterson's The Passion to some of Max Gallo's fictionalised biographies (I can't believe I jettisoned these books during one of my moves after only reading two of them! What was I thinking?)

Because I stopped reading these books before Napoleon had reached Waterloo, my memory of what happened is pretty much left to the lyrics of ABBA's song of the same name!

It's hard to know if  Napoleon was a genius or a tyrant, a gifted leader or mad. It often depended on which side of the battle lines you were on as to how you perceived him and his actions.

However there is no denying that he changed the face of Europe and the very heart of France. He will now always be one of the big names of history; one of those larger-than-life personalities whose self-belief, courage to embrace change and sense of destiny combined to radically alter the course of history. Napoleon also became another prime example of the dangers of hubris for historians, philosophers and storytellers alike. Certainly Hugo could not resist.

Hugo visited the area in 1861 so that he could write these Waterloo chapters for Les Mis. His fictional account of the battle has long been considered inaccurate, and it certainly reads as a patriotic piece full of the usual propaganda of war and nationalism. However he,
stirred French passions with his emotive prose and there is no doubt that he considered Napoleon’s downfall as a national tragedy. He also lamented the manner in which the famous soldier was defeated and thought that he had been brought down by lesser men who owed more to chance than skill, writing scathingly: ‘It is not the victory of Europe over France, it is the complete, absolute, shattering, incontestable, final, supreme triumph of mediocrity over genius.’
La Guard Recule

In honour of his literary efforts, a subscription was raised in 1911 to build a monument near the Hotel des Colonnes in Mont St Jean where he stayed in 1861. Two world wars and lack of funds stalled the progress of the monument, until 1956. It is still not finished - a French cockerel statue is meant to adorn the top of the column.

Artists have also been drawn to recreating significant moments from this battle ever since.

V2 B1 C2 - Hougomont
Hougomont. It was a fateful place, the beginning of disaster, the first obstacle encountered at Waterloo by the great tree-feller of Europe whose name was Napoleon, the first knot to resist his axe.

Defence of the Chateau de Hougoumont by the flank Company, Coldstream Guards, 1815 - Denis Dighton

V2 B1 C3 - 18 June 1815
Had it not rained in the night of 17-18 June 1815, the future of Europe would have been different. A few drops of water, more or less, were what decided Napoleon's fate.

Image source

V2 B1 C5 - The Fog of War
After the fall of La-Haie-Sainte the battle hung in the balance. This middle phase, from midday until four o'clock, is indistinctly visible, shrouded in the fog of war. We have a glimpse of huge turmoil, a kaleidoscopic picture of outmoded military trappings, busbies, sabre-belts, crossed shoulder-straps, ammunition pouches, hussars' dolmans, wrinkled riding boots, heavy fringed shakos, the black tunics of Brunswick mingled with the scarlet of England.

Windmill at Quatre Bras during the Battle of Waterloo - Carle Vernet (c.1815-36)

Once again, I found myself fascinated by the translation choices throughout the 19 Waterloo chapters.

V2 B1 C9 - The Unexpected

I begin with Denny's translation as I found it to be the most powerful & poignant translation. What do you think?
What followed was appalling. This ravine, some fifteen feet deep between sheer banks, appeared suddenly at the feet of the leading horses, which reared and attempted to pull up but were thrust forward by those coming behind, so that the horse and rider fell and slid helplessly down, to be followed by others. The column had become a projectile, and the explosive force generated for the destruction of the enemy was now its own destroyer. That hideous gulf could only be crossed when it was filled. Horses and men poured into it, pounding each other into a solid mass of flesh, and when the level of the dead and the living had risen high enough the rest of the column passed over. In this fashion a third of Dubois's brigade was lost.

This was a moment of horror. There, directly under the horses' hoofs, twelve feet deep between the double embankment, yawned the unexpected ravine. The second line drove the first into it, and the third drove the second. The horses reared then lunged backwards, landed on their rumps, slid with all four legs in the air, unseating and flettening their riders; unable to reverse, the whole column solely a projectile, the impetus gathered to trample the English now trampling the French. The inexorable ravine could only capitulate when filled. Riders and horses rolled pell-mell into the pit, crushing each other, together forming but one flesh, and when this trench was filled with living men they were trodden underfoot and the rest were able to pass. Almost a third of Dubois's brigade fell into that abyss.

The moment was horrifying. There was the ravine, unexpected, yawning right at the horses' hooves, two fathoms deep between its twin banks. The second row pushed the first in and the third pushed the second; the horses reared, threw themselves backwards, fell on their rumps, slid with their four feet in the air, knocking off and crushing their riders, no way of turning back. The entire column was now no more than a projectile, the force gathered to crush the English crushed the French, the inexorable ravine could surrender until it was filled, riders and horses rolled into it pell-mell, grinding each other, forming one flesh in this gulf, and when the pit was full of men still alive, they marched over them and the remainder followed suit. Almost a third of Dubois's brigade toppled into this abyss.
Fall at Ohain Road - image source

The Ravine of Waterloo (1895) by Ulpiano Checa 
What a ghastly way to die!

V2 B1 C13 - Catastrophe
The shadow of a momentous justice lay over Waterloo. It was the day of destiny, when a force greater than mankind prevailed....On that day the course of mankind was altered. Waterloo was the hinge of the nineteenth century. A great man had to disappear in order that a great century might be born.

Day of Destiny - David Cartwright 

V2 B1 C14 - The Last Square
By nine o'clock that evening only one square, at the foot of the plateau of the Mont St Jean, the slope scored by the hooves of the cuirassiers, was holding out against the concentrated artillery-fire of the victorious enemy.

The Battle of Waterloo, 16–19 June 1815, the Defeat of Kellerman's Cuirassiers - Thomas Sidney Cooper

Hugo finishes the battle scenes of Waterloo late in the evening of the 18th June with V2 B1 C19 - The Battlefield at Night. He tells us that
Every army has its camp-followers and it is these that we must look, to the bat-like creatures, half-ruffian, half-servant, engendered by the twilight of war, wearers of uniform who do no fighting, malingerers, venomous cripples, sutlers riding in small carts, sometimes with their women, who steal what later they sell, beggars offering their services as guides, rogues and vagabonds of all kinds.

Corpses Interred at Hougoumont 1816 - James Rouse

As I read this section I remembered Jeannette Winterson's The Passion which featured precisely these battlefield hanger-on-er's. It came as no surprise to see which one of our previous, less savoury characters was here, after the battle, picking pockets, with self-preservation and self-serving traits already on display.

And a new name - Pontmercy.

The battlefield of Waterloo was quickly turned into an historic monument. Just as quickly, different versions, opinions and interpretations were put about. All battles are messy, ugly, brutal places full of confusion and chaos. The loss of life is horrendous. The carnage and trauma is glorified so that all that loss and misery is not for nothing. Whether its the weather, fate, god, destiny or luck, reasons are looked for, as those left behind to deal with the clean up and their grief, try to find meaning and a sense of purpose.

The Lion Mound (Butte du Lion) was created from the ruins of the battlefield near Braine-l'Alleud, Belgium. Nearby is a rotunda that contains a massive panoramic painting of the battle by Louis Dumoulin. It consists of 14 panels. Two of the episodes are shown below.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Zoladdiction 2018

Zoladdiction with Fanda @Classiclit is underway once again.
For all the details please check out her Masterpost, but it's pretty simple really:
read and enjoy all things Zola during the month of April.

I've now read three Zola's thanks to Fanda and Zoladdiction.
Nana was my first experience with Zola. It left me reeling and wanting more.
Germinal was so good I struggled to write an adequate response.

I then decided to get serious about my Zoladdiction.
I went back to the very beginning to read the Rougon-Macquart series in correct chronological order.
So last year I read The Fortunes of the Rougons (La Fortune des Rougon).

The dilemma this year was whether to read book 2 in chronological order or book 2 in Zola's recommended reading order. In the end the decision was resolved for me when I failed to source a copy of His Excellency (Son Excellence Eugène Rougon) which was Zola's recommended book 2.

Therefore my #Zoladdiction2018 book will be The Kill (La Curee).

The Kill (La Curee) is the second volume in Zola's great cycle of twenty novels, Les Rougon-Macquart, and the first to establish Paris - the capital of modernity - as the centre of Zola's narrative world. Conceived as a representation of the uncontrollable 'appetites' unleashed by the Second Empire (1852-70) and the transformation of the city by Baron Haussmann, the novel combines into a single, powerful vision the twin themes of lust for money and lust for pleasure. The all-pervading promiscuity of the new Paris is reflected in the dissolute and frenetic lives of an unscrupulous property speculator, Saccard, his neurotic wife Renee, and her dandified lover, Saccard's son Maxime.

Fanda has also created a mini-challenge to add extra depth and layers to our reading of Zola.


To add more fun to Zoladdiction, and to encourage more people to read and love Zola, there will be a mini themed challenge; different theme each year. This year we will do #ZolaStyle—exploring his unique literary style, which I have divided into three categories:

Literal Painting
Zola had great interest in paintings. He had been a strong promoter of Impressionism; supported and befriended young artists such as Manet and Cézanne. His literary style often had quality of a painting. Quote and share those literal paintings you find from the book you are reading, or any book you have read; add paintings or pictures too if you like. You can check this post to get more idea about this literal painting.

Naturalism Metaphor
Zola often uses natural things as metaphor. In The Belly of Paris, for instance, cheeses are described as fruits. In Germinal, the mining machine becomes a giant beast; and a steam locomotive transforms into a woman in La Bete Humaine. Quote and post about this naturalism you find from the book you are reading, or any book you have read. Click this link if you need example.

Heredity Problem
As a Naturalist, Zola believed that human psychology is heavily influenced by heredity and environment. He wrote the twenty novels in The Rougon Macquart series to study this. Analyze, discuss, and post the heredity problem of the book you are reading, or any book you have read.

How #ZolaStyle Works

#ZolaStyle challenge is NOT obligatory, you may opt for reading books only.
You may post just one or all category for each book – in as many posts as you want; as often as you like, from 1st to 30th April.
You can use current book you are reading, or any books you have read before. 
Please make sure to use these hashtags: #ZolaStyle #EmileZola#Zoladdiction2018 on your posts.
Each #ZolaStyle post linked up at #ZolaStyle linky will be entered to win book(s) by Emile Zola of your choice max $20 from Book Depository. Yay!

To kick off my own #Zolastyle, I thought I would start with the painting used on the cover of my Oxford University Press edition of The Kill.

Paris Street Rainy Day, 1877 Gustave Caillebotte - Art Institute of Chicago

In his masterpiece, Paris Street; Rainy Day, Gustave Caillebotte brought an unusual monumentality and compositional control to a typical Impressionist subject, the new boulevards that were changing the Paris cityscape. The result is at once real and contrived, casual and choreographed. With its curiously detached figures, the canvas depicts the anonymity that the boulevards seemed to create. By the time it appeared in the third Impressionist exhibition, held in April 1877, the artist was 29 years old, a man of considerable wealth, and not only the youngest but also the most active member of the Impressionist group. He contributed six of his own canvases to the exhibition; played a leading part in its funding, organization, promotion, and installation; and lent a number of paintings by his colleagues that he owned.

My Introduction by Brian Nelson goes into some detail about Haussmann's Paris which I found fascinating as I had no idea about the massive changes and reconstruction that occurred in Paris during the Second Empire.

The Haussmannisation of Paris was, at one level, official state planning on a monumental and highly symbolic scale, glorifying the Napoleonic Empire.

It was also thought to be a way of protecting the city from civil unrest. The creation of long, wide boulevards made it impossible for the people to erect barricades as a weapon against the government. The old rabbit-warren slums were destroyed to 'control the unruly and ungovernable poor'. I found this particularly interesting in light of my current year-long Les Mis readalong, which will eventually lead us, the reader, to the June Rebellion of 1832, and the barricades.

Although we now consider the lovely, tree lined, open avenues of Paris with their uniform architectural style, a thing of beauty and envy, at the time their creation was controversial and very disruptive. It also sparked a huge property speculation boom (much like the one happening in Sydney at the moment).
The new Paris is associated with with vice and promiscuity, but Zola's imagery repeatedly associates the city also with light, the sun, flames, heat and colour - with all the noise and activity of modern life.

So much #Zolastyle and I haven't even started the actual story yet!