Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

Screenshot 2015-07-25 10.11.01 Title: Bonjour Tristesse

Author: Françoise Sagan (translated by Irene Ash)

Publisher: Re-issue by Penguin Essentials (2011)

Pages: 112

Screenshot 2015-07-25 10.16.08Where to read: Ideally by the French Riviera but if getting there isn’t logistically possible a quiet corner of a park – I chose Battersea Park on a bench near the water fountains one sunny day and happily whiled away a very pleasant few hours reading.

Where to buy: Belgravia Bookshop – I’m not on commission I promise I just simply love everything about this bookshop -location, atmosphere and of course the titles it sells-  a real haven for book lovers.

Refreshments: I was in the park so didn’t have much at my disposal aside from my packed lunch which was an Ottolenghi recipe of chicken and couscous salad which isn’t exceptionally French. However, I did finish the final pages sat on my tiny balcony drinking a dry gin martini (with Tanqueray No’10  which was rather delightful -and perhaps more refined!

Review:

The French Riviera: home to the Beautiful People. And none are more beautiful than Cecile, a precocious seventeen-year-old, and her father Raymond, a vivacious libertine. Charming, decadent and irresponsible, the golden-skinned duo are dedicated to a life of free love, fast cars and hedonistic pleasures.

But then, one long, hot summer Raymond decides to marry, and Cecile and her lover Cyril feel compelled to take a hand in his amours, with tragic consequences. “Bonjour Tristesse” scandalized 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager terrible Cecile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility to choose her own sexual freedom.

Cecile is our narrator for the heady three months of summer spent in a villa on the Riviera. Vibrant, manipulative and conflicted in her every waking thought and action she epitomizes the confusion of a woman emerging into adulthood and one whose equilibrium is upset by an outsider. Her father Raymond is a romantic and has his head turned by the swish of a skirt and a teasing smile the thought of growing old and domesticated is both appalling and appealing. I quickly fell in love with both of their characters and was drawn into the swirling vortex of their superficial lives and captivating beauty – one that caught anyone within a mile radius and swept them away so they forgot themselves and their lives before Raymond and Cecile.

Remarkable and aloof, Anne, entangles herself into their lives and attempts to adapt them to a life both decent and bourgeois. She is depicted as being acerbic and condescending but in actuality is trying to find her footing in a game that is being played with rules she doesn’t understand.

Sagan weaves these individuals lives with aplomb and the descriptions and detail of Cecile’s inner turmoil is simply stunning. A novella that will fit in your back pocket, handbag or simply your hand as you stroll off to the park I would recommend reading this to everyone -it’s a triumph and just so…French.

Rating: 10 out of 10

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The Pornographer of Vienna by Lewis Crofts

51qospPCH6L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Title: The Pornographer of Vienna

Author: Lewis Crofts

Why: Wandering around Wandsworth Library I happened upon the title and couldn’t resist borrowing the book.

Synopsis:

The Pornographer of Vienna tells the life story of Egon Schiele, the infamous Austrian painter famed for his sexually explicit portraits of the underbelly of Viennese life in the dying years of the Habsburg empire. The book recounts how Schiele is persecuted by his family, imprisoned by the Habsburg authorities and forced into poverty by an unappreciative art world. Schiele finally finds acclaim with those who had earlier shunned him, before dying tragically a few days short of the end of the Great War. This novel inspired by Schiele’s twisted and perverse life charts the ascent and demise of Austria’s most decadent and most misunderstood painter.

Review

I loved the first half of this book. The beautiful yet shocking turn of phrase, the scent of debauchery and incest all centred around the tortured soul of the artiste Schiele was entertaining  and insightful beyond expectation. Unfortunately, the message never changes and the actions of Schiele and his orbiting family and friends becomes rather mundane as you become numb to his predilections and behaviours.

Women are represented in a variety of interesting and detailed ways. There is  Valerie, first the artist Klimt’s muse before she transfers to Egon, was someone I really enjoyed watching develop. Her loyalty and determination is admirable and is poignantly contradicted by her relative worth to either painter. Egon’s mother, Marie who is a staple throughout regardless of her descent into the hands of syphilis and his sister Georgi who he can never own – not to mention the countless young girls whose youth and innocence entrance and capture Egon’is imagination.

The book itself is – quite obviously – based on the very real Austrian painter, Egon Schiele, who was recognised as a young hedonist who produced unacceptably – for the time- provocative sexual paintings and drawings. These aspects were illuminating and made me want to seek out more information and examples of his work and the styles of the period. 

I found the historical context including both society’s acceptance and norms as well as the interpretations of the Austro Hungarian Empire to be insightful and unflinching. However, again it was the artist himself that I found myself berating – not to mention the author – as to why the story was dragged out for so long and the cycles of activity remaining the same with only the location – countryside or city – changing with the pages. 

Overall I enjoyed the book it was remarkably well written and some of Crofts descriptions on humanity were breathtakingly astute however, part of me wishes this had been a novella rather than a full-blown novel.

Rating: 7 out of 10

George’s Grand Tour by Caroline Vermalle

2015-04-30 20.27.30Title: George’s Grand Tour

Author: Caroline Vermalle (translated by Anna Aitken)

Publisher: Gallic Books (16th May 2015)

Paperback: 192 pages

Refreshments: Kir Royale

Synopsis:

At the age of 83, retired butcher George Nicoleau is about to set off on the greatest adventure of his life. George and his neighbour Charles have long dreamt of a road trip, driving the 3500 kilometres that make up the stages of the Tour de France. And now that George’s over‐protective daughter has gone to South America, it’s time to seize the moment. But just when he feels free of family ties, George’s granddaughter Adèle starts calling him from London, and he finds himself promising to text her as he travels around France, although he doesn’t even know how to use a mobile. George is plagued by doubts, health worries and an indifference to modern technology. And yet – might the journey still prove to be everything he had hoped for?

Review:

Whimsical, delightful and wonderfully aspirational to live life to the full and embrace new adventures whatever your age – not to mention stay in touch with your grandparents and NEVER never become ageist. The  perfect summer compliment to a trip to the park on a Sunday afternoon, just take a tissue just in case.

Rating: 8 out of 10

 

A Debut Author and a bit of Spice

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Title: The Girl in the Red Coat

Author: Kate Hamer

Summary: She is the missing girl. But she doesn’t know she’s lost.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the story was written from two different voices, that of both Carmel and her mother Beth. A style of writing which I always find gives a richness and depth to the story by offering two distinctive view points on one incident. As the chapters are quite short, and in order to accommodate this technique, you really do need to read this book in relatively big chunks (not half the book!) in order to follow the story and get drawn into the pace and intrigue of the kidnapping and resulting fall out.

The more poignant and heart-wrenching story is that of Carmel’s mother Beth. Carmel is her world, especially after her husband left her for another woman. Even before her daughter’s disappearance she is a worrier and struggles with being overprotective. After the kidnapping, her life is blown apart and as the time passes her plight becomes more desperate as the police and well-meaning friends soon forget and leave her to her own guilt, fear and loneliness.

This is a stunning and intricate debut that draws you in and keeps the momentum and question of whether mother and daughter will be reunited to the bitter end.

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Where: Cinnamon Soho

What: ‘Signature modern Indian food with a nod to British favourites’

Service: Not great they were either understaffed or just surprisingly busy but it was slightly haphazard and inattentive – waited quite some time for both menus and a simple jug of tap water.

Drink: A welcome cocktail – this was a mango smoothie tasty but unnecessary. Then we asked about what beers they had from a waiter rushing past and without much information we defaulted to Tiger – a pint was brought and ended up being £5 which seemed expensive – also we weren’t offered any size options.

Food: Booktable deal offered 8 dishes tasting menu for two people.

  • Steamed chickpea cakes with coconut chutney (v)
    When this arrived we weren’t 100% sure what it was – it was bit like eating a spicy Victoria sponge cake with a green mouse –  but it was surprisingly light and had a hint of spice.
  • Indo-Chinese style chicken with burnt chillies
    This was my favourite. The chicken was moist and sticky with the sauce and the burnt chillies packed a mean punch that lingered long after the chicken had been demolished. Definitely could eat this as a main course!
  •  Papdi Chaat – crisp wheat, spiced potatoes & chutney (v)
    This was served surround by a nice cooling yogurt, the crisp wheat was a new taste and texture for me and was really well balanced with the soft chunky chutney.
  •  Stir-fried shrimp with curry leaf & black pepper
    Great helping of prawns that were slightly crispy and tasted lovely and fresh with zesty undercurrents from the lightly pickled cucumber and carrot salad.
  •  Slow braised pork belly with honey & chilli glaze (GF) 
    Melt in the mouth the sizable piece of meat cut like butter. Although I have to say we both thought it was beef cheek or braising steak as the flavour and colour was unlike pork – either way whatever meat it was,  was utterly delicious.
  • Tandoori salmon with dill & mustard (GF)
    Flaked beautifully, nice and soft the spices weren’t overpowering. The dill mustard tasted like wasabi – which I usually love but this wasn’t at all pleasant.
  • Plain naan OR black lentils (we somehow got both!)
    Naan was thin and light which I prefer to the stodgy thick versions you can often get. The lentils (24hr coooked?!!!) were amazing it was like a saucier version of dahl.
  • Sticky toffe pudding with banana ice cream
    Dark, sticky, rich and delicious – would have preferred a simple vanilla ice cream as the banana version made it super thick and a bit of a heavy texture.

Price: £24 p/p for the dining deal + £5 pint of tiger beer + service = £32 p/p

Rating: 7 out of 10 – Overall fantastic food and great value for money – the only thing I’d like is a bit more service, especially if you’re going to charge me 12.5% for the pleasure.

 

The 3rd Woman by Jonathan Freedland

The3rdWoman

Title: The 3rd Woman

Author: Jonathan Freedland (@freedland)

Publication date: 2nd July 2015

Paperback: 544 pages

Review:

SHE CAN’T SAVE HER SISTER

Journalist Madison Webb is obsessed with exposing lies and corruption. But she never thought she would be investigating her own sister’s murder. SHE CAN’T TRUST THE POLICE – Madison refuses to accept the official line that Abigail’s death was an isolated crime. She uncovers evidence that suggests that Abi was the third victim in a series of killings that’s been hushed up as part of a major conspiracy. SHE CAN EXPOSE THE TRUTH – In a United States that has yielded to the People’s Republic of China, corruption is rife – the government dictates what the ‘truth’ is. With her life on the line, Madison must give up the story, or face the consequences…

Strangely I was really craving a crime thriller and then this advanced copy dropped on my door mat with the added kudos of being written by an award-winning investigative journalist.

Strong, intelligent and determined Madison Webb is the embodiment of an investigative reporter – not scared of danger or getting her hands dirty. She also battles demons and insomnia that she represses and tries to keep hidden from the outside world and from those closet to her – including family and any potential love interest. As the central character, and the driving force behind solving the crime, you have to believe in and likes this woman and I am pleased to say that I did. Freedland has clearly brought his experience and insight from working as a correspondent in the US adding quality and depth to both Madison’s thought processes and strategy. Often women can become cliche and fall into a stereotype of either ballsy bitch or femme fatale and she is neither. I felt that the way she reacted to the sudden and horrendous death of her sister was natural and well presented and her grief drives her to do what she does best – follow the story. As she dictates, she can mourn when she has discovered and revealed those culpable.

Behind the investigation is the continuous theme of conspiracy set against a backdrop of an ongoing political election for the governor of LA. This adds a really pertinent and dynamic edge to the plot forcing you to think about the parallels in everyday society. Equally the focus on China and it’s growing influence over the US in terms of economic clout serves as a dangerous prediction for the future. Freedland skilfully draws on these current debates and fears and weaves them seamlessly together with a focusses on the pervasive and uncontrollable medium of social media and online news.

A good crime and conspiracy thriller leaves you guessing until the last page and this one certainly achieved just that – sure Maddison discovered things perhaps a little too easy at times and had the ‘right friends’ to call on in an emergency, but over all this was a compelling and addictive read with a brilliant female protagonist.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

The Taxidermist Daughter by Kate Mosse

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Title: The Taxidermist’s Daughter

Author: Kate Mosse

Publisher: Orion 

Hardback: 432 pages

Why did I chose to read this book: Love her Labyrinth, Sepulchre & Citadel books so thought I would investigate her further as an author.

Where to read this book: To fit the book’s dark and let’s say rather creepy storyline I would chose somewhere like the catacoombs in Paris but to be more realistic I would suggest The Horniman Museum in London which is, unsurprisingly where the author had her book launch.

Refreshments: The subject matter doesn’t really lend itself eating…at all. I instead supped on a full-bodied red wine my tipple, influence by my recent sojourn to Chile, was a bottle of La Postolle’s Carmenère – highly recommended!

Review:

In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to walk. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At twenty-two, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it contains all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed birds that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man. The string of events that led to the museum’s closure are never spoken of and an accident has robbed Connie of any memory of those days.The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hands holding a garotte. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead. While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible – and why the incident is causing memories to surface from her own vanished years. Does she know the figure she sees watching from the marshes? Who is the mysterious caller that leaves a note without being seen? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Blackthorn House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop?

Mosse’s descriptions are sublimely atmospheric and gothic creating a realistic and dramatic scene to the psychological thriller that is about to be laid out to the reader. Unfortunately, Constantia isn’t my favourite of female characters she is too strong to the extent that she becomes quite irritating – her useless alcoholic father is probably a reason for this extreme self-reliance. However, her journey back into her memory and the ardent need for the truth is heartening and eminently translates into a fascinating storyline.

In between the chapters there is diary-style entries from an unidentified women which starts to unravel the story and the sinister event that triggered her actions and dark retribution on those culpable. It is this character that hooks the reader and drags them into the uneasy history. Her narrative is often shocking and on a par with scenes that are more common in scene of the TV series Hannibal.

The love story that develops through the story between Constantia and Harry is a little slapdash and hurried one glance and there is infatuation. Their lives are intrinsically linked so it is obvious that their relationship will develop in this manner I just wish it was done in a more subtle style.

Not on a par with Labyrinth – one of my favourite books especially as I was living in Toulouse at the time – but still entertaining in a dark and extremely disturbed way.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Anton Mallick Wants to be Happy by Nicolas Casariego

AntonMallick
Title: Anton Mallic Wants to be Happy

Author: Nicolas Casariego (translated by Thomas Bunstead)

Publisher: Hispabooks Publishing

Paperback:347 pages

Why I chose to read this book: Hispabooks kindly got in touch after seeing my previous reviews on translated European fiction and this title stood out on their list so I requested a copy.

Where to read: Outdoors. If you can make the most of the last of the summer, I sat under a tree in a quiet corner of Battersea Park

Refreshments: I tried not to be so obvious however, reading about life in Madrid is always going to stimulate an appetite for chunks of chorizo with manchego and perhaps some crusty bread washed down with san pellegrino lemon. If you’re feeling a bit fancier than the usual supermarket option then track down a local Spanish deli like Brindisa.

Review:
 After an unexpected incident triggers his first anguish attack in months, Antón is dead set on putting an end once and for all to his woeful days. Masterly woven into novel form by Nicolás Casariego, his journal, a miscellanea of narrative, reflection, and witty comments on famous self-help books and the works of great philosophers and renowned authors, will bear witness to his quest for happiness. An action-packed book with a refreshing tone, a sharp outlook, and, above all, plenty of humor.

Written as a diary to his great-great-great grandfather, Hungarian immigrant Vidor Mallick, the combination of conversation, quotes and critiques of philosophical ideas creates a unique and compelling style of writing that I haven’t before experienced. The plot is subtly woven giving glimmers into the reasons behind Anton’s depression combing over his estranged family and day to day life slowly revealing dark and often shocking incidents that have befallen him. As a character, Anton draws you into the centre of his world and forces you into caring for him as if he were a real friend, something which can only be attributed to Casariego’s skills and flair in creating believable heroes.

The prose of this tragicomedy is brilliant swinging from the mundane to the hilariously acute, a number of times I was to be found either chuckling to myself or gasping in shock. Anton’s brother Zoltan, who one could belittle by calling the villain in the story has a number of the best one liners. His self-absorption and bouts of hysteria cast an interesting light on the psychotherapy, giving credence to the belief that the best psychologists are often afflicted by the same psychosis as there patients. Their mother is equally reflective of anyone’s post-technology relatives, with their weekly Skype chats offering a mirror image to many a Sunday afternoon in my living room.

An investigation and dissection of this abstract noun, Anton is dark and witty, his diary offering up a fantastic satire on people’s desire for an impossible happiness. The style of this book might take a little getting used to and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I would certainly recommend giving it a go as it is a very rewarding and enjoyable read.

Rating: 8 out of 10