Saturday, 18 October 2014

Dewey's Readathon.

Hurrah, the day has come! This is my sixth readathon, and today is perfect for it: sunny, but cold and rainy, and I have quite a bit of reading to catch up on! So, I'm going to put the fire on, make a cup of coffee, and begin, most likely with Stoner by John Williams (I'm about a third of the way through). 

Other plans? I don't want to commit this time, but - I would love and I dearly need to finish The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope. I think I've had this on the go since the beginning of September. I'm almost at the half way point with it, and to finish it would be grand. It has been my block for well over a month.

I'm also thinking I may finish The Mabinogion, and quite possibly Dante's The Divine Comedy. I love Dante and I've read it before, so it's no chore. And, finally, I would like to read Joris-Karl Huysmans Against Nature

So, I'm going to be brave and commit to The Small House at Allington, and aside from that I'll see where the mood takes me. I'm quite likely to read a bit of Émile Zola's The Conquest of Plassans, and I'm also considering Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.

Seriously, though - I'm considering everything right now. The mere mention of Northanger Abbey as opened up a whole world of Gothic Literature and.... Oh, I don't know! But I do know today will be great fun!

I'll update either every few hours or when I've finished a book.

(Shakespeare, maybe? I could read The Tempest? The Taming of the Shrew?)

(Maybe read some Keats?)

Have fun, everyone!

Update 1: Events took a rather unexpected turn this afternoon, and after I finished Stoner (which I loved) I wasn't able to read very much at all. But there's still many hours, so after my tea I'm going to try and settle back into and press on with The Small House at Allington.

Hope everyone's enjoying it so far :)

Update 2: Very happy to say that I've finished The Small House at Allington. Very happy indeed. It's a book that, in different circumstances, I possibly would have loved, but not this time. One day I'll try again!

Now I'm going to read Paradiso, possibly have a bath, have a cup of coffee, and enjoy listening to the rain. I aiming to keep going until at least 2 am (I don't seem to have the stamina for all-nighters any more - staying up for the Scottish Referendum results in September nearly wiped me out for a week!). I shall update again around midnight...

Update 3: This is my signing off update. It's been a long day and I need to get some rest. I've finished Paradiso, I've finished Stoner, and I've finished The Small House at Allington, and before I do go to sleep I hope to read a little of Against Nature. So this has been a good catch-up day.

Good luck to all of those who are going for the full 24 hours!

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola.

The Square in front of Les Halles by Victor Gabriel Gilbert, 1880. Oil on canvas. A detail of this painting is
used for the front cover of Brian Nelson's translation of The Belly of Paris, Oxford University Press, 2007.
The Belly of Paris (Le Ventre de Paris), 1873, is the third of Émile Zola's Rougon Macquart novels and the second that is set in Paris (the first being The Kill, 1872). It is based on life in Les Halles, the central market of Paris (demolished in 1971) where wholesale fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish were sold, located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, south of rue Montorgueil (on the right bank of the Seine and including the west end of Île de la Cité). The site itself dates back to the Middle Ages, but this 'modern market' was designed by Victor Baltard between 1854-74 (during the 'Hausmannisation' of Paris, which Zola describes in The Kill). Christopher Mead (author of Making Modern Paris: Victor Baltard's Central Markets and the Urban Practice of Architecture) writes,
... the markets marked a significant moment in the industrialization and standardization of architecture during the nineteenth century. At the same time, the markets were instruments of urban renewal, which turned a decayed medieval quarter of Paris into a rational, orderly grid of pavilions and streets. 
Modernity is a key feature to Zola's Rougon Macquart novels: Zola was the anthropologist of the 19th Century literary world and his goal was (as he described in the Preface of The Fortune of the Rougon, 1871) to explain,
... how a family, a small group of human beings, behaves in a given society after blossoming forth and giving birth to ten or twenty individuals who, though they may seem at first glance totally dissimilar from each other, are, as analysis shows, linked together in the most profound ways. Heredity, like gravity, has its laws.  
By solving the dual problem of temperament and environment, I shall attempt to discover and trace the thread that leads mathematically from one person to another. When I am in possession of every thread, and hold in my hands an entire social group, I shall describe the behaviour of this group as it plays its part in an historical period; I shall show it in action, with all its varied energies; and I shall analyse the aims and ambitions of its individual members along with the general tendency of the whole.
His "small group of human beings" are the Rougons and the Macquarts, two names and one bloodline united by Adélaïde Fouque, who married Rougon, and after he died (very very soon after she died), lover of Macquart. The Rougons are the 'legitimate' side of the family tree, the Macquarts the illegitimate side. This "given society" is France during the time of the coup d'etat in 1851.

Les Halles is the setting for the organised, structured, and symmetrical domain of Lisa Quenu née Macquart, daughter of Antoine Macquart and Joséphine Gavaudan (who we meet in The Fortune of the Rougons), sister of Gervaise Coupeau (of L'Assommoir, 1877) and Jean Macquart (The Earth, 1887, and The Debacle, 1892). She is married to Quenu, Florent Quenu's step-brother, the protagonist of this tale, and together Lisa and Quenu own and run a charcuterie. When Florent returns to Paris having escaped prison (Devil's Island, or le Bagne de Cayenne, 9 miles off the coast of French Guiana in South America: Florent was falsely accused for murder during Louis Napoleon's coup d'état) he goes to live with the pair, and their daughter Pauline (of The Joy of Life, 1884). Florent is a thin man, starving in fact, and his reluctance to eat has led some critics to suggest that he is anorexic. He certainly appears to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following the events during the coup d'etat, where a young female was shot dead, her body landing on Florent, and his subsequent imprisonment. In contrast, Lisa and Quenu are fat, along with the other petite bourgeoisie of Les Halles (hence Henry Vizetelly's 1888 translation The Fat and the Thin, which, incidentally, led to his imprisonment for obscene libel).

Zola writes,
[Quenu] noticed Florent's emaciated, poverty-stricken appearance. 
'You poor thing!' he exclaimed. 'Your stay away hasn't improved your looks. I've grown fat, but so what!' 
He had indeed grown fat, too fat for his age. He was bursting out of his shirt and apron, out of the white linen in which he was swaddled like a huge baby. His clean-shaven face had grown longer, so that it now bore a faint resemblance to the snout of a pig, to one of the cuts of pork he handled every day. Florent could hardly recognise him. He had sat down now and was looking first at his brother, then at the beautiful Lisa, then at little Pauline. They were all bursting with health, solidly built, sleek, in prime condition; they looked at him with the surprise of fat people gripped by a vague feeling of unease at the sight of someone who is thin. Even the cat, whose skin was distended by fat, turned its round yellow eyes towards him in a glare of distrust.
The Fight between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1559)
referred to in a discussion between Claude Lantier and Florent
about 'the fat' and 'the thin' of Les Halles.
This is a physical example of the many conflicts within Les Halles, particularly regarding Florent. He brings disharmony in a well-ordered environment (though it is not without its existing conflicts). By the simple fact that he is thin he has become an object of mistrust:
A man capable of living without food for three days struck [Lisa] as a highly dangerous character. Respectable people never put themselves in that position.
Lisa embodies and represents Les Halles. Zola describes her as the "steady, sensible Macquart, reasonable and logical in her craving for well-being.... Prosperity and security were her great goals". It is thus of little surprise that when her small and tidy world is threatened, she seeks to rid it of potential and perceived hazards. Florent, struggling with his neuroses and his new life, attempts to live her life among these respectable petite bourgeois, but, as Zola writes,
He had ultimately compromised, angered, and upset a world that had previously lived in perfect peace and harmony.
His task, in short, is great. And I won't spoil it by saying whether or not he succeeds!

The Belly of Paris is one of my favourite of Zola's novels, possibly my absolute favourite of his earliest novels. It is, as I always emphasise, not necessary to read these books in order (though I would be inclined to read The Fortune of the Rougons first, and Doctor Pascal must be read last), but it's worth pointing out how neatly The Belly of Paris follows The Kill. Of the Seven Deadly Sins, gluttony follows lust, and The Belly of Paris is about gluttony and excess, an unhealthy love of food and comfort, and Les Halles is "the great daily orgy" (Zola, 1867). In Zola and the Bougeoisie, Brian Nelson writes,
Zola attempts to create the impression of a social class obsessed with food by establishing a symbolic equation between mountains of food and bourgeois complacency.
The descriptions of food The Belly of Paris may seem, on the face of it, mouth-watering, however a strong message lurks behind them, almost to the point whereby it grows grotesque, adding to the dark, unnatural nightmare that is Les Halles and the Second Empire. Both are worlds of paranoia and mistrust, and Les Halles is like a panoptican in which nothing goes unnoticed. Zola's descriptions are flawless, and his message as knife-sharp as ever. The Belly of Paris is one of his finest novels.

Les Halles by Jean Beraud (1879).
Les Halles by Leon Lhermitte (1889).
Les Halles and Rue de la Tonnellerie by Giuseppe Canella (the Elder)

Saturday, 11 October 2014

October (so far).

Recently I've been suffering from writer's block and a reading rut. A double whammy, yes. No fun for a book blogger: it feels as though my two beloved hobbies have been taken away from me. But I miss blogging very much, and for the past few weeks I've been waiting for the right time, waiting for inspiration to come, waiting for a new book to grab me, but these aren't coming as yet. This is not the right time (I need to tidy up and put the fire on, and it's already 7pm), and, unable to settle in to any new books I've been returning to old favourites: Zola (I've just finished The Belly of Paris and intend to write about it over the next few days), Dante (I read Inferno in one sitting, such is my love for it, and Purgatorio in two sittings. Paradiso I will start soon), and Donna Tartt. 

Donna Tartt, as I'm sure many of you know, is a blessing. I've been looking for a bedtime book for well over a week (The Small House at Allington is a source of vast frustration at present), and out of no where The Secret History popped into my head. I've been reading it all morning and I'm so looking forward to go to bed and read it again. 

And aside from this: nothing. I want to write about Macbeth still, but that's on the back-burner because I am most enthusiastic about writing about The Belly of Paris, so much so that I'm picking up the old Zola website project again. I think I last read Zola in May (The Dream), and honestly - it really was like coming home, starting The Belly of Paris for the second time. Florent on the back of a vegetable cart on the way to Paris, to Les Halles, remembering the Macquarts, La Belle Normande, those suffocating descriptions of the cheeses, and one of my favourite quotes in literature: "Respectable people... What bastards!". And Zola's style is so familiar: lots of Zola-feelings! There's a chapter in Zola: A Life (Frederick Brown) I want to read before I begin writing my review, then a page for my website (one day, one day it shall be public), but yes, tomorrow should be the day I begin writing about Zola again. 

Hopefully, then, this block will come to an end. Fact is inspiration doesn't often come, it takes a little work, and it's a shame that this blog post is "work", but it is an attempt to get back to normal. Besides, how could I be short of inspiration at this time of year? I love autumn, especially early autumn. I love waking up to mist and dew, and that lovely cool light that happens only in autumn and spring. There's been plenty of rain, too, which has been no fun for the hens, but it's amused the budgies. Zozo and Pepys, the baby budgies, are doing very well - they're starting to get their grown-up eyes: when we first got them they had huge black eyes, but now their irises are begin to fade to brown, and soon they'll be blue like Trotwood and Oliver's. Zozo has done particularly well with being tamed, but it's coming quite slowly with Pepys. He is starting to get the hang of it, though.

This, then, is October so far! I'm starting, finally, to come out of my malaise thanks to old favourites: Zola, Tartt, and autumn.

As for now, I did say I had to tidy and put the fire on - I'm glad I did this, but it's now pitch black and raining and I have to go outside to get the coal. 

But such is life. 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Top Ten Tuesday.

Happy Autumn, everyone! Oh, how I love this season! It's started with a rather misty and damp morning with a lovely breeze. I woke up to coffee and the dawn chorus, and I have a day ahead with not a great deal planned so I'm looking forward to beginning The Iliad (with the hope that the second time around is a little more successful!), and perhaps writing a post about Macbeth or The Sorrows of Young Werther, both of which I plan on writing about this week. 

In the meantime: this week's Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish is "Top Ten Books On My Fall To-Be-Read list". It's hard to believe that it was three months ago that I wrote "Top Ten Books on my Summer To-Be-Read list". I've just looked at the post and I'm happy to say I read nine of them (the one I missed was The Decameron by Boccaccio). As for the autumn list: I said in the last post I didn't want to make any plans or lists for autumn, so instead of a Top Ten Books on my TBR pile, I give you my Top Ten Autumn Reads (which I may or may not read this autumn):

Top Ten Autumn Reads:
1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

2. The Poetry of John Keats.

3. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

4. Macbeth by William Shakespeare.

5. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.

6. Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe.

7. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.

8. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

9. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.

10. The Divine Comedy by Dante.

All of these books, I think, are great to read in the autumn, but there are a few I'm particularly interested in for reading over the next few months: Dante, Richardson, Tolkien... For now, though, I'm going to begin The Iliad, and my bedtime book is Very Good, Jeeves - I need something a little more light-hearted after The Sorrows of Young Werther!

Once again - a happy autumn to you all! :

Monday, 22 September 2014

Last Day of Summer.

Waiting for autumn!
I can't believe it's been nearly three weeks since I last updated! There are various reasons, firstly I've had an absolute aversion to my various reading challenges. Between 1st June and 1st September I've read 31 books, and 26 of those have been challenge books. Furthermore, 17 of those 26 were from a list made over two years ago. That truly has been tough reading! Most of the books I enjoyed, and for a while I did get used to reading from a specific list, however I've been so reined in I suppose it was only a matter of time before I rebelled! So this month I've been reading the Harry Potter series, which I finished a few days ago, and, of course, watching the Scottish Referendum.

The Borders on the afternoon of
the result.
And that is the second reason why I haven't been blogging: if I've not been reading Harry Potter I've been watching the events unfold. It's been a fascinating few weeks, and though I do not live in Scotland I live so close that a 'yes' vote would have had a great impact on my life (I live, as you might have gathered, in the middle of no where, and "civilisation" as it were is nearer to me over the Scottish Border than it is in England). And, being as I spend a lot of time north of the border and, these days, barely any time south of where I live, I have a strong tie to Scotland and various folks on the border. This is something, in short, that has dominated my thoughts, particularly these past seven days. And I stayed up all night to watch the results! I wanted to see not only how the Borders voted, but also Glasgow, Fife, and Edinburgh, and by the time those were declared it made sense to stay up for the Prime Minister's speech just after 7 am. Gone are the days where I could recover from an all-nighter with a good night's sleep the following night! I'm sad to say I'm still tired! And, of course, there is the expected fall out - everything Scotland was promised is unravelling, plus it's the Labour Party conference, so English politics is particularly engaging (and depressing, actually) at present.

That aside, from now I'm hoping for normal service to resume! It's the first day of autumn tomorrow, which is very exciting, but I have no plans to make any lists, and furthermore I think I'm done with challenges for this year! I'm certainly declaring a "no finish" for the 20 books of Summer list: I have two books left (and have had those two remaining for the past two weeks) - The Small House at Allington by Trollope and Scenes of Clerical Life by Eliot. I know I could, in theory, have finished, but sticking to these lists so rigidly has sapped out the enjoyment. As for the other challenges: I think, given my mood at present, be happy enough to attempt to read the final four Russian books for my Russian Literature Challenge (one of them may be War and Peace!), and I would like to at least read the final two titles on the TBR Challenge (though I doubt I'll blog about all 12).

I'm looking forward to autumn with a clean slate, in short. I'm in the middle of the very short The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, and I expect to finish that tonight, and tomorrow.... Tomorrow, who knows! There have been too many books I haven't read this summer, and whilst, as I say, I enjoyed most of what I did read, I've not enjoyed being on track. This autumn I plan on being very off track! I am considering a re-read of The Iliad, and I'll also need a new bedtime book for when I've finished Young Werther, but it's rather exciting not knowing! I bet, come December, I'll be back to making lists and I'll enjoy doing so, but not this season.

And there are no real plans for autumn, which, after a rather unpleasantly busy year, is a weight from my shoulders. All I can say is that I will be writing about Macbeth quite soon, another Shakespeare I have re-read and enjoyed. I'm starting to think I quite like Shakespeare!

Final bit of news: the budgies are doing splendidly! Zola can now be handled perfectly in the evening (not so much during the day), and Pepys, though he hates being put back in his cage (he flies in; he won't be moved on my finger), he's very affectionate and can be stroked and fussed over and he loves it more that the other three put together. Trotwood and Oliver now seem to love their brothers and call to them in the morning (they're still sleeping apart - the little ones are so full of energy and the few times they have slept in the same cage the older two are tired and grouchy the next morning). I am so happy with them! And the hens are all well, as is George.

All that's left to say is I hope everyone enjoys the last few hours of summer!