Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Tomatoes and French literature

Cherry Sungolds from the farm. Also the first ears of corn, basil, and more squash. After a week of entertaining guests (lovely) and numerous restaurant meals (not always so lovely), Hockeyman and I are suffering major vegetable withdrawal. Tonight's dinner will feature mostly veggies, with a small strip steak acting more as a side dish than a centerpiece.

George Bush makes me embarassed to be an American. Israel makes me embarassed to be a Jew. To quote Rodney King, can't we all just get along? Simplistic, I know, but beats blowing each other to bits. And our Administration is finally sending Condi Rice over? Gee, the original humanitarian. She'll fix everything.

Right, okay, this isn't supposed to be a political blog. Check out Daily Kos: , The Washington Monthly: , and Brad DeLong: for congent discussions of the current disastrous state we're in. [Hockeyman here (probably so named because outside of IFC, that's all I'll watch on TV). For straight, inside national security dope, also look at Laura Rozen and Steve Clemons. They are not just some schmucks. -- HM]

On a final bitchy note, I received my summer reading issue of Tin House today. Tin House, those Portland folk tripping over themselves to create a literary cabal, somehow managed the following corker in the Editor's Note:

"Similarly, Steven King, overlord of the horror genre..."

Mr. Spillman, fire your copyeditor.

Continuing with yesterday's French lit discussion, anyone out there in the blogosphere sharing my fondness for French writng should read Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise. Begun in 1941, as Nemirovsky and her family sought refuge from the Nazis in the French countryside, this unfinished book describes the effects of the Occupation on a loosely connected group of French citizens. One of the many stunnng things about this work is Nemirovsky's ability to pitilessly describe events as they occur, along with the behaviors, good and bad, of the individuals enduring them.

Nemirovsky was arrested before she could complete the novel; her notes, in the appendix, leave no doubt she knew the fate awaiting her. Even more heartbreaking are the letters her husband, Michel Epstein, sent to her publishers, the authorities, anyone he hoped might save his wife. These imploring notes that continue after her death on August 17th, 1942: Epstein did not know she died. He was arrested soon afterward and gassed. Their children, Denise and Elisabeth, survived, saving their mother's notebook for decades before mustering the strength to read it. To conserve paper, Irene wrote in print so tiny her daughters transcribed the manuscript with a magnifying glass. Kinda puts Sophie Kinsella to shame, eh?

I am still trying to figure out how symbols work on blogs, so please forgive the lack of italics, proper accent marks, etc. I know they are missing. Hockeyman and I are on the case.

I began this entry and then went off to the doctor, where I distracted myself trying to figure out what it is about French writing I find so appealing. As a nurse poked me with any number of needles, I realized it was a certain concise elegance.
Consider these sentences:

"He knows she doesn't love him--yet--but he's confident that this will change. It's like music, he tells himself. Passion is nothing without diligence, patience, hard work...but little by little, it starts to happen. It will happen in their marriage, too. He can't conceive of it not happening. Up until now he's acheived every single goal he's set for himself in life, without exception. That's why he sleeps so well at night. "

That final sentence, just like Gavalda's cell phone disaster. In Yiddish we call this the zetz--the little nudge. The writer is Nancy Huston, Canadian-born but a longtime inhabitant of France. She writes in French and does her own translation (Gosh, I feel like a worm.). Alas, not enough. More, please!

Here's another one, from Catherine Texier's terrific novel Victorine:

"She was a good woman, they'll say after she passes away, she went to mass, she gave to the parish, she cared about the poor. She had a passion for the ocean."

Again, that final devastating sentence, the teaser that sums it all up: there is more to this woman than her impeccable exterior.

Of course there is Colette. And Simone de Beauvoir. Judith Thurman's biography of Colette is excellent but rather depressing, as this amazing sensualist was a decidedly unkind woman. Hazel Rowley's Tete-a-Tete, about de Beauvoir and Satre's bizarre relationships, is also a fine work. de Beauvoir was no saint but nicer than Sidonie Gabrielle.

Off to shuck the corn.

Nancy Huston: The Mark of the Angel. Vintage International, 1999, p.40

Catherine Texier: Victorine. Pantheon Books, 2004, p.21


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