Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Kingsley Amis, "Jake’s Thing"

 – Penguin Books 1980, ISBN 0140050965/ 9780140050967 ; 288 p.

Read from August 15th to September 9th 2016

My rating

During the twenty-minute waiting between the two buses I have to take to go to work every day I – read of course, what else? Usually slim books that don’t weigh a lot in my purse, like Kingsley Amis’s Jake’s Thing, which I borrowed from a friend of mine who bought it in a second-hand bookstore without looking inside, as I realized when I grabbed it one morning and opened it happily and impatiently (for Lucky Jim is one of my favourites and I was looking forward to something in the same tonality) in the bus station to suddenly realize that the first chapter was missing. Since the second one began at page 5, I decided that whatever events were presented in the first three (coz I excluded the title page, of course) could be read afterwards and thus, following a Cortazar recipe, I read the novel as it was and went in search of the first chapter afterwards. Lucky me, I found it on Amazon, which was offering it as a sample of its kindle edition.

I don’t want to suggest, with this long introduction, that the story of the reading was more interesting than the story itself; it was just that it made me able to recapture a long-lost memory from my childhood holidays at my grandparents’ house in a mesmerizing countryside (though, alas, not in Combray!), with long sunny days during which I used to climb dusty attics looking for old, dilapidated books I devoured despite missing covers or pages or both. I did not care much then about the indestructibility of the text, nor did I bother with the idea that even a single missing word can leave a gaping hole in a narrative. On the contrary, I loved to fill in the blanks with my own words, to guess and even re-write the missing parts.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Samuel Beckett, "The Unnamable"

 – e-book

Read from: September 25th to October 3rd 2013

My rating:

Imagine the creative impulse is a black hole from which rises a bewildered narrative voice, which tries to make sense only of itself, not of the world. Which tries to become a character, or a body, or a feeling, or a story, and struggles to accept both sides of every coin. Like a picture made only of colours, colours that burst, that flow, that spring from the canvas in no apparent order and coherence – The Unnamable is made only of words, whirlwinding round and round the reader in an endless monologue, questioning, negating and accepting, forever defining the unity of opposites:

I'm there already: I'll start looking for me now, I'm there somewhere. It won't be I - no matter, I'll say it's I. Perhaps it will be I.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Ludmila Ulitskaya, "The Funeral Party"

Translated from the Russian by Cathy Porter – e-book

Read from August 29th to 31st 2016

My rating:

I definitely have to report it J: Ludmila Ulitskaya’s Funeral Party has stolen my dream – my nightmare, that is. I think I’ve already talked about it elsewhere, this recurrent dream I have in which I find myself stranded in Romania with no money and no job (although sometimes I dream that my former school took pity on me and employed me again), freaking out about my bills, my job and my home in Quebec. Over the years I’ve often dismissed this dream of mine as the embodiment of some lack of security about my position and role in my adoptive country that haunts my subconscious. I had to read Ludmila Ulitskaia’s book to learn on one hand that my nightmare was not unusual nor singular and on the other hand that another interpretation, subtler and cleverer could be found: a deep nostalgia of the immigrant for his/ her native land combined with the fear of the same nostalgia – fear to succumb it, that is:

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Sarane Alexandrian, "Istoria filosofiei oculte"

 (Histoire de la philosophie occulte) – Humanitas, 1994,  Traducere de Claudia Dumitriu. ISBN 973-28-0438-6

Perioada lecturii: 29 mai - 19 august 2016

Votul meu:

Un cadou recent de la fostul meu prof de română, Istoria filosofiei oculte a lui Sarane Alexandrian a venit taman cînd căutam literatură de specialitate pe tema sefiroturilor din Pendulul lui Foucault. Așa se explică de ce am început s-o citesc, ca să zic așa, peste rînd, dar nu-mi pare rău deloc, subiectul, foarte interesant în sine, este tratat excelent!

Autorul afirmă în prolog că a scris această carte pentru că își explică fascinația dintotdeauna a cititorilor pentru magie și vrăjitorie nu prin declinul religiei sub influența materialismului și nici printr-o „aspirație intelectuală spre miraculos”, ci prin faptul că omul are atît o gîndire pragmatică cît și una magică, că o acceptă sau o neagă, că o cultivă sau o înăbușă. Aceasta este evidentă în copilărie, persistă în vise și se revarsă în nevroze sau psihoze.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

John Updike, "Rabbit, Run"

– Crest Books, 1965; 256 p.

Read from June 16th to July 21st 2016

My rating:

I knew almost nothing about John Updike before reading Rabbit, Run, except that he was a contemporary American writer and a pretty good stylist (and after finishing the novel I can tell you the last appreciation is an understatement). However I was expecting (I don’t know why, especially since I knew all along the novel was published first in 1960) a postmodernist approach instead of a neo-modernist one. In brief, I thought his literary prestige is due to some innovations in the narrative technique and it was quite a surprise (a delightful one) to discover that he uses to deploy his inimitable, truly mesmerizing narrative voice mostly traditional techniques. That is, there is no cleverly built up structure but a restless, rhythmic beat of a prose that discreetly and masterfully recreates a world by skillfully taming the words.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Jonathan Gottschall, "The Storytelling Animal (How Stories Make Us Human)"

- Mariner Books, New York 2013, ISBN 978-0-544-00234-0 248 p.

Read from June 22nd to July 16th 2016

My rating:

Someone complained that Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal is overgrown – that is, that all the ideas it contains could have been easily synthetized in a long article. I wouldn’t go so far, although I also felt sometimes that one point or another was discussed to its outer limits. Anyway, it was an interesting enough reading, even if not very original.

The premise of the book, disclosed by the title (quoting Graham Swift’s inspiring definition of mankind given in Waterland: “Man – let me offer you a definition – is the storytelling animal”) is that the human being is a Homo fictus, who makes up stories all his life, whether he is an artist or not, and the author takes his time in revealing how and why the fiction influences the human life, to stress “the major function” of storytelling: to shape the very human mind that shaped it, in order to prepare it for the everyday problems.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"

 – e-book

Read from: February 17th to 27th 2014

My rating:

Oh, these modernists, what a mess they’ve made of the narrative! What a wonderful, wonderful mess! Gone is the narrator with his arrogant omniscience, gone is the plot with its mania of ordering the events, gone is the safe timeline, gone the round characters, gone, all of them, for they are lies, they pretend to imitate reality while they do not. Or so Virginia Woolf thinks:

"Life is not a series of gig-lamps symmetrically arranged: life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display...?" (Modern Fiction)

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Annie Dillard, "Living by Fiction"

 – Harper Perennial 1998; 192 p.; ISBN 0-06-091544-7

Read from May 31st to June 21st 2016

My rating:

With her “Living by Fiction”, Annie Dillard seems to contradict Emile Cioran’s belief that building on the ideas/ creations of others is a form of intellectual parasitism, such an outstanding proof is this book that criticism can be art, that it can use literature as an inspirational source to its own glory, just like art uses world to the same purpose. In fact these are the two main themes of the essay: criticism versus art and art versus the world, both suggested by the inspired title. The second one is also emphasized by a clever question asked in Introduction: “Does fiction illuminate the great world itself or only the mind of its human creator?”

The answer is gradually developed in the three parts by discussing the how, the what and why of the fiction-world relationship. Part One, “Some Contemporary Fiction”, compares what the author calls historical modernists (Kafka, Joyce, Faulkner, Gide, Woolf, etc.) with contemporary modernists (Borges, Nabokov, Beckett, Barth, Robe-Grillet, Calvino, Cortazar, etc.) to show that the techniques of the first are still employed by the latter, by looking over time, characters, point of view, fable or themes.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Umberto Eco, "Le pendule de Foucault"

 – (Il pendolo di Foucault) Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle 1990, ISBN 2-253-05949-8, 656 p. Traduit de l’italien par Jean-Noël Schifano

(Re-) lu du 30 mars au 15 juin 2016

Mon vote :

Que je me souviens bien de la première édition (une traduction en roumain) du roman Le pendule de Foucault qui m’est tombée entre les mains dans ma jeunesse, et de la forte impression que m’a laissé cette lecture ! il m’avait tellement fasciné que, comme une vraie émulation de ses personnages, j’ai lu, par après, tout ce que j’ai pu trouver sur les Templiers (incluant Les Rois mauditsJ).

Vingt ans après, comme dirait Dumas, me voici de nouveau émerveillée devant ce chef-d’œuvre d’Umberto Eco, qui, je vous le dis,  sonne aussi bien en français qu’en roumain. Il faudra absolument que ma prochaine relecture soit en italien, mais je me suis senti obligée de le lire cette fois en français, étant donné que la présente édition a été un des premiers livres achetés ici, au Canada, avec l’intention de me refaire la bibliothèque que j’avais dû laisser en Roumanie.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Edmond Rostand, "Cyrano de Bergerac"

 – ebook

Lu du 7 au 14 juin 2016

Mon vote :

Quand mon groupe de lecture  a proposé pour le mois de juin le texte Cyrano de Bergerac d’Edmond Rostand, une amie à moi a déclaré qu’elle allait le lire seulement après avoir vu la représentation théâtrale. Sage décision, étant donné que ce genre de textes semble conçu plutôt pour être parlé, déclamé, joué, bref vécu publiquement que pour être lu dans l’intimité. Et pourtant, moi, j’ai toujours aimé lire les pièces de théâtre, et, différemment de mon amie, je préfère, si possible, lire avant de voir, apprécier ce que le texte dit avant de m’émerveiller de la façon dont il est reproduit et si je devais absolument choisir entre les deux options, je choisirais toujours la première (sauf s’il s’agissait d’une distribution exceptionnelle, peut-être).

Une première raison de cette décision serait que de cette façon tu peux être sûr d’avoir devant toi le texte intégral et non une variante abrégée par raisons de mise en scène (ou par faute de mémoire des acteurs J), ce qui, surtout dans les cas des chefs-d’œuvre, est très important, car chaque mot est irremplaçable, même dans les indications scéniques et les description du décor qui ne se résument jamais à être seulement cela. Et puis, comment pourrait-on autrement capturer l’opinion de l’auteur sur son propre œuvre, étant donné qu’il n’y a pas de voix auctorielle plus impersonnelle et plus discrète que dans le genre dramatique ? C’est seulement par l’entremise de ces indications et de quelques sous-titres et/ ou autres spécifications qu’elle peut trahir un peu son penchant pour le ludique, en influençant, rendre complice ou induire en erreur son lecteur.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Yasunari Kawabata, "House of the Sleeping Beauties"

 – e-book

Read from April 21st to 22nd 2014

My rating:

I’ve always had a certain uneasiness in how to approach Asian literature. Since my knowledge of its background is very limited, I never knew whether the association of a symbol, an image or a metaphor with a Western myth or a Western writer is not risky or simply showing. But then I remembered that there is no such thing as a wrong interpretation (only a dull one J), that a text generally speaks to us what we want it to speak, that, in the end, its voice is always also universal and personal, so that you are free to beat about the bush if you do it gracefully.

All this to explain why to me this novella reminded not only of the two brothers, Hypnos and Thanatos, but also of Orpheus and Eurydice and of a Mircea Eliade’s story, Youth without Youth (made into a film by Coppola, by the way).

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Elena Ferrante, "The Story of the Lost Child"

(Book Four of the Neapolitan Novels – Maturity, Old Age) – Storia della bambina perduta. Translation by Ann Goldstein – e-book.

Read from May 20th to 30th 2016

My Rating: 3/ 5 stars

I don’t know if my habit to read three or more books at the same time is good or bad, but it surely gave me the opportunity to discover connections between books I would have never put in the same sentence in other circumstances. For example, it was fun to discover, in two very dissimilar books, Martin Amis’s The Pregnant Widow and Dan Lungu’s The Little Girl Who Played God, a similar reaction of the characters in front of some landscape while visiting Italy, and which seemed to their awed eyes so impossible picturesque that it had acquired the glossy quality of a postal card. Or to discover that both Alice Munro’s neorealist The View from Castle Rock and Kazuo Ishiguro’s magic realist The Buried Giant managed to find that elusive border between reality and mythology. Not to speak about those times when a book effectively has called another – as Umberto Eco’s Foucault Pendulum did with Alexandrian’s History of the Occult Philosophy – for how could I explain otherwise the fact that I received the second (without even asking) from my former high school teacher just when I was struggling to put in order some random information about occultism wickedly given to me by the first?

Friday, 27 May 2016

Elena Ferrante, "Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay"

- Book Three of the Neapolitan Novels  (Storia di chi fugge e di chi resta) Translation from the Italian by Ann Goldstein – e-book

Read from May 17th to 20th 2016

My rating 

This third book of the Neapolitan novels (which, by the way, I liked better than the second but not as much as the first), is surprisingly well- written for a sequel, I say surprisingly because, with some notable exceptions I usually find sequels very diluted, shadows that try to suck their force from a first, more vigorous narrative.

Well, this is not the case of Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, which reinforced the impression I had while reading the second book (The Story of a New Name – my review here   to whom may interest) that Lila and Lenù are the two faces of the same coin, or better, that each of them is the creation of the other. In a complicated mirror technique, the two characters assume in turn, either the Dr. Jekyll or the Mr Hyde’s role, in a hate-love relationship sometimes beneficial, sometimes destructive:

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Elena Ferrante, "The Story of a New Name"

 – e-book (Storia del nuovo cognomen - Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein)

Read from May 13th to 16th 2016

My rating:

Through the Revolving Looking Glass

I remember seeing, some time ago, a movie that was bordering comedy and drama without truly becoming neither, not even a melodrama. It was sometimes touching, sometimes funny, sometimes only artificial – like many a successful box office today. The name of the movie was Sliding Doors  and it was the plot’s idea I liked most: two alternative futures for the heroine, depending on some apparently minor circumstance – her catching or not a train.

Well, while thinking hard (:D) about the second volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, The Story of a New Name,  it suddenly struck me that its main technique (the whole series main technique, I guess) is roughly the same – the revolving doors one, combined with the good old motive of the double so favoured by Romantic and/ or Gothic literature. Lila and Lenù are nothing but two faces of one and only character in two different circumstances generated by the turning point of continuing or abandoning her education:

My life forces me to imagine what hers would have been if what happened to me had happened to her, what use she would have made of my luck. And her life continuously appears in mine, in the words that I’ve uttered, in which there’s often an echo of hers, in a particular gesture that is an adaptation of a gesture of hers, in my less which is such because of her more, in my more which is the yielding to the force of her less.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Agatha Christie, "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd"

 – e-book

Read from May 5th to 10th 2016

My rating :

Umberto’s Agatha

If you are looking disconcertedly at the title of my review, don’t worry, I have got ready my explanation: while reading Umberto Eco’s Lector in Fabula, I came across an Agatha Christie’s title that, because of the Italian translation (Dalle nove alle dieci – that is, From nine to ten o’clock) I thought it referred to one book of her I had never read. So I looked for it, only to discover it was actually The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Then I thought: how about re-reading it to practice a little, just for fun, what Eco taught me about the Model Reader?

But before beginning my somehow empirical semiotic analysis, I will only add that this lecture was also a good opportunity to learn some interesting information that I am naturally happy to share with you. First, that this early novel, written in 1926, was voted in 2013, according to The Independent, as the best crime novel ever. Then, that one of its best-developed characters, Caroline Sheppard, will be the model for Miss Marple. Finally, and rather off-topic, given that it concerns another character of the book but not the book itself, I learned that Curtain, the novel in which Hercule Poirot dies, was written during War World II by a frightened Agatha Christie who willed it to be published if she died during the London bombing. Of course she did not die then, so the novel was published only in 1975, and as Gradesaver  informs us, “Hercule Poirot was the first ever fictional character to get a front page obituary in the New York Times. On August 6, 1975, a headline ran announcing, ‘Poirot is Dead; Famed Belgian Detective; Hercule Poirot, the Detective, Dies’.”

Monday, 9 May 2016

Umberto Eco, "Lector in fabula: cooperarea interpretativă în textele narative"

 – e-book

Perioada lecturii  12 februarie - 28 aprilie 2016

Votul meu:

Are Umberto Eco ăsta un talent nemaipomenit de a te lăsa cu obsesii incurabile după ce îi citeşti cîte o carte, fie ea roman sau studiu ştiintific. Aşa m-am procopsit cu obiceiul de a verifica „cancrizabilitatea” fiecărui aforism peste care am dat din momentul în care am terminat Sulla letteratura (am adaptat fonetic termenul, fiindcă nu ştiu dacă s-a găsit vreun traducător suficient de iscusit încît să-i dea un echivalent în limba română, dat fiind că nici în italiană termenul „cancrizzabile” nu exista pînă la Eco, care l-a inventat pornind de la „cancer” adică rac, pentru a denumi acele aforisme care se pot „răsturma” pentru a exprima şi adevărul contrar – ca acest aforism al lui Karl Kraus – în traducere proprie foarte aproximativă şi neiscusită: „Nimic nu e mai insondabil decît superficialitatea femeii” care se poate „cancriza” în „Nimic nu e mai superficial decît insondabilitatea femeii”). Sau să mă gîndesc inevitabil, ori de cîte ori mă aflu în faţa unei stupizenii cu pretenţie de adevăr profund pe care mi-o vinde mai ales mass media (dar de care nici unele cunoştinţe ale mele, ale tale, ale lor, nu-s străine), fie la „dinamica căcatului” aşa cum e ea descrisă în Comment voyager avec un saumon (dinamică al cărei simbol este supozitorul, cu traseul lui forţat din afară înăuntru – deci din lumea aparenţei în cea a interiorităţii   J), fie la „Facultatea studiilor comparate de bătut apa-n piuă” din Le pendule de Foucault. Să mai zic că tot el el e vinovat de faptul că de cîte ori aud cuvîntul ornitorinc îl asociez cu Kant, cu tipuri cognitive şi cu conţinuturi molare sau nucleare? 

Ei bine, Lector in fabula mi-a lărgit obsesiile cu noi concepte ca izotopie narativă, competenţă enciclopedică, proprietăţi S-necesare şi altele, numai bune de verificat, de-acum înainte, cînd sînt în stare să mă ridic la nivelul Cititorului Model şi cînd, din punctul de vedere al autorului, evident, o iau pe arătură J

Publicat în 1979, eseul este, aşa cum mărturiseşte chiar autorul în Introducere, atît o sinteză a mai multor studii despre cooperarea interpretativă scrise între 1976 si 1978, cît şi rezultatul descoperirii unui text de Alphonse Allais, Un drame bien parisien, în care Eco a văzut un exemplu perfect de concretizare a acestor acte de cooperare „care, după cum a arătat ulterior Barthes, nasc şi plăcerea şi — în cazuri privilegiate — desfătarea textului.”

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Umberto Eco, "Cimitirul din Praga"

 Il cimitero di Praga - traducere Ştefania Mincu, Polirom, Iaşi 2011

Perioada lecturii: 17-31 mai 2012

Votul meu: 

Ca şi în cazul lui David Lodge sau al lui George Călinescu, citindu-l pe Eco descoperirea păpuşarului critic/ teoretician literar în spatele operei este inevitabilă la toate nivelurile: voce narativă, construcţie de personaj, compoziţie, stil etc. Ceea ce la un scriitor, ca să zic aşa, ingenuu, pare creaţie spontană, eliberată de reguli şi precepte, la criticul dublat de creator va fi totdeauna o operă cu un background suspicios de erudit.

Si această operă de maturitate a lui Eco e poate cel mai bun exemplu în acest sens – de aceea mi-a părut în unele locuri iritant de artificială, aducîndu-mi în minte de-a valma tot felul de teorii despre naraţiune, de la Poe la Booth, Burgos, formaliştii ruşi (al căror model e chiar declarat) şi evident la Eco însuşi. De aceea, nu pot să zic ca m-a încîntat la fel de mult ca Numele trandafirului sau ca Pendulul lui Foucault (în care, deşi exista, criticul era mai puţin evident), în ciuda impecabilei construcţii romaneşti.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Elena Ferrante, "L’amica geniale"

– e-book

Letto dal 9 al 25 aprile 2016

Il mio voto:

Dopo aver letto la mia recensione de Il buio oltre la siepe (recensione in inglese che si trova qui  per chi può interessare), una cara amica mia virtuale su Goodreads mi ha chiesto come mai gli avevo dato solo tre stelle. La mia risposta è stata che di solito do tre stelle ai libri che sembrano rivolgersi più al mio cuore e meno alla mia mente.

Ebbene, ho avuto la stessa impressione mentre stavo leggendo L’amica geniale di Elena Ferrante: cioè di aver sotto gli occhi un libro commovente, coinvolgente, gradevole – insomma che si merita tutto l’elenco di epiteti attribuite di solito ai buoni libri – eppure mirabile,  durabile, sempiterno, come lo è la grande letteratura… proprio non lo so.

Il romanzo comincia con una prolessi che annuncia il cambiamento dei tempi narrativi: dopo una conversazione con il figlio della sua amica di cui ha appreso la sparizione di quest’ultima, l’io narrante dichiara maliziosamente che comincia a scrivere questi ricordi per punirla di aver voluto “non solo sparire lei, adesso, a sessantasei anni, ma anche cancellare tutta la vita che si era lasciata alle spalle.” Infatti, in un’intervista pubblicata nel Corriere della sera  l’autrice confessa che voleva da molto tempo scrivere una storia sull’impossibilità di sparire senza traccia, visto che c’è sempre un parente oppure un amico da fare “da testimone inflessibile di ogni piccolo o grande evento della vita” dell’altro.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Gabriel García Márquez, "Cent ans de solitude"

 – Le livre de poche, 2006

(Re)Lu : du 31 mai au 30 juin 2013

Rating :

Il y a des livres d'une grandeur écrasante. Des livres mystérieux, qui t'incitent et t'illusionnent et qui te refusent leurs secrets même après plusieurs lectures. Des livres vieux comme la sagesse, éblouissants comme un miracle, incitants comme une découverte. Des livres dont on a tout dit, et pourtant on a seulement effleuré le sens.

Dans un univers néanmoins riche en œuvres extraordinaires, ces livres particuliers sont chacun et tous à la fois Le Livre, s'entrelaçant et se détachant en même temps pour créer un monde miraculeux où notre âme se reconnait parmi des idées qui lui sont si familières qu'elle se les revendique. À vrai dire, on aime, on apprécie, on est émerveillé par tant de livres, mais combien parlent vraiment de nous-mêmes? De moi, parlent au moins trois: "L'écume des jours", toutes les fois que je découvre la cruauté et l'insouciance du monde cachées derrière n'importe quelle beauté superficielle, "Les frères Karamazov", toutes les fois que ma conscience me reproche la même cruauté et insouciance envers les autres et "Cent ans de solitude" toutes les fois que je me rends compte qu'il m'est impossible de changer en moi ou dans le monde cette cruauté et insouciance.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

John Edward Williams, "Stoner"

 – e-book

Read from May 6th to 13th 2014

My rating:

An Old-Fashioned Hero

It was impossible for me to read Stoner in one breath, even though it is not a long novel, nor a particularly intricate one. I had to stop after every thirty pages or so, before sadness ate my soul whole. My sadness, I soon realized, had however that cathartic quality the ancient tragedies usually inspire and made me remember an old definition of the tragic hero: he is always defeated and dies, but the ideas he fought for and believed in forever live.

William Stoner is not so different from a Greek hero. His tragic destiny seems to be the result of the same disobedience of the three laws: gods’, by refusing to accept his destiny as a farmer, society’s by fighting authority when unjust, and family’s by breaching the “sanctity” of his unfortunate marriage. His backbone, his quiet dignity, his resigned understanding of the world are permanently challenged by the two implacable, malevolent divinities who will never let him go, who will never let him be: his wife Edith and his colleague Lomax.