17 September 2018

Journal / Katherine Mansfield

Is it not possible that the rage for confession, autobiography, especially for memories of earliest childhood, is explained by our persistent yet mysterious belief in a self which is continuous and permanent; which, untouched by all we acquire and all we shed, pushes a green spear through the dead leaves and through the mould, thrusts a scaled bud through years of darkness until, one day, the light discovers it and shakes the flower free and — we are alive — we are flowering for our moment upon the earth? (1920)

10 September 2018

Tous les hommes sont mortels / Simone de Beauvoir

Les premières étoiles perçaient le bleu sombre du ciel, on pouvait encore les compter; tapies dans la lumière du crépuscule, il y en avait des millions et des millions qui attendaient d'éclore; et par derrière il y en avait d'autres encore qui demeureraient invisibles à nos faibles yeux; mais c'était toujours les mêmes qui s'allumaient les premières; depuis des siècles, la voûte céleste n'avait pas changé; c'était depuis des siècles au-dessus de ma tête le même scintillement glacé.

3 September 2018

Clouds of Witness / Dorothy L. Sayers

"What an awfully charmin' house this is, isn't it? All so jolly stark and grim and all the rest of it." (Lord Peter Wimsey)

27 August 2018

20 August 2018

One Fine Day / Mollie Panter-Downes

When [Mrs. Cranmer] went out, she had a way of snatching up an ancient tweed shooting-cape of Mr. Cranmer's and throwing it round her shoulders. Laura had met her one day, flapping across the fields towards one of her farms, stooping, prodding the earth familiarly with her stick, stumping on among a white and brown and piebald sea of dogs. Before she got too lame, she gardened in shock-boots and a hat like a bee skip. She did not care a button how she looked. But at dinner parties before the war, in black velvet and diamonds, she could look like a queen.

13 August 2018

Mémoires d'Hadrien / Marguerite Yourcenar

Qu'est notre insomnie, sinon l'obstination maniaque de notre intelligence à manufacturer des pensées, des suites de raisonnements, des syllogismes et des définitions bien à elle, son refus d'abdiquer en faveur de la divine stupidité des yeux clos ou de la sage folie des songes? L'homme qui ne dort pas, et je n'ai depuis quelques mois que trop d'occasions de le constater sur moi-même, se refuse plus ou moins consciemment à faire confiance au flot des choses.

6 August 2018

The Last Hours / Minette Walters

It's the summer of 1348 and the plague has reached England. The modest estate of Develish must deal with not only the sudden loss of their ignorant, tyrannical lord, but also a devastating disease that many view as divine punishment, right at their door. Fortunately, behind the moat, its inhabitants continue to benefit from the wise and benevolent rule of Lady Anne, a convent-educated natural leader whose invaluable knowledge of herbal medicine and advanced notions of hygiene has already vastly improved their lives.

Despite this relative safety, all is not well in Develish; being besieged by a deadly illness when no one knows where it came from, how it is transmitted, and how — or even if — it can be cured is talking a physical, mental and emotional toll. Tempers fray, jealousy rears up its ugly head, loyalties are tested. Then a boy is found stabbed to death early one morning, away from the post where he should have been mounting guard. Among those known to be present nearby during the night is Lady Eleanor, Sir Richard's illiterate, spoilt, petulant daughter, who has inherited her father's cruel streak and contempt for serfs.

The responsibility to inquire into this death falls to the boy's half-brother, Thaddeus Thurkell. Recently promoted to the position of Lady Anne's steward, this clever, strong, taciturn bondsman has long borne the stigma of his illegitimacy and the scorn of both his stepfather and Lady Eleanor. Given the delicate circumstances surrounding the murder and the rapidly dwindling stores, Thaddeus secretly decides to takes the five implicated boys with him on a dangerous expedition to acquire food and gather any information they can about the progress of the epidemic.

From this moment, we're privy to the mounting fear and distrust from two different but complementary points of view as we follow Thaddeus and the boys through corpse-filled villages and see how the Develish estate fares against rivals bent on its destruction. Both narratives explore, in a very raw, moving way, how people's true nature begins to emerge, as invariably happens in dire circumstances. It's fascinating to see characters and events from our modern vantage, knowing that this plague (and the ones that will occur in the following centuries) will kill so many, bringing about massive social and economic changes to societies and moulding what they are today.

I found The Last Hours absolutely gripping. It features a gallery of wonderfully drawn and masterfully developed characters. The scenes centering on Lady Eleanor's behaviour are especially chilling. The dialogues are tight and sharp, and there's REAL depth there. 

As well as tensions, this novel is rife with opposites that are brilliantly played against each other: wealth and poverty, wisdom and foolishness, humility and vanity, courage and cowardice, generosity and self-preservation, science and faith, agency and obedience, women and men, Saxons and French, etc. I believe this greatly contributes to making this complex world more tangible to us modern readers than the one-dimensional medieval setting we're too often served.

As for the ending... Well, you can tell the author is a crime novelist: THIS is how you do a cliffhanger! I loved this novel and look forward to what comes next. What will the future hold — and where — for the people of Develish?

I was provided with a free electronic copy of this book through NetGalley by the publisher, Harlequin - MIRA, in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ****

30 July 2018

Dark Pines / Will Dean

In a dense pine forest in central Sweden, a man is shot to death and enucleated. This modus operandi matches the "Medusa murders" committed in the same area 20 years earlier. Among the obvious suspects are the oddball inhabitants of Mossen, a village made up of 5 houses strung along the only road that penetrates to the heart of these woods.

Our narrator, Tuva Moodyson is a young reporter from the local weekly newspaper assigned to cover the event. Her approach, which focuses on those who are hurting rather than on sensationalist statements, stems from traumatic personal experience and, unfortunately, tends to rub people the wrong way. As she clumsily attempts to cope in an environment that terrorizes her and with individuals who perplex her, a second homicide further disrupts her fragile balance. While gossip and rumours fly about the possible identity of the killer, strange figurines appear on Tuva's doormat and the town's climate turns increasingly hostile towards her. Who is targeting her? Does this have anything to do with the murders?

Given the amount of praise heaped on this novel, I was looking forward to reading a twisted tale about a deaf bisexual crime-solving reporter. Alas, my disappointment was great.

For reasons I find puzzling, the author chose to demonstrate his protagonist's deafness by having her constantly fiddle with her hearing aids and put herself in precarious positions by disregarding the precautions she explicitly told us she must take to keep them functioning. Although she has ways of "coping" in the world, these are skimmed over in favour of her weaknesses. This, in addition to the fact that the main character's deafness constitutes the only original element in this narrative, turns Tuva's disability into little more than a gimmick. I'm all for representation in fiction, but this was a very strange way to go about it. (By the way, this criticism also goes for her bisexuality.) Also, her credulity, unworldliness, and lack of common sense and self-awareness even when dealing with events in a small town didn't do much to establish Tuva's credibility as an amateur sleuth.

Stepping into an arena brilliantly dominated by Scandinavian authors, and on their own turf no less, was an ambitious project. Although this novel is being promoted as super disturbing and sinister, in my opinion it's small beer compared with genuine Scandi noir. I've been re-reading other Swedish crime novels recently and I can't put my finger on what it is that makes them so dark. Whatever it is — its pervading bleak atmosphere, if you will —, I didn't detect it in Dark Pines. So many glowing reviews call this book thrilling and dark that perhaps my expectations were a little too high. Alas, I remained mostly unimpressed. Between an interesting concept (a deaf, bisexual reporter must face her deepest fears in order to solve a series of gruesome murders) and its execution, some vital element slipped from the author's grasp, and it fell flat. As a debut novelist, he may simply not yet have acquired the tools necessary to create a main character with sufficient depth and to convey how this character deals with her disability in a way that is natural believable without becoming obsessively minute or repetitive — unless his intention was to indicate obsessive-compulsive behaviour, in which case he might have made it clearer to readers.

If you want to read truly dark, disturbing Swedish crime fiction featuring flawed journalists who make questionable decisions, may I suggest Liza Marklund or Stieg Larsson?

I purchased this book online

Rating: **½

23 July 2018

La Terre des morts / Jean-Christophe Grangé

Les romans de Jean-Christophe Grangé ont tous un air de famille et talonnent un personnage type : rebelle, asocial, situation familiale compliquée (c'est le moins qu'on puisse dire), un peu nul sans vouloir se l'admettre, souvent flic et habituellement masculin, mais pas que. Il y a toujours une énigme à résoudre, qui apparaît au départ simple, mais devient mille fois plus glauque qu'il n'en paraît tout d'abord.

Dans La Terre des morts, notre héros bien malgré lui se nomme Stéphane Corso. Oui, il est flic — et père, ce qui n'arrange rien. Commandant à la Brigade criminelle, il doit enquêter sur le meurtre d'une strip-teaseuse atrocement défigurée et sadiquement torturée, auquel succède bientôt un autre crime identique. S'agit-il d'homicides commis par un client déséquilibré de la boîte où travaillaient les deux victimes? Par un désaxé amateur de SM? Si vous avez déjà lu un roman de cet auteur, vous savez fort bien que l'intrigue ne pourrait se limiter à une trame aussi élémentaire.

Dans son style si distinctif — sec, dépouillé, heurté, mais réussissant pourtant à créer un environnement totalement immersif —, Grangé explore ses deux thèmes fétiches : le mal et l'identité. C'est d'après moi autour de ce dernier point que ses réflexions offrent le plus d'intérêt, notamment en s'interrogeant sur la différence entre la personne qui commet un crime et celle qui se charge de l'enquête.

En ouvrant ce livre, attendez-vous à lire des descriptions explicites, avec violence et sang en prime. Être fan de cet auteur exige un estomac bien accroché et un moral au beau fixe, ou du moins une tolérance élevée pour la descente aux enfers en apnée. Malgré ces quelques mises en garde, sachez qu'on apprend toujours des choses fascinantes, que les personnages sont très bien dessinés et intéressants, et qu'on ressent tellement bien les atmosphères que c'en est parfois troublant. Bref, s'enfiler plusieurs romans de Grangé à la suite, c'est comme lire trop de Balzac : au bout d'un moment, on perd tout espoir en l'être humain. À consommer avec parcimonie, donc.

Pour rester dans la métaphore gastronomique, comme plusieurs des romans qui l'ont précédé, La Terre des morts est bien goûteux mais souffre d'une surabondance d'ingrédients qui finissent par gâcher la sauce — un peu comme si l'auteur avait jeté dans la marmite tous les fragments accumulés sans se demander si le résultat serait harmonieux. À force, le mélange devient quelque peu indigeste... Ça explique en partie pourquoi je préfère les premiers bouquins de J.-C. Grangé; je n'aime pas les intrigues simplistes, mais TROP c'est comme PAS ASSEZ, et l'excès de revirements engendre le torticolis.

J'ai emprunté ce livre à ma bibliothèque locale.

Cote : ***

16 July 2018

The Shepherd's Hut / Tim Winton

As Jaxie Clacton drives away from the tragic scene that has forever changed him and towards what he hopes will be a new life with his beloved Lee, he tells us in straightforward fashion how he came to spend months in this sparsely inhabited part of Australia, how he met an aging priest leading an ascetic life in a shepherd's hut, and how the precarious stability they had managed to build despite their respective secrets was brutally shattered. No stranger to hardship thanks to his family history, he has now discovered where, who and what he is. Now he only seeks peace.

This wonderfully evocative novel can be summed up in one word: intense. The emotions are raw and genuine, the setting deeply rooted in Australia, its rich topography, flora and fauna. The writing is a sensory feast teeming with sounds and scents, the tactile sensations of heat, sweat, grime, the coolness of water on bare skin.

I didn't think I could ever become so engrossed in a book concerned with a young man's coming of age, but Jaxie is a wonderfully compelling anti-hero; brash, hot-headed, earnest, idealistic, resourceful, self-reliant, he stirs the heart in unexpected ways. Especially touching are the passages where he remembers his late mother and dreams of Lee. 

I was provided with a free electronic copy of this book through NetGalley by the publisher, Pan Macmillan, in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ****