Sunday, May 29, 2011
Translated from the French by Ina Rilke 2001
The magic of story-telling comes alive within this enchanting fable about the narrator and Luo, two teenage boys sent to remote Phoenix mountain for re-education during Mao Zedong's reign in China, 1971. What would have been a very hard and drudging life drastically changes after they discover and take possession of a suitcase full of translated classic books. They become particularly enraptured with Balzac's book, Ursule Mirouet, which they use to win the heart of a beautiful Chinese seamstress.
'The village headman, a man of about fifty, sat cross-legged in the centre of the room, close to the coals burning in a hearth that was hollowed out of the floor; he was inspecting my violin. Among the possessions brought to this mountain village by the two "city youths" -- which was how they saw Luo and me -- it was the sole item that exuded an air of foreignness, of civilisation, and therefore aroused suspicion.'(opening lines)
'A few words about re-education: towards the end of 1968, the Great Helmsman of China's Revolution, Chairman Mao, launched a campaign that would leave the country profoundly altered. The universities were closed and all the "young intellectuals," meaning boys and girls who had graduated from high school, were sent to the countryside to be "re-educated by the poor peasants."'(6)
"The saying goes: a sincere heart can make even a stone blossom. So tell me, was the flower girl's heart lacking in sincerity?"(35)
'Ba-er-zar-ke." Translated into Chinese, the name of the French author comprised four ideograms. The magic of translation! The ponderousness of the two syllables as well as the belligerent, somewhat old-fashioned ring of the name were quite gone, now that the four characters -- very elegant, each composed of just a few strokes -- banded together to create an unusual beauty, redolent with an exotic fragrance as sensual as the perfume wreathing a wine stored for centuries in a cellar.'(56)
'Then I was seized with an idea: I would copy out my favourite passages from Ursule Mirouet, word for word. It was the first time in my life that I had felt any desire to copy sentences from a book.'(58)
'The old man ran his fingers lightly over the strings of his instrument, which he held like a guitar. After a few notes he launched, almost inaudibly, into song. Our attention was immediately drawn to the contortions of his stomach, the sight of which was so extraordinary as to obliterate his voice, the tune and everything else from our consciousness. Being so thin, he didn't actually have a stomach at all, just wrinkled skin forming innumerable tiny folds on his abdomen. When he began to sing the wrinkles billowed out, forming little waves that rippled across his tanned and gleaming body. The band of plaited straw that served as his belt began to undulate too. Every now and then it disappeared into a roll of skin, but just as it seemed lost forever in the tidal flow it re-emerged, dignified and pristine. A magical waistband.'(73)
'When planning our strategy a few days earlier we had come to the conclusion that the success of our illegal entry hinged on one thing: knowing were Four-Eyes had hidden his suitcase. How would we find it? '(98)
'It was all such a long time ago, but one particular image from our sting of re-education is still etched in my memory with extraordinary precision: a red-beaked raven keeping watch as Luo crawled along a narrow track with a yawning chasm on either side. On his back he carried the inconspicuous, work-soiled bamboo hod in which he had secreted Old Go, as Balzac's Pere Goriot was titled in Chinese -- the book he was going to read to the Little Seamstress, the lovely mountain girl in need of culture.'(109)
'Suddenly, I felt the stirrings of an uncontrollably sadistic impulse, like a volcano about to erupt. I thought about all the miseries of re-education, and slowed down the pace of the treadle.'(134)
'That the ultimate pay-off of this metamorphosis, this feat of Balzacian re-education, was yet to come didn't occur to us. Were we wrapped up in ourselves to notice the warning signals? Did we overestimate the power of love? Or, quite simply, had we ourselves failed to grasp the essence of the novels we have read to her?'(180)
First Anchor Books Edition, November 2002
Book qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
It is 2007 and in Rome, Italy, a small English newspaper company is in trouble and struggling to remain afloat. As such, although written with wit and humor, there is an overlying sense of melancholy as one reads through each chapter dedicated to the story of each employee (American expats), it's current publisher and one extraordinary reader. The writing is remarkable and the format so perfect for the plot. What is brilliant about the format, is the way the author smartly inserts the different characters within the different stand-alone short stories, the technique so subtle and yet so startling. And as a flashback, at the end of each chapter, the history of the company, from its inception in 1953, slowly unfolds. Three absorbing stories are my favorites: Arthur Gopal, the Obituary writer, Ornella de Monterecchi, the Reader and Abbey Pinnola, the Chief Financial Officer.
'Lloyd shoves off the bedcovers and hurries to the front door in white underwear and black socks. He steadies himself on the knob and shuts his eyes. Chill air rushes under the door; he curls his toes. But the hallway is silent.'(opening lines)
'Travel means effort and a night away from home. Bleak. And nothing is worse than obit interviews. He must never disclose to his subjects that he's researching because they tend to become distressed. So, he claims to be working on a "profile." He draws out the moribund interview, confirms the facts he needs, then sits there, pretending to jot notes, stewing in guilt, remarking, "Extraordinary!" and "Did you really?" All the while, he knows how little will make it into print -- decades of a person's life condensed into a few paragraphs, with a final resting place at the bottom of page nine, between Puzzle-Wuzzle and World Weather.'(31)
"What I really fear is time. That's the devil: whipping us on when we'd rather loll, so the present sprints by, impossible to grasp, and all is suddenly past. My past -- it doesn't feel real in the slightest. The person who inhabited it is not me. It's as if the present me is constantly dissolving. There's the line of Heraclitus: 'No man steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.' That's quite right. We enjoy this illusion of continuity, and we call it memory. Which explains, perhaps, why our worst fear isn't the end of life but the end of memories."(37)
'Here is a fact: nothing in all civilization has been as productive as ludicrous ambition. Whatever its ills, nothing has created more. Cathedrals, sonatas, encyclopedias: love of God was not behind them, nor love of life. But the love of man to be worshipped by man.'(38)
"My feeling is that, at heart, every story is a business story."(63)
'Journalism is a bunch of dorks pretending to be alpha males.'(153)
'But we've got to acknowledge that we're entertainers of a sort. That doesn't mean phony. Doesn't mean vulgar. It means readable in the best way -- so people wake up wanting us before their coffee. If we're so reverent about public service that nobody reads us, we're not doing the public any service at all.'(179)
'How will she explain her contentment of living like a housewife?'(186)
'At newspapers, what was of the utmost importance yesterday is immaterial today.'(193)
'I suspect revenge is one of those things that's better in principle than in practice. I mean, there's no real satisfaction in making someone suffer because you have.... I mean, is the point to get justice -- to balance out something unfair? Nothing does that. ... The way to get over stuff, I think, is by forgetting.'(195)
'Typewriters disappeared next, replaced by video display terminals. Overnight, the newsroom's distinctive clack-clack-bing went silent. The rumbling basement presses hushed, too, with the work outsourced to modernized printing sites around the globe. No longer did vast rolls of newsprint slam into the backside of the building in the late afternoon, jolting any dozing reporter awake. No longer did delivery trucks clog Corso Vittorio at dawn as workmen loaded the papers, copies still warm.'(201)
'She has read every copy of the paper since 1976, when her husband, Cosimo de Monterecchi, was posted to Jeddah... She had never learned the technique of newspaper reading, so took it in order like a book, down the columns, left to right, page after page. She read every article and refused to move on until she was done, which meant that each edition took several days to complete.... One year into her newspaper reading, she was six months behind. When they returned to Rome in the 1990's, she remained stranded in the late 1970s. When it was the 1990s outside, she was just getting to know President Reagan. When planes struck the Twin Towers, she was watching the Soviet Union collapse. Today, it is February 18, 2007, outside this apartment. Within, the date remains April 23, 1994.'(207)
'Once at the boarding gate, Abbey falls into her customary travel coma, a torpor that infuses her brain like pickling fluid during long trips. In this state, she nibbles any snack in reach, grows mesmerised by strangers' footwear, turns philosophical, ends up weepy. She gazes at the backs of seats around the departure lounge: young couples nestling, old husbands reading books about old wars, lovers sharing headphones, whispered words about duty-free and delays.'(225)
2011 Dial Press Trade Paperback Edition
Book qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Eleven-year-old Flavia is off to solve another murder mystery once again. After she accidentally burns down the tent of the Gypsy fortune-teller Fenella, a series of events follow, that includes finding a dead body hanging from the trench of a sculpture of Poseidon. With nothing but her bicycle Gladys in tow, Flavia sleuths around her interesting neighborhood of Bishop's Lacey, asks endless questions, and once again cracks the investigation with absolute charm. In this third book of the Flavia de Luce Mystery series, the author gives a poignant glimpse of Flavia's mother Hariet, who died soon after she was born.
'"You frighten me," the Gypsy said. "Never have I seen my crystal ball so filled with darkness.'(opening lines)
'I had already learned that sisterhood, like Loch Ness, has things that lurk unseen beneath the surface, but I think it was only now that I realized that of all the the invisible strings that tied the three of us together, the dark ones were the strongest.'(41)
'Once, when we were lying on the south lawn looking up into the blue vault of a perfect summer sky, I had suggested to Feely that Father's quest for imperfections was not limited to stamps, but was sometimes expanded to include his daughters.'(45)
'I'd learned quite early in life that the mind loves nothing better than to spook itself with outlandish stories, as if the various coils of the brain were no more than a troop of roly-poly Girl Guides huddled over a campfire in the darkness of the skull.'(69)
'Alone at last! Whenever I'm with other people, part of me shrinks a little. Only when I am alone can I fully enjoy my own company.'(102)
'I have no fear of the dead. Indeed, in my own limited experience I have found them to produce in me a feeling that is quite the opposite of fear. A dead body is much more fascinating than a live one, and I have learned that more corpses tell better stories.'(114)
'Love's not some bug river that flows on and on forever, and if you believe it is, you're a bloody fool. It can be clammed up until nothing's left but a trickle..."(155)
'I had long ago discovered that when a word or formula refused to come to mind, the best thing for it was to think of something else: tigers, for instance, or oatmeal. Then, when the fugitive word was least expecting it, I would suddenly turn the full blaze of my attention back onto it, catching the culprit in the beam of my mental torch before it could sneak off again into the darkness.... "Thought-stalking," I called the technique, and I was proud of myself for having invented it.'(180)
'Spring water, I knew, was a remarkable chemical soup: calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and assorted salts and sulphates. I grabbed the battered old iron tin cup that hung from a chain, scooped it full of the burbling water, and drank until I thought I could feel my bones strengthening.'(250)
'Our September breakfast menu had been in force for almost two weeks now, and the base of my tongue shrank back a little as Mrs. Mullet brought to the table what I thought of as our daily ration of T.O.A.D.
The dates stewed and served with cold clotted cream, were another of Mrs. Mullet's culinary atrocities. They looked and tasted like something that had been stolen from a coffin in a midnight churchyard.'(263)
'I think there must be a kind of courage that comes from not being able to make up your mind.'(273)
a Delacorte Press Hardcover Edition
Book borrowed from the library
Book qualifies for:100+ Reading Challenge
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
In this very timely novel that boldly questions the current state of our American Health Care (business) Industry, Shep, the main character forgoes his dream of retiring to a remote Island of Pemba in Africa after his wife Glynis reveals that she has Mesothelioma, a fatal cancer. As they go through the motions of experimental treatments, their life-savings and personal relationships start to dwindle away. Will the illness break or save their marriage? Supported by equally unforgettable strong characters such as Shep's best friend Jackson with his incessant rants, and Jackson's daughter Flicka with her brave candor, the story is riveting and will probably unleash your own personal angst on the issues of health care (among other things), as it did mine. Is it any wonder that I read this book in one sitting?
'Shepherd Armstrong Knacker
Meryll Lynch Account Number 934-23F917
December 01, 2004 - December 31, 2004
Net Portfolio Value: $731,778.56
What do you pack for the rest of your life?'(opening lines)
'Water had a devious willfulness of its own, a sneaky, seeping insistence, an instinct for finding the single seam or joint you've left unsealed. Sooner or later, water will get in it if he wants to, or -- more vitally, in Shep's case -- it will get out.'(6)
'Shep believed fervently that money -- the web of your fiscal relationships to individuals and to the world at large -- was character; that the surest test of any man's mettle was how he wielded his wallet.'(8)
'It was disconcerting to be systematically punished for what might have engendered a modicum of gratitude. He did not require the gratitude, but he could have skipped the resentment, an emotion distinctive for being disagreeable on both its generating and receiving ends. Glynis resented her dependency: she found it humiliating. She resented not being a celebrated metalsmith, and she resented the fact that her status as professional nonentity appeared to everyone, including Glynis, to be all her fault. She resented her two children for diverting her energies when whey they were young; once they were no longer young, she resented them for failing to divert her energies. She resented that her husband and now her thoughtlessly undemanding children had thieved her most cherished keepsakes: her excuses. A resentment produces the psychic equivalent of acid reflux, she resented the resentment itself. Never having had much of substance to complain about was yet one more reason to feel aggrieve.'(15)
'But even when doctors acted kind, the extent of their capacity to be kind was often out of their hands. However gently put, many a message that physicians were forced to deliver was cruel, and if it did not feel cruel it was a lie and then was even cruder. Personally Shep didn't understand why anyone would want to be one.'(47)
"Here's how it works," Jackson explained benevolently, "We're going on a trip, and it's your car, so I've agreed to pay for gas. We stop at a station, you fill up the tank, tell me the gas was fifty bucks, hold out your hand. With an expression on my face like I'm doing you a big favor, I hand you a twenty. You say, what's this? I say, but that's what a tank of gas should cost -- since that's what it cost when I was twelve. Basically, the insurers live in a fantasy world, and we Mugs are stuck in the real one.'(64)
'You never know what kind of a life someone might still value even if you don't think you'd put up with it yourself. In fact, you might be wrong. You might put up with it. You never know what you'll put up with if the alternative is nothing.'(107)
'Shep kept a hand on her cheek, holding her gaze, careful to keep his own eyes from darting even briefly to the anesthetist as she filled the syringe. And then he told his wife that he loved her. The effect of the injection was almost immediate, and these would be the last words she heard.
He had infused the ritual with as much feeling as three words could bear. Yet he wished that by convention their invocation was rare. Between spouses, the declaration was too often tossed off in hasty, distracted partings, or parlayed lightly to round up banter on the phone. He might have preferred a custom that restricted such a radical avowal to perhaps thrice in a lifetime. Rationing would protect the claim from cheapening and keep it holy. For were he to have been doled out three I-love-yous like wishes, he would have spent one of them this morning.'(126)
"We pay good money so these kids learn something. Instead they're so coddled that Heather doesn't even get proper grades. What do we get on her report card? 'Does consistently,' 'does usually,' or 'does with assistance.' There's no 'doesn't do,' 'won't do,' or 'does, but it's crap.' And you saw that newsletter: they won't let her teachers use red pen anymore. Red's too 'confrontational' and 'threatening,' so now her tests are marked in a 'soothing' green. They've chucked the bell between classes to make the environment more 'welcoming.' They keep this up, Heather'll grow up and get a job, and the first time her boss says, 'You're late,' or has a tiny bit of a problem paying her to do work she didn't do because she didn't feel like it? She'll jump off the bridge."(171)
"What would I like to get away from? Complexity. Anxiety. A feeling I've had my whole life that at any given time there's something I'm forgetting, some detail or chore, something that I'm supposed to be doing or should have already done. That nagging sensation -- I get up with it, I go through the day with it, I go to sleep with it."(205)
"You can't take pleasure in your leisure, because it's been forced on you," he said. "And because you feel like shit. So it's the time we have while feeling well that's precious. I'm just not squandering my 'life' on botched Sheetrock jobs in Queens. I'm squandering my healthy life. You of all people should appreciate how raw the deal is. We slave away during the few years that we're capable of enjoyment. Then what's left are the years we're old and sick. We get sick on our own time. We only get leisure when it weighs on us. When it's useless to us. When it's no longer an opportunity but a burden."(205-206)
'Remembering was a more active experience than she had ... remembered. You could reconstruct the past only with the building blocks of the present. To remember joy, you required joy at hand.'(308)
'"You know them movies... He was groping. "Remember how sometimes, in the middle, a movie seems to drag? I get restless, and take a leak, or go for popcorn. But sometimes, the last part, it heats up, and then right before the credits one of us starts to cry -- well, then you forget about the crummy middle, don't you? You don't care about the fact that it started slow, or had some plot twist while along the way that didn't scan. Because it moved you, because it finally pulled together, you think, when you walk out, that it was a good movie, and you're glad you went. See Gnu?" he promised. "We can still end well."'(404)
First Harper Perennial Edition published 2011
Book owned and won from Man of la Book Blog's giveaway. His awesome review is HERE.
Book qualifies for: 100 + Reading Challenge
Sunday, May 15, 2011
After Silas Marner is betrayed by a friend and later loses his fiance, he moves to Raveloe and leads the life of a lonely weaver, seemingly content to enjoy the gold he has accumulated from his craft. But when this treasure gets stolen from its hiding place by his hearth, and days later, he finds a golden-haired child in its place, his life begins to change. With the help of Dolly, a friendly neighbor, he raises the child as his own, while continuing to wonder about the identity of the child's parents and the person who stole his gold. Set in 19th century England, this is another classic that gives as a timeless story of the redemptive powers of love.
'In the days when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the farmhouses -- and even great ladies, clothes in silk and threadlace, had their toy spinning-wheels of polished oak -- there might be seen, in districts far away among the lanes, or deep in the bosom on the hills, certain pallid undersized men, who, by the side of the brawny country-folk, looked like the remnants of a disinherited race.'(opening lines)
'He seemed to weave, like the spider, from pure impulse, without reflection. Every man's work, pursued steadily, tends in this way to become an end in itself, and so to bridge over the loveless chasms of his life. Silas's hand satisfied itself with throwing the shuttle, and his eye with seeing the little squares in the cloth complete themselves under his effort.'(14)
'The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened, is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.'(38)
'I suppose one reason why we are seldom able to comfort our neighbors with our words is, that our goodwill gets adulterated, in spite of ourselves, before it can pass our lips. We can send black puddings and pettitoes without giving them a flavour of our own egoism; but language is a stream that is almost sure to smack of a mingled soil. There was a fair proportion of kindness in Raveloe, but it was often of a beery and bungling sort, and took the shape least allied to the complimentary and hypocritical.'(77)
"Would you never forgive me, then, Nancy -- never think well of me, let what would happen -- would you never think that the present made amends for the past? Not if I turned a good fellow, and gave up everything you didn't like?"(106)
'It is seldom that the miserable can help regarding their misery as a wrong inflicted by those who are less miserable.'(108)
'He turned immediately towards the hearth where Silas Marner sat lulling the child. She was perfectly quiet now, but that wide-gazing calm which makes us older human beings, with our inward turmoil, feel a certain awe in the presence of a little child, such as we feel before some quiet majesty of beauty in the earth or sky -- before a steady glowing planet, or a full-flowered eglantine, or the bending trees over a silent pathway.'(119)
'The prevarication and white lies which a mind that keeps itself ambitiously pure is as uneasy under as a great artist under the false touches that no one eye detects but his own, are worn as lightly as mere trimmings when once the actions have become a lie.'(120)
"Ah," said Dolly, with soothing gravity, "it's like the night and the morning, and the sleeping and the waking, and the rain and the harvest -- one goes and the other comes, and we know nothing how or where. We may strive and scrat and fend, but it's little we can do arter all -- the big things come and go wi' no striving o' our'n -- they do, that they do;..."(123)
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Joan Didion 2006
While her only child Quintana lays unconscious in an ICU at a New York hospital, the author's husband John, suddenly dies from a massive heart attack. In this unforgettable memoir, the author writes so honestly (and perfectly) about the difficult first year after the tragic event. She missses him. She grieves. She mourns. She wants him back. I cannot even begin to fathom how heavy her heart must feel (and still feels) everyday.
'Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity.'(opening lines)
'As a writer, even as a child, long before what I wrote began to be published, I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs, a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought or believed behind an increasingly impenetrable polish. The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish I had instead of words and rhythms a cutting room, equipped with an Avid, a digital editing system on which I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now, let you pick the takes, the marginally different expressions, the variant readings of the same lines. This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning. This is the case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself.'(7-8)
'Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be.... What I felt in each instance was sadness, loneliness (the loneliness of the abandoned child of whatever age), regret for time gone by, for things unsaid, for my inability to share even in any real way to acknowledge, at the end, the pain and helplessness and physical humiliation they each endured. '(26-27)
'Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.'(27)
'... but I needed that first night to be alone.
I needed to be alone so that he could come back.
This was the beginning of my year of magical thinking.'(33)
'Why do you always have to be right.
Why do you always have to have the last word.
For once in your life just let it go.'(141)
'Did mothers always try to press on their daughters the itineraries of which they themselves had dreamed?
'Why didn't I listen when he said we weren't having any fun?
Why didn't I move to change our life?'(186)
'Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.'(188)
'Nor can we know ahead of the the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.'(189)
'Marriage is memory, marriage is time.'(197)
'We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we no longer are. As we will one day not be at all.'(198)
'Time is the school in which we learn.'(198)
First Vintage International Edition 1997
Book qualifies for: 100+Reading Challenge
Monday, May 9, 2011
Alan Bradley 2010
In this second book of the Flavia de Luce Mystery series (although they are all stand-alone books), eleven year-old Flavia who has an unhealthy fascination with death, chemistry and poison, craftily solves the mystery of puppeteer Rupert Porson's sizzling demise. As usual, the plot is absorbing and the characters amusing (if you are able to suspend your disbelief that Flavia seems to know everything!). The vividly described puppet shows were especially enthralling for me. I am slowly getting familiar with the 1950s rural English town of Bishops's Lacey and really getting attached to the family's trusted gardener Dogger.
'I was lying dead in the churchyard. An hour had crept by since the mourners had said their last farewells.'(opening lines)
'I have never much cared for flippant remarks, especially when others make them, and in particular, I don't give a frog's fundament for them when they come from an adult. It has been my experience that facetiousness in the mouth of someone old enough to know better is often no more than camouflage for something far, far worse.'(17)
'Everyone needs to escape don't they? In one way or another.'(20)
'Meg, in a tattered outfit of rusty black bomabazine, looked like a vulture that had been sucked up by a tornado and spat back out. A red glass cherry bobbed cheerfully from a wire on her black flowerport hat.'(68)
'Now it seemed that Daffy's brain had not only died, but that it had begun to curdle. Her right eye rolled off into one corner, while the other looked as if it were about to explode clean out of her head.
This was the effect she had been working on for years: the ability to bulge her eyes out in two different directions at the same time.
"A touch of old exophthalmos," she had called it once, and I had begged her to teach me the trick. I had practiced in front of a looking glass until my head was splitting, but I could never manage more than a a light lateral googly.'(103)
Eleven-year-olds are supposed to be unreliable. We're past the age of being poppets: the age where people bend over and poke us in the tum with their fingers and make idiotic noises that sound like "boof-boof" -- just the thought of which is enough to make me bring up my Bovril. And yet we're still not at the age where anyone ever mistakes us for a grown-up. The fact is, we're invisible -- except when we chose not to be.'(112)
'A stir at one side of the stage caught our attention, and then a figure strode confidently out towards the hapsichord-- it was Mozart!... Dressed in a suit of green silk, with lace at his throat, white knee-stockings, and buckled shoes, he looked as if he had stepped straight through a window from the eighteenth century into our own.... Shaking his head, he went to his instrument, pulled a match from his pocket, and lit the candle: one at each end of the harpsichord's keyboards.... It was an astonishing performance!'(128)
'Jack seemed to be looking up as, with a sound like thunder, the giant came crashing down from the sky.
For a few moments, the monster lay twitching horribly, a trickle of ruby blood oozing from the corner of its mouth, its ghastly head and shoulders filling the stage with flying sparks, as smoke and little flames rose in acrid tendrils from its burning hair and goatee. BUt the blank eyes that stared out unseeing into mine were not those of the hinged giant, Galligantus...'(151)
'We sat for a few moments in silence, Aunt Felicity dabbing away at her canvas with no particularly exciting results, and then she spoke again: "If you remember nothing else, remember this: Inspiration from outside one's self is like the heat in an oven. It makes passable Bath buns. But inspiration from within is like a volcano: It changes the face of the world."'(203)
'There's something about pottering with poisons that clarifies the mind. When the slightest slip of the hand could prove fatal, one's attention is forced to focus like a burning-glass upon the experiment, and it is then that the answers to half-formed questions so often come swarming to mind as readily as bees coming home to the hive.'(276)
'Gelsemine was one of chemistry's chameleons, shifting color with delicious abandon, and all without a trace of its former hue... People were like that, too.'(278-279)
'Seen from the air, the male mind must look rather like the canals of Europe, with ideas being towed along well-worn towpaths by heavy-footed dray horses. There is never any doubt that they will, despite wind and weather, reach their destinations by following a simple series of connected lines.
But the female mind, even in my limited experience, seems more of a vast and teeming swamp, but a swamp that knows in an instant whenever a stranger -- even miles away -- has so much as dipped a single toe into her waters. People who talk about this phenomenon, most of whom know nothing whatsoever about it, call it "woman's intuition.".'(308-309)
'Brains and morals have nothing to do with one another. Take myself, for instance: I am often thought of as being remarkably bright, and yet my brains, more often than not, are busily devising new and interesting ways of bringing my enemies to sudden, gagging, writhing, agonizing death.
I am quite firm in my belief that poisons were put upon the earth in the first place to be discovered -- and put to good use -- by those of us with the wits, but not necessarily the physical strength, to ...'(350)
2011 Bantam Book Trade Paperback Edition
Book qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge
WINNER of the 2011 Reading from My Shelves Project Giveaway:
After the comments were sorted out for valid entries, the winning number generated through Random.org is:
#2 - Avid Reader
Thanks to everyone who participated.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Translated from the French by Matthew Ward
How ironic that Mersault, the main character of this book only wants to live a simple life but ends up in a complex and senseless path. He lives for the moment, always calm, honest, unemotional and passive, even as he buries his mother and begins a relationship with girlfriend Marie. He refrains from overthinking, rationalizing nor overreacting, even as he gets entangled in a tragic crime, goes to jail, and is put on trial. Like Mersault, the book is straight-forward, the telling unpretentious and stark, devoid of detours and incessant meanderings. Sometimes, I need that.
'Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: "Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours." That doesn't mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.'(opening lines)
'Then he asked me if I wasn't interested in a change of life. I said that people never change their lives, that in any case one life was as good as another and that I wasn't dissatisfied with mine here at all. He looked upset and told me that I never gave him a straight answer, that I had no ambition, and that that was disastrous business. So I went back to work. I would rather not upset him, but I couldn't see any reason to change my life. Looking back on it, I wasn't unhappy. When I was a student, I had lots of ambitions like that. But when I had to give up my studies I learned very quickly that none of it really mattered.'(41)
'All I could feel were the cymbals of sunlight crashing on my forehead and, indistinctly, the dazzling spear flying up from the knife in front of me. The scorching blade slashed at my eyelashes and stabbed my stinging eyes. That's when everything began to reel. The sea carried up a thick, fiery breath. It seemed to me as if the sky split open from one end to the other to rain down fire.'(59)
'He asked if I had felt any sadness that day. The question caught me by surprise and it seemed to me that I would have been very embarrassed if I'd had to ask it. Nevertheless I answered that I had pretty much lost the habit of analyzing myself and that it was hard for me to tell him what he wanted to know. I probably did love Maman, but that didn't mean anything. At one time or another all normal people have wished their loved ones were dead. Here the lawyer interrupted me and he seemed very upset. He made me promise I wouldn't say that at my hearing or in front of the examining magistrate. I explained to him, however, that my nature was such that physical needs often get in the way of my feelings. '(65)
'Then the judge stood up, as if to give me the signal that the examination was over. He simply asked, in the same weary tone, if I was sorry for what I had done. I thought about it for a minute and said that more than sorry I felt kind of annoyed. I got the impression he didn't understand. But that was as far as things went that day.'(70)
'Afterwards my only thoughts were those of a prisoner. I waited for the daily walk, which I took in the courtyard, or for a visit from my lawyer. The rest of the time I managed pretty well. At the time, I often thought that if I had to live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but look up at the sky flowering overhead, little by little I would have gotten used to it.'(77)
'Apart from these annoyances, I wasn't too unhappy. Once again the main problem was killing time. Eventually, once I learned how to remember things, I wasn't bored at all... I realized then that a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison. He would have enough memories to keep him from being bored. In a way, it was an advantage.'(79)
'I noticed then that everyone was waving and exchanging greetings and talking, as if they were in a club where people are glad to find themselves among others from the same world. That is how I explained to myself the strange impression I had of being odd man out, a kind of intruder.'(84)
"Here we have a perfect reflection of this entire trial: everything is true and nothing is true!"(91)
'I was assailed by memories of a life that wasn't mine anymore, but one in which I'd found the simplest and most lasting joys: the smells of summer, the part of the town I loved, a certain evening sky, Marie's dresses and the way she laughed. The utter pointlessness of whatever I was doing there seized me by the throat, and all I wanted was to get it over with and get back to my cell and sleep.'(104-105)
'Maman used to say that you can always find something to be happy about. In my prison, when the sky turned red and a new day slipped into my cell, I found out that she was right. Because I might just as easily have heard footsteps and my heart could have burst.'(113)
'I had lived my life one way and I could just as well have lived it another. I had done this and I hadn't done that. I hadn't done this thing but I had done another. And so?'(121)
First Vintage International Edition March 1989
Book qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge
Updated: June 6, 2011 - A wonderful review by Pepca @ Beyond strange new words is HERE.