The Jean Christophe Cycle

By Romain Rolland.

Comprising ten novels:

L’Aube (“Dawn”, 1904)
Le Matin (“Morning”, 1904)
L’Adolescent (“Youth”, 1904)
La Révolte (“Revolt”, 1905)
La Foire sur la place (“The Marketplace”, 1908)
Antoinette (1908)
Dans la maison (“The House”, 1908)
Les Amies (“Love and Friendship”, 1910)
Le Buisson ardent (“The Burning Bush”, 1911)
La Nouvelle Journée (“The New Dawn”, 1912)

This is a very impressive work. It feels slightly dated – though this could be the translation. I don’t understand how Rolland could have been marginalised as much as he has, being a Novel Prize winner. Perhaps because his preoccupations with pre-WW1 Europe have been forgotten to an extent. There’s a great amount here about creativity and art – the novel(s) are really an excuse for his musings on these.

 

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Cendrars Quatrain

By David J. MacKinnon.

 Quite enjoyable. A larger-than-life novel in the vein of Celine / Cendrars. I don’t know how much of Fingon is MacKinnon. Entertaining.

I will be a man fulfilled if, when my time comes,
I can disappear anonymously and without regret,
At the originating point of our world, the Sargasso Sea,
Where life first burst from the depths of the ocean floor towards the sun.

[Cendrars]

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Balzac

By Stefan Zweig.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. This ‘biography’ has, from Zweig’s pen, Balzac as a wild, wayward  picaresque character. Balzac, himself, wrote to the Duchesse Duchesse d’Abrantès:

“In my five-foot two-inches there is compressed every imaginable contrast and contradiction. If anyone likes to call me vain, extravagant, stubborn, frivolous, inconsistent in my thinking, dandified, careless, indolent, lacking in due reflection and not sufficiently painstaking, without perseverance, loquacious, tactless, ill-bred, rude, subject to odd changes of mood, he will be no less right than anyone else who says that I am thrifty, modest, and courageous, tenacious, energetic, carefree, industrious, steadfast, taciturn, full of refinement and courtesy, and always cheerful. It can be asserted with equal truth that I am a poltroon or a hero, a clever fellow or an ignoramus, extremely talented or stupid. Nothing will surprise me. I myself have finally resolved to believe that I am merely an instrument, the plaything of circumstance.”

The book was published after Zweig’s death and it had to be pieced together from the manuscripts he left behind. A great many years had been spent researching Balzac’s life and it had become an obsession. What we are left with in this biography is still, despite the fragmentation, up there in the rarefied air – it twist and turns and roars – like the genius of Balzac himself.

The following quote in the biography comes from Zweig’s mouth and it seems to encompass the paradigm that shaped both of their creative life.

“The artist possesses a remedy which no physician can prescribe for other patients. He alone can throw off his worries by giving them artistic expression. He can transmute the bitterness of experience into the moving portrayal of human character and fashion the constraint of outward circumstance into creative freedom.”

I imagine I will read this biography again: it is packed full of ideas, characters, vivacious plot lines and surreal anecdotes – just like a good novel by Balzac.

 

 

 

 

 

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Chess and Journey into the Past

By Stefan Zweig.

Two short novels. Chess was the first bit of writing I had read by Zweig – having found him by mentions on the Pushkin press website and the fact he wrote a biography of Balzac. The novella was excellent  and I followed it closely with Journey into the Past. Both were lyrical, melancholy, and filled with the past and reminiscences. The framework was a touch trite for these – but the strength of the evocation meant I was happy to let it go. Something in these reminded me of Nabokov – probably the appreciation of the backward gaze. And, the chess theme.

 

 

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Cousin Bette

By Honoré de Balzac.

One of Balzac’s greatest novels, and, an uncomfortable read. There’s so much intrigue here. Balzac is cutting with his perspicaciousness and the subtle and not-so-subtle lampooning of individuals and the aspects of the Human Comedy that they embody. As always – fantastic witticisms:

“Money never misses the slightest occasion to demonstrate its stupidity. Paris would by now contain ten times the treasures of Venice if our retired businessmen had had the instinct for fine things that distinguishes the Italians.”

 

“She struck a pose in a fashion that was enough to lay Crevel wide open, as Rabelais put it, from his brain to his heels.”

At novel end, you breathe a sigh of relief. The characters have been through the ringer and the reader feels the same. But, masterfully done. Balzac was fired up and had things to say here. A final quote:

“‘You remind me, Papa Lumignon,’ said Stidmann, ‘of the bookseller who used to say, before the Revolution: “Ah! if I could only keep Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau properly short of cash, in my garret, with their breeches locked up, what good little books they would write for me and I should make my fortune!” If fine works of art could be turned out like nails, commissionaires would be making them…”

 

 

 

 

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