Last week, Freight Books read…

The President's Hat by Antoine LaurainThe President’s Hat, by Antoine Laurain (Gallic Books). Translated by Jane Aitken, Emily Boyce and Louise Rogers Lalaurie. This is the perfect read for a weekend away – doesn’t take long to read, regular chapters for regular breaks for another G&T and not too heavy in terms of theme or content. I really enjoyed it, but I doubt it will be a book I will ever feel the need to read again. Continue reading

Last week, Freight Books read…

A Meal in WInterA Meal in Winter, by Hubert Mingarelli (Granta), translated by Sam Taylor. This is a tricky book, because it is (comparatively speaking) overpriced, at £12.99 for around 130 pages of prose for the current hardback (more on this in a bit), and yet it is a sensational, highly unique piece of prose. Three German soldiers are stationed with their company in a farm in Poland. It is winter, bitterly cold, they are underfed and their morale is low. Most days they are given the task of shooting Jewish people, and can only get out of this duty by being picked to go out to hunt for Jews in the surrounding frozen woods and fields. This is a story about the lesser of two evils, about human beings, not monsters, who are preoccupied with the needs of warmth and food and the fierce desire to have a day off from executing people. Mingarelli performs a brilliant tightrope feat in this novel(la?), never forgiving the three soldiers, but instead putting the onus on us, the reader, making us think about what we would do. Continue reading

Under the Covers

For the second week of the Under the Covers feature, I’ve decided to bend the rules to the utmost and write about the whole family of books that is the Gallimard Blanche imprint. And the reason that I am being allowed to cover all 7333 titles printed between 1911 and today? Because, aside from some rather serious lapses of judgement, they are all the same.

Le wagabond qui passe sous une ombrelle troueeI’ll probably be putting at least one shiny web image of a Gallimard Blanche title below, but in the mean time you will have to do with a rather grubby copy I picked up from a market in Paris a couple of years ago, simply because the title is brilliant. This is Le vagabond qui passe sous une ombrelle trouée by Jean Bruno Wladimir François de Paule Le Fèvre d’Ormesson, which is almost irrelevant except for the fact that this book would look almost identical if it was Look by Romain Villet. And I think this is pretty interesting. Continue reading

A year lost to the Rougon-Macquarts

In 2010 I read a novel by Émile Zola titled Nana, and loved it. It was funny, interesting in it’s detail (I found out, for instance, about Parmentier, through the most throw-away of comments) and just an all-round good read.

Nana, by Emile ZolaI knew of Zola through his standalone classic, Thérèse Raquin, and through his involvement in the Dreyfus Affair, but had never heard of any of his other work. To be honest, I didn’t think there was any to think about.

Emile Zola - the man himselfNana was in fact just one of a twenty-volume collection of realist novels called the Rougon-Macquart series. I spent the following year tracking down every decent translation from this series. They comprise, in my opinion, of some of the best writing I have ever experienced, and yet are pretty much unknown. In a small way, I am trying to rectify that, whilst being as brief as possible. If you’re fed up with the waffle, scroll ever downwards to very short summaries of the books easily available in English. Continue reading

Last week, Freight Books read…

Tarantula, by Thierry Jonquet. It’s always odd reading a book after seeing an adaptation of it. Thankfully, I remembered little enough of Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In to fully enjoy the twists and shocking reveals in Thierry Jonquet’s novella Tarantula (Mygale). The ‘book versus film’ debate is one which has been long argued and never concluded, but in my opinion Tarantula beats its adaptation hands down (apologies if you enjoyed the film). Not only that, but the story is different enough to work even if you do love the movie, with only the main reveal and minor details remaining the same. Continue reading

Last week, Freight Books read…

A Happy Death by Albert Camus

A Happy Death. All the Birds, Singing has yet to arrive for me to read, so instead I have decided to mark this centenary of Albert Camus’ birth by reviewing one – possibly my favourite – of his novels. This was the first book he wrote, yet it was not published until after his death, so I feel it lends a certain roundness to the centenary.

Much of the storyline would be familiar to those of you who have read L’Étranger, as it is very much a blueprint for this most famous of novels. However, I would have to say I prefer it – there is a youthfulness, perhaps even a naivety to this version, which I really enjoy. Continue reading