Thursday, October 27, 2011

The art of the novel: People (Les Gens) by Philippe Labro

People  ( Les gens), published in 2009 by Editions Gallimard,  is one of Philippe Labro’s recent novels.
A prolific writer, journalist and iconic media figure, Labro was born in 1936 in Montauban, France.

People is a good read, a book that charms through its intellectual vivacity and the intersecting stories of three main characters whose destinies make us turn page after page.

Maria, an orphan girl of sixteen is able to escape a dire existence through both grit and chance and in the process crosses paths with Caroline, an elegant and sensitive woman in her late twenties and with Marcus, a grotesque character whose portrayal is steeped in derision and sarcasm.

Labro’s inventive, ultra-rich vocabulary and the author’s kaleidoscopic view of the world blend into a creation that echoes Balzac’s Human Comedy, in its cross-section of mentalities, social milieus and values.

Such an exploration is the almost cinematic treatment of what appears to be a tour of guest tables at the Gretzkis dinner party, during which one of the guest addresses another: “Have the kindness to let my generation now become infamous, sir. Yours has been long at it.”

There is indeed a generational gap that is surreptitiously surfacing in the novel at times: quotations which have run their course and turned into clichés, picture-perfect establishment characters such as Liv Nielsen contrasted to her creative team hard at work texting one another during meetings.
Arguably, the structure of the novel itself, with the centrifugal mechanism that aggregates the three narrative threads as the novel marches towards its ending, is a somewhat older (albeit trusted) technique leveraged in this new French novel.

It’s a book I have enjoyed reading; Labro’s observations, buttressed by brilliant interludes made my time spent reading worthwhile: the Caroline-David amorous episode, the descriptions of Paris, and quotable passages:

“The speed with which a rumor propagates usually depends on the nature of its contents.”

Criticism of high flying professional circles which become disconnected from reality through aggrandized self-image is delivered through a comparison to the altitude sickness experienced by a group of Japanese alpinists during the ascent of Mount Everest in 1996:

“Naturally, they have become almost crazy due to altitude sickness.”
A specialist of this activity drew the following conclusion: 
“Altitude sickness signals the end of morality – and the end of morality is the end of true alpinism.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The man in the scarlet vest and his symphony in white major

The French writer Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) was known for his rather unconventional way of dressing: he wore a scarlet vest during the opening night of the play Hernani by Victor Hugo, an attire with which his name became associated. 

Gautier's poetry  is steeped in an air of silvery, cool shimmer: fused metaphors and similes which can perhaps be best described using the title of one of his own poems: a symphony in white major.

Here is my translation of the opening stanza of the sonnet Adieux à la poésie (A farewell to poetry) by Théophile Gautier:

                    A farewell to poetry

Come, fallen angel, pull back your petal-pink wing; 
toss out your white dress, and its glittering rays; 
from the height of the sky where your blossom swayed 
you plummeted, as a star would, into a page of prose. 

Théophile Gautier (approx 1869) - credit Wikipedia

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chaos theory, the butterfly effect & an ounce of lucidity

Apud wikipedia:

"In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. The effect derives its name from the theoretical example of a hurricane's formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before."

Perhaps the concept noted above can also become a description of the frame of mind that may arise from reading a few metaphors laid out in a wet puzzle, amid rain drops, in the progressive and infinitesimally golden fall colors. 

A widely quoted sentence in Romanian literature belongs to the novelist Camil Petrescu: “every ounce of lucidity is paired up with an ounce of suffering.”

To paraphrase the above quote, I’d like to suggest that every ounce of lucidity is paired up with an ounce of poetry. 

A page of poetry transforms us, gradually, through successive openings and closings into something new: a larva, a pupa and, finally,a putative butterfly, held captive by an exodus of wings at the edge of our awareness.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Poetry, Newfoundland and Labrador and "where the whales dive"

Coastlines – The Poetry of Atlantic Canada , published by Goose Lane Editions in 2002 - is a high caliber poetry anthology edited by Anne Compton, Laurence Hutchman, Ross Leckie and Robin McGrath.

Its preface carefully explores the concept of poetry within a regional space and notes that the anthology is in nuce an opportunity to celebrate the current Atlantic poetry renaissance. 

To the writer of this blog post, the poetry included in Coastlines brings to light in varying degrees of intensity some of the key differentiators of the contemporary Canadian poetry: the subliminal integration of the vastness of the Canadian landscape, prose poem-like poetic constructs, a framework of reference that favors interaction with the ‘external’ & ‘internal’ world in a manner that is, in many instances, highly kinesthetic.  

The chapter dedicated to poets from Newfoundland and Labrador in Coastlines includes poetry by Michael Crummey, Mary Dalton, Tom Dawe, Richard Greene, Randall Maggs, Carmelita McGrath, Al Pittman, GordonRodgers, John Steffler, Agnes Walsh, Patrick Warner and Enos Watts.

Michael Crummey’s poem Painting the Islands, one of the first poems in this chapter, sets the tone of this section’s  brooding eloquence:

"Approaching Nain, the islands
are bare and burnished black,
metallic glint of the afternoon sun
and for the few minutes it takes
to sail beyond them the stones
are alive with light."

Richard Greene, the 2010 winnerof the GG Award for poetry, depicts a stunning scenery in Utopia:

“An immense acreage of solitude.
I am always here
On a hillside of quartz and juniper,
A ridge over water
Where the whales blow and dive”

and Tom Dawe surprises his readers with a re-write of Daedalus’ myth:

“On morning wings
across the sun
he comes before me,
there at the seabird’s cove”.

(from Daedalus).

I recommend reading this book. 


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