Books January 2006
Alain-Founier: Le Grand Meaulnes (E)
A tragic story and a tragic author. In 1905 in Paris, Alain-Fournier (half-pseudonym of Henri-Alban Fournier, 1886-1914) met a young woman, Yvonne de Quièvrecourt, completely by chance, and fell madly in love with her. But this was not your normal love affair: Yvonne was already promised to some other guy, though she talked with Henri-Alban and met him once or twice. So Henri-Alban continued to nurse hopes and to hang around her and her flat in Paris (a bit of a stalker, perhaps, but a harmless one), until she finally did marry the other man. It would not be wrong to say that after this marriage Henri-Alban's life was destroyed. He died a few years later, during one of the first battles of World War I.
This novel is based on his own experiences. His hero, Augustin Meaulnes, “Le Grand” of the title, is a young man who falls, once and for all, in love with a certain Yvonne de Galais, the daughter of a local aristocrat. The book tells the story how Augustin loses all hope to ever marry his Yvonne, but, after a long struggle, wins her… only to lose his young bride once again, through his own actions. All that is told by Augustin's best friend, François Seurel. A charming and a sad book; one strictly for hopeless romantics (but not of the Mills&Boon variety; this is much better stuff).
- Try it, perhaps you'll like its adolescent charme. I have read it a few times now and I always come back. Le Grand Meaulnes has also deeply influenced one of my own novels.
Bob Dylan: Chronicles (E)
In my formative years (musically, I mean) Dylan was way too soft for my tastes: I listened to guys (still do) who would shout, cry, scream their souls out (and my poor father would only shake his head and mutter dark words about me ending as another deaf moron). Perhaps it's for that reason that I never found a real connection to Dylan's songs, his message, his personality. (Though I did, over the years, for some other singers of his generation.) Anyway, I saw this autobiography and decided, on a whim, to read it. There are some real eye-openers here (for instance, why, on second thoughts, Dylan ain't so sure that being famed and famous is a Good Thing) but overall I was somewhat disappointed. Dylan is clearly a poet and as such he is not especially good when it comes to telling a consistent, coherent tale over some 200 pages. There are gaping holes, jumps, stuff I don't understand, naivety on an amazing scale (okay, so he's an American after all:-)), places where either his sense of humour or mine is completely absent… And I always had this nagging feeling that the man takes himself just a tad too seriously (in a way a Brit, let's say, never would). Reading this was certainly not a waste of time, but it could easily have been better. All the more as every now and then his poet side comes through very strongly and the writing suddenly sparkles, for a few lines or a paragraph.
- Not one of the greatest biographies of all time. Dylan, the singer, is better than Dylan, the writer.
Ian McEwan: Saturday (E)
Another McEwan, less emotionally charged than Atonement and its easily excited heroine Briony, not least because Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon, is a cool and “reductionist” hero (McEwan's word). But I challenge anyone to read the final fifty or so pages of this novel and not be impressed by the man. The novel itself follows one full day in the life of Mr Perowne, a Saturday, as you have probably divined and it has a similar weakness to Atonement: McEwan needs many pages to get his story up and running. I like this sort of introspective writing, but there are many people who simply need more action, tension, a constant tickling of the imagination. Keep on reading… it's worth it! And some scenes are so well written that even the most action-hungry reader will enjoy them: for instance, the start of the novel that, in a clever way, sets the scene for all that's to come. A few critics have claimed that this book is McEwan's attempt to deal with 9/11 and its aftermath — I believe that idea is mostly b*ll*cks. I rather think the book shows that our cherished conceptions of freedom are mainly illusions, with or without 9/11. It portrays many different sorts of inevitabilities… all cleverly connected and compressed into the space of a single day. The plotting, at first slightly erratic, wins enormous pace and density towards the finish — very well constructed.
- Perhaps less dense, less incisive than Atonement but still a book (and a hero) that will stay with me. Recommended.
Richard Webster: Why Freud Was Wrong (E)
A complete demolition of Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis. And a thorough job, sometimes even too thorough, too meticulous (then again, I don't need much convincing when it comes to Freud and his “science”). I don't mind the lengths: a book that compares Freud to a messiah, his movement to a church and the psychoanalytic methods to the confessionals of the Catholic Church had better prove its points in detail. And Webster does that. And when he's finished, there's not much left standing of either Freud, the scientist, or his theories. The one weak point of the book (granted, Webster wants to deconstruct psychoanalysis and not write the definitive biography about Freud) is that all too often the motives, feelings, thoughts of Freud, the man himself, stay too shadowy. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that Freud clearly was a magnetic, charismatic leader whose strong personality could, if only given enough space, easily overshadow the main thrust of this book: finishing once and for all with this strange brainchild of Dr Freud that has (de-)formed so much of 20th century thinking.
- At times dry, but still a very interesting and thought-provoking book; every scientist should read it before he invents grandiose theories about mind or matter.
$updated from: Books January 2006.htxt Sat 18 Jan 2014 13:14:22 thomasl (By Thomas Lauer)$