February´s Book Club - F is for French
Romania´s fascination with the French (dating back to the 1800s) is something I never quite questioned, come to think of it. We copied their architecture, their clothing, their language even and did it quite naturally. We admired their art and sent our own to France to study it, some never to return again. I grew up learning their language, dreaming of their châteaux and devouring anything written by the French. I decided that February´s book club, the month of love, would be dedicated to them - the ever passionate, sometimes slightly too nationalistic and eternally elegant French. Here are the books I read this month.
1. Gustave Flaubert - Madame Bovary
Flaubert´s masterpiece, Madame Bovary, was considered shockingly obscene for its time. It was the middle of the 1800s, a period of immense artistic richness for the French. A truly hopeless romantic, Emma Bovary lives a life beyond her means fueled by an eternal longing for beauty, wealth, passion, as well as high society. The tragedy of her provincial married life and failed extramarital affairs made me, despite better judgement, root for her through every page of the book, hoping she´ll finally settle her thirst for finding her purpose. A novel that is by no means light, but that I devoured in less than a week. Romantically hoping, much like Madame Bovary, for a happy ending.
"Duty, duty! To feel nobly and to love what is beautiful - that´s our duty. Not to accept all the conventions of society and the humiliations society imposes on us."
"For this was how they would have liked it all to be: they were both constructing an ideal of themselves and adapting their past lives to it. Speech acts invariably as an enlarger of sentiments"
2. Albert Camus - The Fall
I read Camus´ The Fall on a rainy evening, in a heartbeat, only stopping to pour myself some more wine. A self centred monologue of inebriated former lawyer, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, this less than 100 pages book takes the reader through Clamance´s life of debauchery, excess and ultimately self loathing. A life of emptiness, deceit, regret and reproach, it naturally evolves into an admittance of guilt and a desperate cry for the well deserved punishment. I always say that I love books that make me feel deeply, and The Fall did just that. I went through phases of disgust, pity and complete disbelief at the character´s megalomaniac ideas about slavery, human rights and love and lust.
"In my life I have had at least one great love, always with myself as its object."
"There are always reasons for a man´s murder. What´s impossible, on the contrary, is to justify letting him continue to live."
3. Émile Zola - The Belly of Paris
A book I enjoyed almost as much as Au Bonheur des Dames, The Belly of Paris will awaken all your senses with its wonderful description of Paris´ fish markets, charcuteries and the drama that gravitates them all. It tells the story of Florent, an escaped political convict that returns to Paris to seek justice and through it puts his brother´s family at risk. The book paints a wonderful vivid picture of the working class of the 19th century Les Halles. I think there´s no better word to describe this and every other Zola book I´ve read than: vivid. I personally believe there´s no point in ever making a movie after Zola´s books as the books themselves paint all the picture they need.
“A silence fell at the mention of Gavard. They all looked at each other cautiously. As they were all rather short of breath by this time, it was the camembert they could smell. This cheese, with its gamy odour, had overpowered the milder smells of the marolles and the limbourg; its power was remarkable. Every now and then, however, a slight whiff, a flute-like note, came from the parmesan, while the bries came into play with their soft, musty smell, the gentle sound, so to speak, of a damp tambourine. The livarot launched into an overwhelming reprise, and the géromé kept up the symphony with a sustained high note.”
“Respectable people... What bastards!”