domingo, 17 de septiembre de 2017

Thérèse Raquin

Thérèse Raquin (Gallimard, 2011)
by Émile Zola
France, 1867

Its über well known adultery-and-murder plotline notwithstanding, I naively read Thérèse Raquin expecting some sort of a pro forma workout on the nature of female desire but never expecting to thumb through the insalubrious pages of one of the doomiest of 19th century doom novels.  Silly me! Way weirder than expected roman classique, ze weirdness coming fast and furious once Laurent, who has just drowned his friend Camille in the Seine in order to make it easier for the murderer to bed down the fetching desperate housewife/willing accomplice to murder/brand new widow Thérèse, begins frequenting the Paris morgue to see if the dead man's body has finally been fished out of the drink.  Much page-turning luridness ensues.  Much, much page-turning luridness ensues.  Within the gruesome morgue chapter alone, for example, Zola treats us to the startling spectacle of decomposing bodies rotting before the reader's eyes and to the maybe even more sensational depiction of roving bands of twelve to fifteen year old boys who, stopping only in front of the female cadavers, make all sorts of crude remarks about the sex appeal of the dead women behind the display windows.  Having "learned vice at the school of death" ["ils apprenaient le vice à l'école de la mort"], it turns out, "c'est à la Morgue que les jeunes voyous ont leur première maîtresse" ["it's at the morgue where the young thugs have their first mistress"] (128).  Elsewhere, Zola is equally as in your face a purveyor of the prose poetry of revolt when describing how the aftereffects of their crime torment the murderous newlyweds on their eventual wedding night ("Thérèse et Lauren retrouvaient la senteur froide et humide du noyé dans l'air chaud qu'ils respiraient; ils se se disaient qu'un cadavre était là, près d'eux" ["Thérèse and Laurent recognized the cold and damp odor of the drowned man in the warm air that they were breathing; they told each other that a corpse was there in their midst"]) (189) and beyond ("Lorsque les deux meurtriers étaient allongés sous le même drap, et qu'ils fermaient les yeux, ils croyaient sentir le corps humide de leur victime, couché au milieu du lit, qui leur glaçait la chair" ["When the two murderers were stretched out under the same sheet with their eyes shut, they believed they could feel the damp body of their victim, prone in the middle of the bed, making their skin crawl"]) (205).  All this, a copious amount of hallucinatory overkill + a certain scratch and sniff dimension to the prose (cf. human remains likened to "greenish, eel-like" flesh ["pareil à un lambeau verdâtre"] or a room described as sporting "une fade senteur de cimetière" ["a faint whiff of cemetery"]) (205 & 218) leave me no choice but to marvel--Zola, what a sick puppy!

Émile Zola (1840-1902)

lunes, 11 de septiembre de 2017

Juan Moreira

Juan Moreira (Perfil Libros, 1999)
por Eduardo Gutiérrez
Argentina, 1879-1880

El gaucho Juan Moreira, un paisano de carne y hueso (?-1874) convertido en un héroe de la cultura popular argentina decimonónica, será la primera estrella del reparto de "Entre Andreiev y Arlt": la literatura argentina (y francesa y rusa) de la pesada ser el centro de atención en el evento de este año.  Aunque el libro de Gutiérrez --originalmente difundido por folletines-- es básicamente bastante bueno a pesar de algunos defectos importantes, es super interesante en ciertos sentidos.  Me encantó, por ejemplo, el lenguaje de la obra.  Gutiérrez hace un dibujo de un mundo violentísimo en el que una daga brilla "como un relámpago de muerte" (95) y el cabello negro del protagonista ondula de tal manera que "parecía el estandarte de la muerte" (169), pero a la vez el sol se describe como "el poncho de los pobres" (38, 44 & 209) y el lector se topa con un pulpero que es "más amable que un peluquero francés" (118).  ¡Genial!  También me gustó la atención de Gutiérrez, un periodista en aquel entonces, a los problemas de género porque aunque su "crónica" sobre la vida y muerte de Moreira sea demasiado hagiográfica, ya se pueden encontrar guiños "modernos" como la página donde el narrador declara que "no hacemos novelas" un párrafo antes de decir que "Moreira fue un tipo tan novelesco" (99).  En cuanto a los temas de la obra y específicamente en cuanto a la dicotomía "civilización o barbarie" como debatida por Facundo y Martín Fierro, Juan Moreira también se destaca.  Más que sólo una serie de peleas con cuchillo contra varios maulas, el libro de Gutiérrez se trata de y apasionadamente defiende el gaucho contra la injusticia del estado.  "La gran causa de la inmensa criminalidad en la campaña", escribe el autor al principio, "está en nuestras autoridades excepcionales".  Añade que "el gaucho habitante de nuestra pampa tiene dos caminos forzosos para eligir: uno es el camino del crimen, por las razones que expondremos; otro es el camino de los cuerpos de línea, que le ofrece su puesto de carne de cañon" (11).  En su introducción a la obra, la crítica Josefina Ludmer señala que "el pasaje de la legalidad a la ilegalidad por una injusticia" sufrido por el protagonista llama la atención a un paralelo contemporaneo: "Juan Moreira no sólo encarna la violencia de la justicia popular, sino también la violencia del estado contra ella.  La muerte violenta de Moreira marca, cada vez que se la representa, el triunfo final e inexorable de la violencia estatal, y no de la violencia de la justicia popular" (xi & xiv).  En resumen, un libro de carácter escurridizo.  No está mal.

Eduardo Gutiérrez (1851-1889)

viernes, 1 de septiembre de 2017

"Entre Andreiev y Arlt": The 2017 Argentinean (& French & Russian) Literature(s) of Doom

Since there was no Argentinean Literature of Doom event to depress people with last year for the first time since 2012, I've decided--in my infinite wisdom--to wage a four-month version of the literary terror campaign this year to make up for lost time.  Hence, "Entre Andreiev y Arlt" ["From Andreyev to Arlt"]: The 2017 Argentinean (& French & Russian) Literature(s) of Doom now running through the end of December.  As past readers of the official Doom indoctrination communiqué may recall, "the ALoD was originally inspired by two great posts by Tom of Wuthering Expectations that you can read about here and here and was at least partly dedicated to testing Roberto Bolaño's thesis that a 'strain of doom' evident in post-Borges Argentinean belles-lettres was due to the noxious influence of one Osvaldo Lamborghini and his art terrorist pals and successors (César Aira, take a bow)."  While that original idea still intrigues me, I thought it might be kind of amusing to set up a circular firing squad this year and allow Frenchmen like Marcel Schwob and Russians like Leonid Andreyev to run amok alongside Argentinean doomsters like Roberto Arlt.  You're more than welcome to join me if you like--all you have to do to participate is to read and review at least one piece of fiction written by an Argentinean, a French or a Russian writer, read and review at least one nonfiction work on Argentina, France or Russia, or watch and review one film that falls under the same general criteria.  I'll post links to your reviews at the end of each month.  Note: I borrowed the "Entre Andreiev y Arlt" thing from critic Jorge Fornet, who uses it as the title of a heading in the first chapter of his book El escritor y la tradición.  Ricardo Piglia y la literatura argentina (Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007).  The photo at the top of the post is of Italian anarchist turned much feared Argentinean public enemy Giovanni Di Severino, the subject of a newspaper piece by Roberto Arlt and a biography by Osvaldo Bayer that may both make it onto the Doom syllabus alongside Fornet's book if I don't lose focus.  Out.

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
Frances, Nonsuch Book
Rise, in lieu of a field guide

jueves, 31 de agosto de 2017

Cousin Bazilio

Cousin Bazilio [O Primo Basílio] (Dedalus, 2003)
by Eça de Queiroz [translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa]
Portugal, 1878

Our old friend Eça de Queiroz, last heard from on this blog way back in 2011 when the then nearly 166-year old novelist was fêted with a readalong of his great The Crime of Father Amaro, was recently dragged out of retirement and commissioned to whip up one of his celebrated tragedy-dusted confections as the dessert offering for this year's Spanish and Portuguese Lit Month.  I hope you'll agree that the luscious calorie-rich goods were delivered and then some.  Cousin Bazilio, for those of you too lazy to consult the description on the back of the book, is "a tale of sexual folly and hypocrisy and vividly depicts bourgeois life in nineteenth-century Lisbon."  In other words, a wonderfully springy springboard for the author to commit all sorts of verbal acrobatics & etc. in the name of satire and social commentary.  Somewhat predictable narrative arc aside (let's just say that Eça continues to have a penchant for killing off his most fully fleshed out characters whether their moral comeuppance is truly "deserved" or not), Cousin Bazilio is a delectable morsel less for its adultery + blackmail plot and more on account of its oddball descriptions of both humans ("She was an orphan, and there was always a faint whiff of fever about her small, skinny body" [7]) and human behavior ("'I'll lay siege to her!' he exclaimed gleefully.  'The way Santiago laid siege to the Moors!'" [62]), its earthy sense of humor ("All these agitations were playing havoc with Dona Felicidade's constrained digestion; luckily, as she herself said, she was at least able to bring up some wind.  Yes, blessings upon God and the Virgin Mary, she was at least able to bring up a little wind!") (370-371), hell, even its gleefully malicious dialogue ("Sing, little dumpling, little whore, little slut!" [183]).  "Slander aria"-like singing venom aside, mostly I reveled in the sensory overload of Eça's descriptive excesses.  A suitably decadent example of this attention to detail, tailor-made for Spanish and Portuguese Lit Month dessert debauchees as it happens, can be found underneath the author portrait below.

Eça de Queiroz (1845-1900)

They were standing outside a cakeshop.  On the shelves in the window behind them stood bottles of malmsey wine with brightly coloured labels, transparent red jellies, the sickly egg yolk yellow of doces de ovos, and dark brown fruit cake stuck with pathetic pink and white paper carnations.  Stale, lurid custard tarts grew soft in their puff pastry cases; thick slabs of quince jelly sat melting in the heat; and the dried-up shells of seafood pasties were slowly melding into one.  In the centre, prominently displayed, was a hideous, plump lampreia de ovos, a cake shaped like an eel, with a gaping mouth, a disgustingly yellow belly and a back blotched with arabesques of sugar; in its great head bulged two horrible chocolate eyes, and its almond teeth were sunk into a tangerine; and all around this rearing monster flies flitted.
'Let's go into the café,' said Julião.  'It's too hot to stand around in the street!'

sábado, 26 de agosto de 2017

La muerte baja en el ascensor

La muerte baja en el ascensor (Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2013)
por María Angélica Bosco
Argentina, 1955

Cuando uno y al final dos más asesinatos siguen el descubrimiento de la muerte de una hermosa joven rubia en el ascensor de una casa de departamentos en la calle Santa Fe cerca de la plaza de San Martín, todo el infierno se desata en esta novela policial jugosa y entretenida de María Angélica Bosco.  Bosco, una desconocida para mí escritora, proporciona una trama emocionante al mismo tiempo que nos da una galería de sospechosos poblada por varias personas con algo que esconder: entre otros, porteños ricos, chantajistas e inmigrantes sigilosos de la recién vencida Alemania.  ¿Son estos últimos refugiados o ex-nazis, víctimas o verdugos?  Esa es la pregunta del millón dentro de esta whodunit a lo argentino, pero tal vez lo más parecido a una respuesta es el comentario ambiguo del policía Blasi que observa, no sin razón, que "esta gente padece la psicosis del pasado.  Uno lo huele aquí" (128).  En todo caso, una lectura agradable.

María Angélica Bosco (1909-2006)

domingo, 20 de agosto de 2017

Un barrage contre le Pacifique

Un barrage contre le Pacifique (Folio, 2014)
by Marguerite Duras
France, 1950

In a vaguely Faulknerian backwater in French Indochina roiled by oppressive heat, oppressive poverty and just the faintest glimmer of incest as a possible avenue of escape for at least one of the three main characters, the unnamed la mère, her 20-year old son Joseph and her 16-year old daughter Suzanne are all desperately looking for a way out after the mother has lost her life savings on a plot of worthless floodland as the price to pay for her chance to settle in the colony...surely a high water mark of sorts both within Duras' own impressive body of work and within the annals of the postcolonial novel as a whole, the aesthetic brutality of the prose in Un barrage contre le Pacifique [The Sea Wall] is both less elliptical and maybe more punishing than usual with Duras--style taking a backseat to theme if you will...lest the lack of experimentation scare off fans accustomed to later Duras, suffice it to say that in a novel whose narrative tension derives in large part from the train wreck-like spectacle of waiting to see whether the mother or the brother will essentially auction off Suzanne's virginity to the highest bidder, the author doesn't avert her own gaze when it matters--cf. the commodification of the flesh juxtaposition between the native woman who prostitutes herself to put some dried fish on the table for her family and the exploitative tendencies of the French colony characterized as "ce bordel colossal" ["this colossal brothel"] (198) where "Le latex coulait.  Le sang aussi" ["The latex flowed.  The blood did, too"] (169).  Riveting.

Marguerite Duras (1914-1996)

Guy of His Futile Preoccupations recommended The Sea Wall to me a couple of years ago.  His review can be found here.

lunes, 14 de agosto de 2017

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Month 2017: 7/30-8/12 Links

Sorry I didn't get around to posting a link round-up last week.  Here's a bonus week's worth of links for you, now including both Spanish- and Portuguese-language literature for the rest of the month.  Cheers!

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
Atlantic Hotel by João Gilberto Noll

David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane

Emma, Book Around the Corner
No Word from Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza
One-Way Journey by Carlos Salem
The Sadness of the Samurai by Víctor del Árbol

Grant, 1streading's Blog
A Broken Mirror by Mercè Rodoreda
The Miracle-Worker by Carmen Boullosa

Joseph Schreiber, roughghosts
The loose ends of memories - Before by Carmen Boullosa

Melissa Beck, The Book Binder's Daughter
I'm Heroically Free: Água Viva by Clarice Lispector
Being Happy Is for What?: Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Sila
Winter Quarters by Osvaldo Soriano 
Inventing Love by José Ovejero
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane

Tony, Tony's Reading List
The Children by Carolina Sanín
The Winterlings by Cristina Sánchez-Andrade