The One with the Gay Father

Christophe Honoré, Ton Père (2017)

We’ve already passed mid-January and I still have a slew of 2018 books to write about. Better late than never is my pragmatic motto of the day… The books I had the most feelings about took the precedence, and I’m left with titles for which I hum and haw, that were neither awful nor awesome, or that I feel inadequate to talk about.

But for one, that was exactly my point. I’ve read many blog posts by fantastic people who resolve to read harder, to make bold book choices, to venture into uncomfortable zones of literature, and it seemed like is always a good idea. I know for a fact (because I keep track of piles), that I don’t read many books by authors of color, by LGBTQ authors, or anything very diverse. I didn’t want to commit to anything systematic, but I wanted to try a book that would talk about homosexuality as a topic, about a gay father, written by a gay writer.

Christophe Honoré is more well-known for his movies (he’s a screenwriter and a director) than for his books, and I’ve enjoyed his movies. The book is called a novel, but most readers will consider it a thinly-veiled retelling of true facts. Parisian writers love auto-fiction these days. The narrator Christophe, a gay movie director and father of a tween girl, is shaken to the core when he finds a homophobic slur on his apartment door. Who has written this? Since apartments have restricted access, it must be someone close to him. A neighbor, an ex-lover… Christophe has never hidden his gay identity, but he considered himself safe, respected, established, among friends and among open-minded people. But apparently this is not true. Someone attacks him as a gay father, saying that he shouldn’t be allowed to raise kids. This reminds him of his growing up in Brittany, in a small town, with a conservative father and a sister full of contempt for him. When he moved to Paris he thought that he would be free of this prejudice and hatred, but becoming a gay father puts him on the spot with other parents, with maternity staff, and with some gay friends as well.

I was moved by the subject of this book, because of the odious and the cowardly attacks the narrator and his daughter were confronted to, but the writing himself felt a bit flat and indulgent, not really straight to the point. I could feel his discomfort and shock replaced by fear and outrage, but it was diluted by a lot of various thoughts and memories. Overall I’m glad I dipped my toes into this difficult subject, there is a lot more to explore.

 

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#UnreadShelfProject January Update

49304967_411823712689749_2472884066192988807_nI’m not really into Bookstagram, but I stumbled upon the Unread Shelf Project on Instagram when I heard about it on the popular podcast What Should I Read Next by Anne Bogel.

It seemed like the perfect idea to me. I don’t have huge piles everywhere at home, but the shelves we have are full (and frankly we have no space for new shelves). In addition to my husband’s books, I own a lot of perfectly delightful books that I don’t read, just because I always get to the library books first.

Why is that? Because library books have a deadline, and I have the feeling that I have all the time in the world for my own books, which is of course not quite true. So Whitney from the Unreadshelfproject has a drastic proposition: I choose one book from my own shelves for a dedicated month, and I have to finish it by the end of the book, otherwise… (avert your eyes if you’re sensitive) it goes to the nearest free library. That’s a challenge with consequences, but I totally get this philosophy and I feel that I can do it (…says the girl who never, ever follows through with a book challenge…)

For January, the challenge said to choose any book. That much I can follow through with. But given that I’m totally undisciplined when it comes to books, I decided that I would choose 2 books to read in January, and if I finished any of the 2 I would count it good. I chose two titles that sat on my nightstand for the better part of 2018:

  • Laurent Binet, The 7th Function of Language, a French comedy that I started reading in August… 2017… while in holidays and promptly stopped reading at the end of the holidays, for no good reasons, because the book made me laugh so hard.
  • Jane Gardam, The Man in the Wooden Hat, a book that my husband gave me for my birthday… early last… year. Ahem. I’d never heard of Jane Gardam before, but I understand that my husband thought it was a good fit for me because of the Hong Kong background of the characters.

I’ve been making good progress on both books, so clearly the challenge is working so far! What about your good resolutions?

YA Roundup & Fair

In 2018 I checked off one item on my bucket list: I went to the largest and most famous YA Book Fair in France, the “Salon du Livre de la Jeunesse de Montreuil”, that takes place each year in early December in a town immediately north of Paris (it is on the metro network, so practically not even in the suburbs). It had been a long-time interest of me, but early December is usually a busy time at work.

For a book-lover and an aspiring published writer, you would think that it is a feast to browse through countless books offered by the 450 publishers attending the event.

Well, yes and no. I’m not doing well with crowds and the book fair has received no less than 179 000 visitors within 6 days. That’s a lot, by my standards or by anyone else’s. My strategy was to go on a Monday morning and it was objectively not crowded. I had ample time to check out books for all age groups, I didn’t fight or wait to reach the tables, although I did not attend book signings or readings by authors.

Yet I had not taken into account how overwhelmed I would be. I literally could not decide what book I would buy. To the credit of the publishers, they all seemed equally good! I ended up buying nothing at all and coming back with lots of catalogues. The other downside is that I felt as if every story had already been told and I couldn’t see how my own stories would ever be published.

The good side of this visit is that it renewed my interest to read more YA. In December, I read three YA novels:

Banksy et moi, by Elise Fontenaille (2014), a short novel about a young French black growing up in the projects. The last book I’d read by Elise Fontenaille was terribly dark, and this one is all too sunny and glowy in comparison. Darwin, the narrator, is raised by a single mother who works as a night taxi driver and emigrated to France from Sudan on a rickety boat. He takes an interest in artful street art that makes the concrete derelict buildings around him less ugly. His pet is a rat named Banksy and his best friend is a mysterious girl, Eva. The book is full of quirky characters and feel-good moments, but I felt it was a bit naïve and too Polyannaish, especially in the end that feels a bit rushed.

Pour qui meurt Guernica? (For whom Dies Guernica) by Sophie Doudet (2018) is a historical novel about two teenagers in the midst of the worst of the Spanish civil war in 1937. I just knew the basics of this historical era just before the onset of WWII : Nazis heavily supported the Spanish nationalist side that fought against Communists and liberals in general, and decided to experiment terror tactics on civilians that they would later use during their wide attack across Europe and Russia. It helped to have people embody the terrible fate of Spanish civilians, but it felt a bit too heavy-handed in the didactic part, and the characters lacked depth.

Personne ne bouge (Nobody Moves), by Olivier Adam (2011) is my first reading of this bestselling French author. I enjoyed this novella about a young boy who sometimes experiences an interruption of time: he’s the only one who goes on with his life while the rest of the world is “on pause”, at unexpected moments. How will he use this strange gift? Should he try to change the natural course of events or do forbidden things? It definitely gave me a taste to try more of this new-to-me author.

The One with the Roasted Gander and the Stabbed Farmer

Faith Martin, The Winter Mystery (2018)

I wanted an easy, cozy British mystery to read in between family meals during the Christmas holidays, and this book perfectly fitted the bill. I read it in two days, about the same time the action takes place in the book. Only it was a lot more picturesque: Christmas in Oxford. Nice landscape, snowy hills, old stones, family and good food, especially goose and pudding!

The good thing is that even if your own family reunion went totally awry, if you argued with family members about anything and everything, if the kids were over-excited and the dog knocked the tree down or ate all the food, chances are it won’t be as bad as Christmas with the Kelton family, where everyone hates the head of the farm, and where his sickly older brother is found stabbed to death in the kitchen.

The narrator is Jenny, a plus-size professional travelling cook, who has been hired for the occasion (Christmas, not the murder, of course). Being the first witness and first suspect in the case, she takes it upon herself to investigate this case and find who in the family might have committed the murder (well… everyone… duh) and who really did and why.

I don’t meant to be too harsh. This is a cozy mystery and it’s ok if there are plenty of tropes in this genre. My main problem is that I guessed the guilty party and the motive very early on, so I grew a bit impatient. Stylistically speaking, the writer loves her adjectives, and I would have preferred a stricter editing. It was fun enough, but I’d much rather spend Christmas with Miss Marple after all, even if the food might be not so good.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

The One with the Venice Vernissage

Philip Gwynne Jones, Vengeance in Venice (2018)

Continuing on my 2018 book pile… this one was a win!

The blurb on the cover says that it will make you want to book a flight to Venice. I’m here to attest that for once, the blurb is 100% true. Luckily, I had done so before reading the book, as we had the opportunity to go to Venice earlier this year. And so the book reminded me of holidays, which always gives a book a few brownie points, regardless of its inherent literary value.

This mystery is quite entertaining and kind of cozy (if you don’t mind a few gory details of a murder through chards of glass), set in the artistic milieu. Venice is famous for its Art Biennale, and critics are rather fierce and competition rather cut-throat, until things are getting a bit too literal to the taste of British Honorary Consul Nathan Sutherland, who had mainly come to enjoy the drinks and finger food at the preview reception.

It is clear that the author lives in Venice or has lived there for a good while. Local details are plentiful, as are entertaining side notes on good food and good drinks, which is never lost when a novel is set in Italy. Characters spend an inordinate time chatting over coffee, so much so that I began to fear for their health due to caffeine overdose.

The mix of Italian charm and setting and British witticism is pretty hard to resist. It’s not an unforgettable book, but it fully served its entertaining purpose, and I know where I’ll turn next time, because I’ve understood there is more than one in this series!

The One without a Next One

Fabrice Colin, La Fin du Monde (French 2009)

This is a book I finished last year, and one, I’m afraid to say, that I probably shouldn’t have started at all, if I’d been reasonable.

Repeat after me: if you hope to sleep at night, you shall not read apocalyptic novels anymore. Especially about any nuclear disaster. The end. (of the world)

I have a much too vivid imagination when it comes to post/apocalyptic novels. It took me years to realize that, and yet I still fall for it. I know once and for all that The Road is not for me, but strangely I couldn’t resist this book, because it is YA and short. I probably hoped that it would be less gruesome than others, I guess.

Well, guess again. Yes, there are no detailed, lengthy description of the horrific consequences of a nuclear bomb, but it was already too much for me. Fabrice Colin is a very prolific YA and middle grade writer, with many sci-fi or fantasy collections, but this one is definitely on the dark side, and on the sadly realistic side.

I liked that the action is not focused on Europe or the US. I liked that the many different characters all over the world are not super-aware of the international reasons why some countries would decide to use their nuclear bombs, because let’s face it, who has a complete, clear and unbiased understanding of the situation between the US, China and Russia nowadays? I liked that this is not a one-time cataclysm, but a series of bad decisions where countries react to a nuclear attack by yet another more terrible nuclear attack. All too possible.

To say that I didn’t like the ending is an understatement. First, there were hints towards some supernatural reason for some characters surviving the whole ordeal (too different from the tone of the rest of the book) and the last paragraph cheesily indicates that there would be a sequel (in a totally clumsy way: “Will x survive? Will y find z again?”), whereas it seems that this sequel was never published. If this isn’t sloppy editing, I don’t know what that is.

Happy New Year & Happy Books!

seoultempleI ended up taking a longer break from the computer than I thought, but real life has kept me busy, so that’s for the best. I hope you enjoyed a great holiday season, either filled with merry people and noise and champagne or quietly filled with music and books and hot cocoa, whichever you prefer.

I can’t remember what blogger said she was the ultimate mood reader… well, I think I do qualify too! So I’m not going to make any elaborate reading plans (which I will abandon after only 2 books), or book lists (and feel guilty not to complete), and I will follow my fancy wherever it takes me, since it was quite successful in the past.

The only challenge that tempts me for now is the unreadshelfproject, that sets out to read more from our own shelves. The principle is a bit radical : you have to finish a book from your unread pile by the end of the month, or get rid of it (oooh, the threat!) I don’t know if I’ll be able to turn a blind eye to the temptations of the library, since I go there every single week, but I’ll try. With this project in mind, I’ll track in Goodreads where the books I read come from.

I had fun compiling all the books I read this year, although I didn’t make serious stats, because I found that the number was about the same as the previous years (you won’t miss the pie charts, right?). I never read as many “older” novels, or short story collections, as I think I should – isn’t it time to be ok with it? I’m glad that I kept a healthy proportion of books by authors that aren’t American, British or French, and a healthy proportion of mystery / thrillers vs. other genres, each at about 25% of my reading. Netgalley also makes up for 25% of my total books, and I would like to not go beyond this proportion, although it is a great place for me to discover non-American / non-European writers (I am a great fan of Amazon Crossing).

I picked my favorite books of 2018, some lighter and some deeper, some set in the present and others in the past, but I soon discovered that they all have something in common: they are hopeful books (despite each presenting its own kind of challenges) and I believe I needed all the hope I could get in 2018 (don’t we all?). Now, I may read some very dark stuff sometimes and I don’t enjoy pure saccharine (too much sugar is not good for your reading health!), but the reading experience is more fun when not everything is doom and gloom. So I give you:

I wish you all these qualities and more in this new year!

 

The One with the Cat-Loving Chilean Sam Spade

Ramón Díaz Eterovic, Dark Echoes of the Past (Spanish, La oscura memoria de las armas, 2008, English 2017)

I rarely read any South-American books, so I jumped on the opportunity to discover a Chilean mystery by a very popular writer in his home country, the first novel of a series to be translated into English. I wasn’t disappointed!

Heredia, the hero and narrator, is a classic gumshoe, a P.I. working (and reading books between cases) in a decrepit building of Santiago, Chile. Heredia could be Philip Marlowe’s Southern cousin, because he’s a bit lazy, hard-drinking, world-weary, isn’t opposed to some violence here and there and waxing philosophical after the occasional beating, but he’s a lot more well-read. His cat is called Simenon, who talks back to Heredia on occasion, and the references to 1950s noirs are everywhere.

Except that it’s 21st century Chile and not the early 20th century America. And Chilean history is full of skeletons in the closet, with the transition to democracy after Pinochet’s fascist regime leaving a lot of unpalatable truths in its wake. The case Heredia takes on in this book has been closed by the police as a burglary gone wrong, but the victim’s sister is convinced that there is more to it.

The mystery is slow-paced, but it gave me time to enjoy the setting (Heredia obviously loves his home town) and the historical details, especially how old military have blended back into society at the end of the dictatorship without having been named and shamed. As Heredia is more of an archetype of the classic P.I., I wouldn’t say that the novel is highly realistic but it is entertaining and informative. I would gladly read another Heredia mystery.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Ready for the Season?

20181203_130222Goodreads tells me that I have 7 finished books awaiting to be mentioned here, but I still have last minute shopping to do, food to buy and prepare, suitcases to pack and a pair of very excited kids. So I’m not sure when I’ll be able to sneek out for a break in the next few days.

Here are the titles I will tell you all about in the next few days weeks (no pressure!):

  • Pour qui meurt Guernica ? by Sophie Doudet : a YA historical novel during the Spanish war
  • The End of the World by Fabrice Colin : a YA apocalyptic novella (because with an atomic bomb, these things don’t tend to linger on very long, it seems)
  • Maigret Se Défend by Georges Simenon (Maigret on the Defensive)
  • Ainsi se tut Zarathoustra by Nicolas Wild : a graphic almost-fiction on Iran
  • Maigret and the Apparition by Georges Simenon (I could not stop at only one Maigret, right?)
  • Vengeance in Venice by Philip Gwynne Jones, a classic mystery with a gorgeous setting and lots of good food
  • Ton père by Christophe Honoré: on being a gay father

Let me wish you very happy holidays ! And to prepare you for sweet and delicious pleasures, let me bring you to a short virtual visit to the Paris department stores, with their famous holiday window displays. Their Christmas trees are each year different and gorgeous.

The One with the Next Zainichi

Kazuki Kaneshiro, Go (Japanese 2000; English 2018)

I couldn’t really review this book before I had reviewed Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. For better or for worse, both novels are really linked in my mind. When Pachinko told of the lives of Korean people who came to live in Japan at the beginning of the 20th century and stopped in the 1980s with the fourth generation, Go picks up a bit later (it was published in 2000) and tells of a teenaged Zainichi growing up in contemporary Japan. Needless to say, the difficulties and racism he faces has a lot in common with what the characters in Pachinko experienced.

The tone of the two novels couldn’t be more different. Where Pachinko was quiet, dignified and polite, Go has the tumult of emotions of a teenager. Go’s hero and narrator Sugihara is not afraid to fight. He faces bullies head (and fists) first and chooses for himself a non-Korean high-school where he will face more racism but get better opportunities. He’s a thug sometimes, but a nerd at other times. He looks at his parents with ironic distance and there are really funny moments at the beginning. And then he falls in love with a girl who has been raised to despise Korean people…

If I hadn’t read Pachinko, I would have had difficulty to appreciate Go so much. I guess it’s a flaw of the novel, but the social context was what interested me most in the book, instead of the doomed love story that felt a bit “meh”. The interesting point that I have learnt is that Zainichi are treated differently if they are North-Koreans or South-Koreans, and that Zainichi can go to Korean schools, which is a double bind because the education there is not top-notch, and prepares kids for menial jobs and more discrimination, while seemingly protecting their cultural identity and protecting them from bullying.

I don’t think this book will appeal to a wide audience but it was charming to me. I could see the same resilience I had admired in Pachinko, but this time played out with a lighter tone.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.