Friday, April 25, 2014


Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier --- my view

DaphneDuMaurier Rebecca first.jpgIf you’re afraid of going back to the classics because you like page turners, don’t be! At least not with Rebecca. I revisited the novel for pace reasons. Let me explain. I am working on a literary mystery and I was in need of some inspiration and sustenance not so much for plot as for rhythm and tension. Rebecca, the forerunner of the psychological thriller, happened to be the perfect choice. Of course, I mixed business with pleasure for the novel is, as mentioned before, vastly entertaining. Something Du Maurier wanted. With time, it acquired a lot more than commercial value and became quite an important literary work.
With its remarkable descriptions of nature—either friendly or threatening—or of Manderley, a mansion that our unnamed narrator never controls or owns, this work is, besides a damn good story, all allegory, all metaphor.
I found pleasure turning those pages, but it was a sad, depressed pleasure. Don’t be fooled by the entertaining qualities of the novel, for this is a profoundly dark work. Entering Manderley felt like entering a grave. Our unnamed narrator never quite existed. (Her descriptions relate to her absence rather than her presence.) She died before being born. She never asserted herself, letting fear and the glance of others control her. And dead Rebecca was always like the sea, renewing her ardor with each wave.
This is not an easy work. For no matter how pale or submissive the narrator seems to be, the reader roots for her. Who doesn’t have compassion for a victim? And she’s attacked on all fronts. On one side, she has to please her husband, be a dreamer, “Alice in Wonderland,” as he puts it. On the other, she is given the chance to shine, be another Rebecca. None of these choices will make her happy. Being a husband pleaser will kill her identity. Being a rebel will make her true to herself but unacceptable to society. Unless she becomes some sort of monster, like Rebecca, playing the societal game on one side and not caring about anyone on the other. In the end, we know what she chooses. We know the tragedy.
And we know why this complex work is indeed a classic.


L'Élégance du hérisson (The Elegance of the Hedgehog) by Muriel Babery ---my view

This a closed spaced —locked?— novel almost to the end, as everything happens indoors—physically and metaphorically speaking. When the door of the building is pushed at last and Paris shows its face, then it’s all over. Tragedy strikes. At least tragedy in its most manifest, albeit ordinary, form. For this is not a happy novel, although the possibility of redemption, or at least hope, appears. Destinies are retraced. What one pre-adolescent thought she understood and controlled ends up being not so controllable or understandable after all. Suicide might not be the solution. Life is not such a simple formula. What the intellect grasps, the emotions swallow and spurt out, but not very neatly. What ideas collect and put in place, art rearranges and deranges in the process.
Muriel Babery sets her philosophical novel in a Paris building for the rich and spoiled. Two rebels against the system are the voices of this novel—Renée, the concierge, and Paloma, a gifted twelve-year old who thinks life is not worth living. Their rebellion is an inner rebellion, and the building in which all this (non)action takes place can be seen not only as a metaphor for their inner life, but also for the suffocating society that surrounds them. Only books, only literature can open up such a space, reinvent such a space. Only minds like them can now enter this reinvented place. A cat will be allowed as well. And, later, a Japanese man with his new perspective on things.
  Babery, in this slow paced, intellectual and poetic work, depicts two refined souls in a brutal world, two strangers with a hermit crab attitude trying desperately to protect themselves from the adventure of life. Until one shell starts to open and the other, as a consequence, has to break, so life, because of death, must be lived. This sounds cryptic. But when you read this intriguing novel, you will understand.
It is not a perfect work; there are some dead moments, although rare. Some chapters could have been removed; others, developed. Some useless characters could have been killed. Some vigor in the thought process could have been added. But Barbery still achieved something quite remarkable with this novel: in an elegant, highly accessible prose, she did manage to intrigue and stimulate both sides of the brain. High marks for that.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


So once upon a time (okay a couple of days ago) a person with a mild case of claustrophobia had to go through an MRI. Personnel at the hospital failed to reassure her. The MRI operator told her he couldn’t stand the thing himself without tranquilizers. So with the help of all this comforting and her own writer’s imagination, she swallowed a couple of pills before entering hell on earth, that dark, airless tunnel that would attack her from all sides. The day came, the moment. A half-spheric glass shape was placed above her head. Great. Now, she looked like a robot. A button was pushed and she glided into a tube, the tube. And then, what? It stopped and she could actually see the light at the end of the tunnel. Literally. And there was plenty of air circulating around her. She said: “That’s it? That’s what I am supposed to be afraid of? That’s why I got myself spaced out for?”

P..S. Okay, Mr MRI has some sort of temper and makes funny noises, some actually sounding like machine guns, so I would recommend MRI’s to crime fiction authors mostly, and only if they are not on vacation at the moment.