Monday, 27 June 2016

#AMREADING PATRICK MODIANO, Villa Triste.

In a resort town a stateless young man, who calls himself Count Chmara, meets Yvonne, an actress, and her protector, Dr. Meinthe, but who among them is the most enigmatic and the best at the role-playing game?

Meinthe.  At long intervals, the muscles in his left cheek tensed, as if he were trying to catch a slipping, invisible monocle, but his dark glasses hid much of this twitching. Occasionally he’d thrust out his chin as though provoking someone. And then his right arm was shaken from time to time by an electrical discharge that communicated itself to his hand, which would trace arabesques in the air. All these tics were coordinated most harmoniously, and they gave him an agitated elegance.

Yvonne’s dog, Oswald. He belonged to a very rare strain of Great Danes, all of them congenitally afflicted by sadness and the ennui of life. Some of them even committed suicide. I wanted to know why sh’d chosen a dog with such a gloomy nature. Because there are more elegant than the others, she replied sharply.

Yvonne. She’d put on a beach robe with big orange and green stripes and lie across the bed to smoke a cigarette. It was very important for her to spend the season in this resort town, she explained. The season was going to be very brilliant. “Resort,” “season,” “very brilliant,” “Count Chmara” – who was lying to whom in this foreign language?

Count Chmara and Yvonne. We spent lazy days. We’d get up fairly early. In the morning, there was often mist—or rather a blue vapor that freed us from the law of gravity. We were light, so light…When we went down Boulevard Carabacel, we hardly touched the sidewalk.


A hotel that is past its glory days. The dreary walls and furniture begin to exude the sadness of shady hotels. There is a sickly-sweet smell in the corridors, which I can’t identify but must be the very odor of anxiety, of instability, of exile, of phoniness. A smell that has always accompanied me. The lobbies are nothing more than waiting rooms. Waiting for what, exactly? The lingering scent of Nansen passports. 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

#AMREADING IAN McEWAN, THE CHILDREN ACT.


Fiona’s private life collides with her professional duty as she presides over a case in family court: a teenager refusing medical treatment for religious reasons.

The court house. The air always reminded her of school, of the smell or feel of cold damp stone and a faint thrill of fear and excitement.

Her mind after her husband leaves her. At first, she was in an unreal state of acceptance, prepared to tell herself that she had, at worst, to endure the commiseration of family and friends and a degree of severe social inconvenience – those invitations she must refuse while hoping to conceal her embarrassment. Then she felt the first conventional ache of abandonment. In court, she sat and watched the parties below her settle. At her elbow was a slim pile of creamy white paper beside which she laid down her pen. It was only then, at the sight of these clean sheets, that the last traces, the stain of her own situation vanished completely. She no longer had a private life, she was ready to be absorbed.

Adam, the son of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is persuaded to accept medical treatment. Is Fiona’s interest in him more than professional? After his recovery, he visits her. You must go, she said. Lightly, she took the lapel of his thin jacket between her fingers and drew him toward her. Her intention was to kiss him on the cheek, but as she reached up and he stooped a little and their faces came close, he turned his head and their lips met. She could have drawn back, she could have stepped right away from him. Instead, she lingered, defenseless before the moment.


Is she in love with Adam? That is the question her husband asks after they reconcile. She let out a terrible sound, a smothered howl. “Oh Jack, he was just a child! A boy. A lovely boy!” And she began to weep at last. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

#AMREADING ELIZABETH STROUT, MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON.

Lucy is in hospital recovering from an operation when her long-estranged mother shows up. The two women seem to reconnect, but there is tension below the surface of their reminiscences.

I was lonely. Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.

When Lucy’s mother talks, it is with a slight rush of words, the compression of feeling that seemed to push up through her as she started, that morning, to suddenly speak of her childhood.

Lucy muses about her own childhood. Among her memories is the dreading-in-advance she felt, for example, when she had an appointment with the dentist. She realized she was wasting time by suffering twice, and wanted to suppress the advance-dreading, but there are things the mind cannot will itself to do, even if it wants to.

Both Lucy and her mother are sensitive to the constant judgment in this world. How are we going to make sure we do not feel inferior to another?

Lucy does not lack insight, but it makes her sad to think that a beautiful and true line comes to be used so often that it takes on the superficial sound of a bumper sticker.

Of the teacher in a creative writing class, she says: Every day she would start with a little sparkle, and within minutes fatigue set in. Her face became ravaged with fatigue. I don’t think I have seen before or since a face that showed its exhaustion so clearly.

I sympathize with the poor woman. Of course it’s exhausting to teach what can’t be taught.


Friday, 10 June 2016