Book reviews Critiques littéraires Books recently published in english and french.

mercredi 18 août 2010

Jonathan Coe,The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, 2010

Jonathan Coe has been known since the seventies as a political satirist and a very funny writer in Britain,remember the huge success of " The House of Sleep and " What a Carve up") but now he is has switched to a more serious and grave tone as middle age sets in for him and for his heroes. We are in the suburbs and Max had been severely depressed for a year, out of work and divorced; The pits, as they say . What can be done except finding out what went wrong and going back on painful events ,lost opportunities and ordinary failures in the absolutely plain life of this looser of a guy who manage somehow to win our sympathies. A difficult task but the ironic tone and still very acerbic pen of Jonathan Coe helps to unfurl the melodrama as we go along this pilgrimage, since a year of therapy has achieved nothing much : Max travels to Australia to visit his estranged father to no avail because they do not talk, returns to England having only noticed a Chinese woman playing nicely with her kid in a restaurant,then visits his ex wife and kid and nothing changes, visits an old flame whom he beds in a drunken state.. all of this in a décor of British ,Post Blair style of consumer's paradise which is hilariously critical : Corporate meaningless jobs, Driving on Motor ways, awful Chain restaurants, atmospheric Bars, Barbe Cues,TV shows etc.. a scene very much like middle class America in an Updike novel , but funnier thank God! Coe describes the bliss of the car GPS and its lovely Voice as no one else does, and his description of menus to be found in Welcome Breaks of the road are priceless: Pizzas," Coffee Primo","Prosciutto and salad Panini " are our hero's favorites. He likes them and eats them everyday ; this is the sort of place where he belongs." A little oasis of urban ordinariness"as Coe describes it . He even likes the rustic chairs and tables and feels comfy and reassured by them.

So what is the crux of this failed life ? The terrible loneliness of Max who knows nothing about himself : he is in a fog but step by step and painfully, he finds out capital facts that have shaped his life: his father is an homosexual never out of the closet, his own marriage died because there was no sex and no talk between spouses since the child's birth ( 7 years) and finally he is a secret homosexual himself… curiously the all important fact of an interesting work is not dealt with, but he does find a job again and will resume his life.Coe tells a story of survival in the modern Hi Tech world, it is simple and at the same time terribly difficult ; the web and its social Sites are evidently not the answer.

Middle age is accepting life as it is, failures and irretrievable losses as well as good points which were neglected, the human lot in a known world, no rhyme to flee to Australia or the other side of the world as if paradise was waiting there. There is no paradise, only the Real ( or Reality ) which is our given destiny: "proceed on the current motorway", says the lovely voice of" Emma" on the GPS . Just don't fall in love with Emma, she does not exist.

mercredi 4 août 2010

Kathryn Stockett, the Help,Penguin, 2010

We are in Jackson, Mississippi in the sixties, just before the civil rights movement, and there are still well to do white families keeping Negro maids practically in bondage, as if the slave mentality had not been erased by the Civil war. It is truly amazing and personally I would not believe this, had I not lived in the South myself at that period and seen the remaining images of the old Southern aristocracy quite alive still in the young matrons of a lovely small town just like Jackson. Both races were ensconced in rigid rules: physical segregation ( one did not eat together etc..), Blacks serving Whites, and worse, unredeemable economic domination (a maid could be accused of theft ,fired on the spot and never find another job..). So there was not only fear at the basis of this society but deep-seated hatred and distrust in the Negroes heart for the unjust and often cruel white masters and their class solidarity ; that hatred was inescapable.

Stockett had a family maid while growing up in Mississippi and loved her, she was family for her especially that her own divorced mother disappeared from her life ; yet she realized dimly that there was a toughness , a cruelty and a lack of freedom in the maid's lot which was sad.She also realized that a great deal of love existed between the white children and their black maid who had raised them, cuddled them, and taught them their first rhymes and games . An enduring love that lasted through their life and was a undying bond. This" mother- child " love is very evident in her wonderful book; furthermore Stockett felt that no one ever talked about this love , and constantly stressed the hatred between the races only. She shows young white mothers not taking care of their children and certainly not raising them ,being society ladies at the Club or entertaining their friends , just like in colonial times or in India for the British.She also talks of the frequent brutality and drunkenness of black husbands who beat their wives and kids, and how those black women ( the maids in fact ) helped each other survive and keep their families together at all costs. Her book is an vibrant homage to these wonderful , generous and courageous women.

The book created an uproar in the States last year because readers claimed that no white woman could have written it and understood what a black maid really thought of their" white families ". It seems precisely that only an artist, intuitive and sensitive ( whether white or black ) woman raised in that system and knowing it from the inside, could fathom the complexities of feeling, gratefulness, fury and revenge which arise in the souls of the actors of such a racial and social drama. Here it happens to be a white young woman, born in a traditional family , who gets the idea of writing such a book I; she is of course a marginal girl, named "Skeetter "who does not want to get married , wishes only to become a writer and journalist in New York City and leave the suffocating South for ever . The southern society slowly dying in front of our eyes,is indeed a rigid , unforgiving, hyper-conformist society who tolerates no deviation ,no originality and no change : you shape up or you die. The black maids in the book got to say what they thought of their employers in their own language, very colorful and alive, and were given a whiff of feminism in the process; so we have several view points during the suspense created by the New York editors hesitating to print the work or not.The famed gracious way of life of the old Aristocratic South receives quite a blow here ; years after the civil rights battles of the sixties , it is still a powerful American myth.


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Brussels, Belgium
Née à Bruxelles, mère résistante et sculpteur, père homme d’affaires, études à l ’Université libre de Bruxelles ( Philosophie et Lettres ; arts primitifs), puis à Harvard ( anthropologie), Rutgers New Brunswick, Duke University .N.C. USA ( littérature comparée, Masters et Doctorat.) Thèse publiée (Ph.D) sur Valéry et Mallarmé. Enseignement universitaire aux USA, en France (Aix en Provence) et au Liban (comme coopérant) ,littérature et philosophie , en français ou anglais. Mariée en premières noces à un avocat américain G.Robert Wills et puis à un peintre et publiciste Français, Jean- Pierre Rhein (décédé). La plupart des publications sous le nom de Wills.Vit à Bruxelles.