Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani

Here's a piece from a little known composer, John Ireland.  It is the second movement of his violin concerto, Lento Expressivo.

A couple of Saturdays ago, Josh and I went to a pet store to buy fish.  Josh has two aquariums in our living room and he wanted to add some Jack Dempseys and Silver Dollars to the one.  The man with the fish was from Zimbabwe, a rugged looking guy in his forties, with a brown pony tail and one of those British sounding accents.  He and Josh engaged in an hour long debate about what sort of fish Josh should buy to populate his tank.  Clinton (that's the man's name, I assume he won't be reading my blog) was determined that what Josh needed was African Cichlids and Josh was equally determined about his Jack Dempseys and Silver Dollars.  Back and forth, back and forth.

How did it resolve?  We came home with this little blue blizzard that Clinton had hand raised.  Isn't she just a little puff ball?  I named her Sophie Grace.  The Sophie is because I think that is a cute girl's name for a cute little raptor.  Grace is because a friend of mine said that since she's a Quaker, she should have some kind of religious name, too. 

The Garden of the Finzi-ContinisThe Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my first time reading Bassani and I must say I enjoyed this book.

What I found interesting is that the background landscape was the arrival of Fascism and the imprisonment of the Jews, during WWII.

The narrator is remembering his youth. He has been through much since then, referring only once to his imprisonment during the war, because he is hearkening back to an earlier time.

The story revolves around the Finzi-Continis family who are wealthy Jewish aristocrats. The narrator becomes obsessed with the daughter Micol, who nevertheless does not return his interest. The narrator believes because he comes from a middle class Jewish family Micol see no future with him. The narrator suffers and cannot defuse the passion he feels for a woman who lives in a secluded house, separated from everyone else and lives a life of exclusive privilege.

Throughout the story we are subject to the chiaroscuro of the narrators violent love and unrequited torment in contrast to Micol's indifference while she lives a life of wealth and affluence. Micol's life is idyllic, her parents have made it so by excluding themselves from everything else.

Meanwhile fascism is creeping up and by the end of the story it arrives and covers its shadow over everything else.

This story is very well written and fascinating in its sketch of human nature.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Maigret and the Wine Merchant by Georges Simenon

Faure is one of my favorite composers.  I love French music in general, but his vocal music has such a wistful, haunting quality to it.  I have played the piano part of this song with many singers over the years.  Here is Claire de Lune by Gabriel Faure.

Maigret and the Wine MerchantMaigret and the Wine Merchant by Georges Simenon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another good mystery by the French master, Georges Simenon. Briefly, a wine merchant is murdered. Maigret must find out who did it. That, of course, is the premise of every murder mystery.

Where Simenon makes the mystery genre his own is how he develops his story, his characters and the psychology of a murderer.

The wine merchant is a case study by himself. As Simenon interviews the people who knew him, he finds a man who felt that since he could not make people love him, he could at least make them hate him. This he went about doing with great effectiveness. He made men hate him by sleeping with their wives. He made the women hate him by treating them like dirt. He made his employees hate him by doing both of the above and acting as loathsome as possible.

Then there are the others. The wine merchant's wife who decides that her husband is who he is and she will live her life to the fullest in spite of him. Taking her own lovers, she quite happily lives her life with him and without him, too, when he is dead.

There is one young woman who loves the murdered man, even though he treated her as callously as everyone else. Why? It was all she got and she accepted that.

So who murdered him? Is there one person who has more motive than the others? Or less stable a temperament? Maybe other pressures that finally push him (or her) over the edge?

It turns out there is, but you must read the book to discover who.

This books was a good entertaining read, but also thought provocative as I thought of the reasons people might allow themselves to be used, abused, and then someone who decided otherwise.

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch

Another beautiful piece by Gabriel Faure.  Here is Sicilienne for 'Cello and Piano, Opus 78.  This piece is also performed as a choral work, which I will link to in another post.

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'ConnorFlannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do not know whether this is the best biography of Flannery O Connor but it is certainly an excellent one.

Brad Gooch thoroughly discusses the time line and chronology of events of O Connor's life, giving the reader a deeper understanding of the person behind those disturbing Gothic stories.

We realize that O Connor was not simply making up these stories but was reporting what she saw: in her own family, on the cattle farm she and her widowed mother lived on, and the hired help who populated it.

We gain just how profound her Catholic faith was to her and how seamlessly she weaves that faith into each and every story, yet without preaching or creating pasty, smiley, saints. Flannery's characters are as rough edged as the teeth of a saw. She does not spare the reader the worst human nature has to offer.

It is interesting to me that O Connor created a number of the women characters after her mother. Flannery O Connor was especially close to her father and his untimely death to lupus,a disease that would later claim her own life at 39, left an indelible mark on her. Her mother was an overbearing, narrow-minded Southern gentrified lady, with all the bigoted and racist attitudes her background and era allowed. She trod rough shod over her daughter, who, as she became increasingly sick had to rely more and more on someone who had difficulty in understanding and perhaps even loving her.

Perhaps the lack of affection was mutual. Many of the women in O Connor's stories who came to dastardly ends bore no little resemblance to her mother. A friend voiced concern to Flannery that her mother would surely recognize herself in the stories. O Connor assured her that her mother "Doesn't ever read my stories. They put her to sleep."

Quite the irony for one of America's great writers to be unrecognized by her own family as she lived her unobtrusive life on a remote farm.

View all my reviews

Until next time...

Monday, February 4, 2019

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

Some Bach to brighten your day.


This is my husband once again wondering about my latest fad.  Books, post cards, t-shirts.

"I love my t-shirts.  I have book shirts and bird shirts.  That's all.  Oh, and art shirts.  That's really all.  Uh, and Star Trek shirts.  That's really, really all."

And it will be all for a while.  I could wear a different shirt every day of half a month.

NauseaNausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first book I read by Sartre. I had read so much about him, that when I saw this book in a shop, I decided to give him a go.

I do not know if Sartre is as powerful a writer as Camus. They both certainly know how to describe the meaningless of existence, although, Camus' Le Stranger, is more about a man who has no conscience.

Sartre's book is about a man, Antoine Roquentin, who is driving himself insane. But he does so honestly. I think if more people evaluated their life as the protagonist did, they would arrive at the same conclusion.

Nausea is written in first person narrative and we read all the frantic thoughts pulsing through Antoine's mind. He does not know why he is alive. He is a writer. Is he alive to write his book? Why does his book matter? He loved once, but his lover, Anne, is now gone. She's with someone else. Does he still love her? Did he ever love her? Or did he simply enjoy sleeping with her? He goes to see her to find out.

Many of the novel's scenes take place in a cafe, where Antoine takes his meals. He watches the other people and deconstructs their existence. One man in particular, stalks young boys. Antoine watches him, fascinated. He is repulsed but also sympathizes with the man. After all, what does it matter? Does anything matter?

He realizes that nothing does matter and the end of his existence would probably bring him final peace.

Sartre writes his protagonist's thoughts in a surreal, dreamlike, fluid style. Antoine pumps his ideas out like running water.

And he's right. If there is no God, which at the time Sartre and consequently, his Antoine, believes, what is the reason for existence? Simply to stay alive? Eat, drink, be merry for tomorrow we die?

I do not know whether Sartre was exploring this possibility or whether he was expounding his own belief, but he certainly arrives at the right conclusion. If there is no God we are simply star stuff moving in one direction, until we fall away.

Needless to say, Sartre's views are the opposite of my own.

View all my reviews