Paris in July 2016

Paris in July-16 official

It’s almost time for Paris in July! Beginning Friday it’s all things French all the time (because despite the name you can read books set outside of Paris) for those of us who’ve signed up at Thyme for Tea. This event is now in its seventh year which is an amazing run for a blogging event. I haven’t participated in a few years, but I have enjoyed the France-themed books I’ve read in the past so I decided to give it a go again this July. My hope is to read at least 4 books set in France – two non-fiction and two fiction.

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One of the novels I’m going to read is The Chateau by William Maxwell. The other novel is still up in the air, but I think it will be The Blessing by Nancy Mitford. As for the two non-fiction titles, I’m awaiting the arrival of two galleys I’ve requested from publishers that are both France-related –  I can kill two birds with one stone by reading for this event and reading ahead for work. I know I should probably read a book by an actual French author so I may ditch The Blessing and choose a translated novel instead – or I can try to add a translated novel to the stack. We’ll see!

Are you participating in Paris in July? Can you recommend any French novels for me to try?

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Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

Translated by Irene Ash

Our last day in Paris and I spent it reading Bonjour Tristesse –  a very stylish little novella that was published when Francoise Sagan was just 18 years old. The main character, Cecile, is about the same age as the author and this story chronicles the dramatic summer she spends in the South of France with her father and his fiancee.

Cecile is a spoiled and willful girl and she makes a choice, against her conscience, that causes tragedy and heartbreak. The bulk of the novella examines Cecile’s inner battle and her refusal to acknowledge that horrible consequences could result from her plans. We see the action from Cecile’s point of view, which helps the reader to sympathize with her, because otherwise we might think she is a monster. The tone of the novel is very light so I thought it was going to be a comedy. It does have moments of humor, but ultimately it mirrors the title in that it is quite sad. As I read I despised the selfish creature telling the story, but there was no way I could have stopped reading. It was just too compelling.

The author herself sounds very like Cecile as I learned from reading her obituary here.

Have you read Bonjour Tristesse? What did you think?

Oh my…this pie.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

I’m very quietly participating in this year’s Paris in July event. Last year I was too ambitious and disappointed with myself when I didn’t accomplish my French-related reading goals, so this year I am only reading two short books (and maybe, possibly a third if I can swing it) that will allow me to visit France vicariously with the many other readers who are joining the challenge.

The first book, A Moveable Feast, I finished very quickly because it is a perfectly fascinating book that I just couldn’t put down. Written by Ernest Hemingway near the end of his life, it is a memoir, of sorts, of his youth and his carefree days as an impoverished beginning writer in Paris during the 1920’s. Each chapter focuses on a different person who was important to him during his Paris years and so we get to learn about such intriguing figures as Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Sylvia Beach and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The style is typical Hemingway – short, simple sentences, with no elaborate descriptions or phrases. His tone is a bit mocking yet full of glee. One of the lovely aspects of this book is that Hemingway’s complete joy and enthusiasm for writing and for his time in Paris truly light up the memories he chooses to include. I do wonder how much of his stories are true, though. Everyone he writes about, except for Sylvia Beach, comes off looking foolish and pathetic. Especially Fitzgerald. Poor Fitzgerald. Even Ezra Pound, whom Hemingway praises as one of the kindest and most sympathetic of men, doesn’t come off well after Hemingway is through writing about him.

John F. Kennedy Library, Ernest Hemingway Collection

Hemingway is a fantastic writer with the ability to ensnare a reader and completely immerse you in his world. However, I don’t think he was a very nice man or a good friend. That didn’t lessen my enjoyment of his stories, though, or dampen the thrill of living in 1920’s Paris with him, walking the same streets, meeting the same people and experiencing his daily efforts to become a great writer. This is a wonderful book no matter the veracity of his memories and one I heartily recommend if you are interested in this time period.

Go here to see a list of readers who are participating in Paris in July – I’m sure you’ll find some great reads, books that will transport you to France this summer.

My Life in France by Julia Child & Alex Prud’Homme

This winning autobiography by the lively Child is a must-read for anyone who likes food or who likes France. Or both, of course! Child and her husband, Paul, move to France in 1948 to fulfill a cultural officer appointment Paul receives from the US government. From the description of the couple landing at Le Havre to their drive into post-war Paris, Child enchants with her enthusiasm, sparkling dynamism and wit. The passage she writes about her first-ever meal in a French restaurant seems almost fairy-tale like and I suppose it was in a way because it completely transformed her life. She becomes obsessed with French food and cooking and spends the next 5 years in Paris learning all she can about ingredients, methods and techniques. Even when the couple leaves Paris for stints in Marseilles, Germany and Norway, she is constantly tinkering with recipes especially as, by this time, she has teamed up with two French ladies to write a little book about French cooking.

There is a lot in the book about the tedious and exhausting process that led to Child getting their book published in the States. The narrative also follows her budding television career and superstardom in the food world, but the most glittering passages are when she writes about France and the food that inspires her. These passages skip and leap off the page and were a joy to read.

The only hesitation that I have about recommending the book is the graphic and intense depictions of the preparation of meat. As someone who is naturally squeamish about these things I had to take a deep breath and plow through when Child mentions killing lobster or ducks or deer. Just a warning for vegetarians and animal lovers.

Julia Child was one of the most energetic and passionate people of our time. We can all learn a lot from her about discovering our passions and pursuing our goals and about embracing different cultures. Another great read for Paris in July.

Gigi by Colette

Translated from the French by Roger Senhouse

Surprisingly, I knew hardly anything about Gigi before I read this novelette. I have never seen the musical and only vaguely remembered hearing anything about it. I think this was good. It made the story more riveting and delightful for me not knowing the characters or the outcome of the story beforehand.

So, unlike me, all of you probably know the Gigi story, therefore I won’t rehash the plot. But I will give my impressions. I loved Madame Alvarez and her sister Aunt Alicia. Their pronouncements on everything from jewels to actresses to motor cars were amusing and entertaining. The everyday details that Colette infuses her story with made it come to life for me. I relished reading about what the characters were wearing, eating and how they were styling their hair. It was endlessly fascinating. It gave me a glimpse into what life was like for them at the end of the nineteenth century in Paris.

How can any reader not adore Gigi? This innocent yet headstrong teen usurps the combined years of wisdom of her grandmother and aunt to achieve the desired outcome they had been scheming for – and more! She is a charming and fascinating character.

Seen through modern eyes this story is distasteful and kind of shocking, but completely entertaining when modern sensibilities are cast aside. I very much liked this and will seek out more of Colette’s writings in the future.

Fashions from 1899 - would Gigi have worn something like these?

Enough About Love by Herve Le Tellier

Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter

Enough About Love is a contemporary novel that follows two very similar couples and their relationships. In that respect, it reminds me of the last book I posted on, The Odd Women. That novel also charted the parallel relationships of two couples. In Enough About Love our couples are Anna and Yves and Thomas and Louise. Anna and Louise are described as almost the same person – both very attractive, approaching 40 and successful professionals. Also, both married with children. Yves and Thomas are also quite similar – in their 50’s, quiet and smitten with these women who come into their lives so unexpectedly.

The difference lies in the women and their reaction and feelings about these new relationships. Louise immediately recognizes Thomas as someone she wants to leave her husband for and promptly does so. She smoothly transitions into life with him. Anna, however, has concerns and doubts about Yves as a person and about herself. She desperately waffles back and forth until finally deciding which path their relationship will take.

This novel’s structure reminded me of that of A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Each chapter focuses on a different character’s or group of characters perspective and how they related to each other. There were also a couple of chapters that employed the use of non-traditional narrative forms including one where the text of a speech that Yves is delivering is printed on one side of the page and the thoughts of one of the audience members is printed on the other side.

I enjoyed the philosophical questions that were unearthed by the travails of the characters and the dissection of language and aging that was also a large part of the novel. It seemed very French to me. So did the laid back attitude toward adultery. None of the characters really feels guilty about engaging in extramarital affairs and they all even involve their children in these relationships.

This book seems at first to be a simple story of falling in love, but the more I think about it the more fruitful it appears. I set the book down many times mid-read to ponder a point raised by one of the characters. To me, that is one of the marks of successful literature.

Enough About Love is a book I probably wouldn’t have read if not for Paris in July. That’s why I love these blogging events that introduce us to new authors and genres we’d normally skip over.

My Paris

It’s July and we’re in Paris! Today starts the Paris in July event co-hosted by Karen at BookBath and Tamara at Thyme for Tea. I’ve never been to the real City of Lights, but am delighted to take this virtual trip throughout the month of July. Over on my sidebar under the ‘Forthcoming’ header (the first 3 items)  you can see the books I plan to read for the event. I’m not a fast reader so I’ve just listed a few and, hopefully, I’ll be able to relish the four books (I’m reading Enough About Love now) I’ve planned to read this month.

My ideas of Paris all seem to revolve around film and fashion. I fell in love with classic movies as a teen and watched many films set in Paris, mostly the Paris of the ’50’s and ’60’s. Around the same time I took out a subscription to Vogue and through its pages Paris was solidified in my mind as the center of stylishness. I’m no longer much of a movie watcher and I canceled my Vogue subscription years ago, but these two influences have colored my view of Paris forever.

One classic film in particular always comes to mind when I think of Paris. It’s not a French film, but a 1957 George Gershwin musical starring Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson – Funny Face. In the film, Audrey Hepburn’s character Jo is a mousy, serious bookstore clerk until she is discovered by Fred Astaire’s photographer character and whisked away by him (and an imperious magazine editor) to Paris to model an exquisite wardrobe designed by Givenchy. It is a truly enjoyable and strikingly memorable film. Perfect to watch this month!

What says ‘Paris’ to you?