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The Art of Unreason

Odile d’Oultremont

(Edition de l’Observatoire, 222 pages, 2018)

For more than ten years, Adrian has led a well-regulated life centered on his job at Aquaplus, the city water management company. He is a compliant employee, courteous to a fault but with no meaningful human contact aside from his demanding mother. During one of his professional visits, he meets the endearing and whimsical Louise, a painter for whom daily life is the source of endless enchantment, and never a dull routine. They marry and share nine years of happiness under the guidance of Louise’s radiant disposition and exuberant creativity. But is imagination enough to counter the weight of reality?

Pascale says

"An ode to the power of imagination"

When the novel opens, Adrian is sitting in the dock in a courthouse. It is not clear what offense he might have committed, but there is no doubt that he has lost Louise. As he waits for the judge to interrogate him, he reminisces about his wife and their life together:  How he threw himself without hesitation into Louise’s magical universe, where the dog is called The Cat, where morning rituals are turned into joyful performances, and the most mundane objects are transfigured by the power of Louise’s fanciful mind. Thanks to Louise, the unadventurous Adrian learns to master “a new keyboard from which he has replaced the keys one after the other,” and on which even “unexpected new functions have appeared.” 

 

Following a corporate downsizing, Adrian is retained but relegated to, and then forgotten in, an obscure cubicle at the end of a ghostly corridor. Adrian bears the alienation of this Kafkaesque administrative decision, because since he can still continue to act as the “sponsor of Planet Louise.” And when she is diagnosed with cancer, his invisibility in the office allows him to devote himself fully to her care.  No one even notices his absence.  

 

Louise’s descent into illness and the way she faces it makes for some of the most moving passages of this book. Far from being just eccentric or childish, she is above all “a qualified worker of the imaginary.” Thanks to her endless curiosity, she faces the medical apparatus and the slow deterioration of her body with lucidity, courage, and resolute cheerfulness.

The Art of Unreason has been compared to Boris Vian’s masterpiece, The Foam of the Daze. They are both poignant love stories haunted by death and infused with poetry, and in which the surreal elements do not prevent the reader from experiencing an authentic and emotionally convincing world. But in this first novel, d’Oultremont has found her own unique voice. Her dazzlingly original prose never ceases to surprise us at every turn, whether she evokes the dehumanized environment of twenty-first-century corporations or the intimacy of true love.

Odile d’Oultremont is a screenwriter and filmmaker. Les Déraisons is her first novel.

 

THE STRANGE CASE OF BENJAMIN T.

Catherine Rolland

(Les Escales, 352 pages, 2018)

 

Benjamin Teillac’s wife has left him, and his only son has rejected him, and now epileptic seizures may make it impossible for him to continue as a paramedic. His neurologist offers him an opportunity to participate in a clinical trial of a revolutionary new drug, and he accepts. The side effects are immediate: He is assailed by vivid, life-like hallucinations. The year is 1944.  He is in a small village in the French Alps plotting to blow up a bridge. And then he is back in the present day. We are all somewhat more than one person, but Benjamin really lives two lives.

Alice says

"Uplifting and suprising"

The Strange Case of Benjamin T. starts with a description of Benjamin T.,  the  antihero, and his less than exciting life. But the tone changes in unison with the increasing pace of his dramatic seizures. Rolland is a fine storyteller who  skillfully guides the reader through the intricacies of the plot making us  empathize with Benjamin’s confusion and fear. She draws a believable picture of a man who has lost control over his body, and whose mind is invaded by the deeds and emotions of another life. 

As the novel progresses, Benjamin’s visions become more frequent and coalesce into the storyline of a life as real as his own.   He is living two lives at the same time:  In one, he is called Benjamin Teillac and, in the other Benjamin Sachetaz. The second Benjamin fights bravely alongside his brother in the French resistance, and the first avoids confrontation at all cost. As Benjamin S. he falls in love with Mélaine, who loves him back; BenjaminT. however, continues to long for Sylvie, who no longer loves him.  The Benjamin of 1944 knows the future, while the Benjamin of 2014 remembers the past. In each case, these lines across space and time have dangerous consequences for both of them. In the midst of his distress and confusion, Benjamin is presented with a rare opportunity to alter—much for the better—the course of destiny.  To do so, he may have to decide which of these two Benjamins he is to be.  

Catherine Rolland is an emergency doctor and a writer. Originally from Lyon, she has been living in Switzerland for a few years. The Strange Case of Benjamin T. is her fifth novel.

 
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Brisa

BÉNÉDICTE MARTIN

(JC LATTES, 150 PAGES, 2018)

***Nominated for the upcoming 2018 Françoise Sagan Prize***

Bénédicte Martin lives with her son in the Parisian apartment that belonged to her grandparents, Pierre and Brisa. She inhabits the very same rooms, pushes the same doors, and opens the same windows as they did. But Martin’s intimate connection with her family history goes deeper than the tangible legacy of these walls. There is another, more elusive inheritance that she feels compelled to explore and claim as her own in order to come to terms with the woman she has become.

Alice says

"Sulfurous and provocative. A family memoir like no others."

Martin’s family memoir begins with a woman who, although not a blood relative, played a central role in the life of Pierre and Brisa. Born in the Mediterranean harbor of Toulon at the turn of the twentieth century—Eleonore Madame Yvonne as she was later known— was the illegitimate daughter of an heir and a laundress. She came into a large inheritance, which she immediately used to settle in a luxurious Parisian hotel and throw herself into the dazzling nightlife of the capital. There, at last, she could live openly as a woman who loves women. After World War II, she became a madam, the informant and friend of Pierre, a former resistance fighter turned police chief. Madly in love with his idle wife Brisa, she inserted herself permanently into their lives.

As she retraces the past, Martin interposes reflections on her life. She does so seamlessly and without warning. Martin finds inspiring, yet also disquieting, similarities between the singular lives she reimagines and her own, and her exercise in uncovering points of multiple identifications feels at times like a form of exorcism. Inheritance is, for Martin, much broader than blood alone. It has a moral dimension that is transmitted not just through our family histories but also through our collective past.

Martin’s language is impassioned when she invokes the right, but also the suffering and challenges, of living differently. It is merciless when she speaks of unreciprocated desire, raw when she depicts the sadness of bought sex and lucid when it comes to the dirty money upon which Madame Yvonne’s largesse is built upon. With Brisa, Martin has written an incandescent and corrosive family memoir with a subversive absence of sentimentality.

Bénédicte Martin is a writer and a journalist. Her first book, Warm Up (Flammarion 2013), a collection of erotic stories, received the Counterpoint Award and was translated into Spanish and Portuguese. Another of her books, La Femme, was a finalist for the Renaudot Prize (Editions des Equateurs, 2014). She is a specialist of Colette and has also written a book on Simone de Beauvoir (Nouvelles Lectures, 2016.)

 
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THE FAKIR’S NEW ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF IKEA

ROMAIN PUÉRTOLAS

(EDITIONS LE DILETTANTE 298 PAGES, 2018)

***The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir, the adventure-fantasy film based on The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe (Knopf, 2015; Vintage 2016), directed by Ken Scott, is set to come out in May 2018***

 

[A] comic strip of a novel. . . . Strewn with laugh-out-loud jokes.

The New York Times Book Review

A philosophical odyssey. By turns slapstick and serious.

—The Wall Street Journal

Entertaining and original.

—Minneapolis Star Tribune

A delightfully silly confection.

—The Seattle Times

Combines farce worthy of Laurel and Hardy with socio-political satire.

—The Washington Times

Who would have thought that a comedy that mixes flat-pack furniture with magic could tackle some of the biggest subjects of our time? With a big heart, a brilliant sense of humour and an excellent translator, that’s what French writer Romain Puértolas achieves.

—The Independent

Lucinda says

"Another joyful romp across Europe with the endearing Fakir. Laughter guaranteed"

Two years after his adventures in The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe, Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod is no longer that tall, thin man, gnarled like a tree, with a huge mustache running across his face. He is clean shaven, has put on a little weight, and wears polo shirts with little crocodiles on the chest. He lives with Marie in a comfortable apartment in the affluent 16th arrondissement, and is sinking slowly into a cushy, insipid routine. And then one day adventure again knocks at his door . . .

Romain Puértolas takes the reader on a ride in the fast lane from France to Sweden. The story alternates from the fakir’s turbulent childhood at the school for fakirs in the heart of Rajasthan and his present life, thirty years later, as he searches in Viking territory for Hertzyorbac, the mythical bed of nails. But Ajatashatru is not just looking for that bed of nails; he is also searching for a subject for his next book. The deeply entertaining farce is filled with comedy and confusion; it’s a silly and serious philosophical consideration of flat-pack furniture and other modern-day sociopolitical concerns.

Romain Puértolas is the best-selling author of The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe, which was sold in thirty-eight languages and will soon be released as a film. It was published in the United States by Knopf/Vintage in 2015/2016.

 
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GABRIELLE OR THE REDISCOVERED GARDEN

STÉPHANE JOUGLA

(DENOËL, 218 PAGES. 2017)

***Sold to Droemer in Germany***

When a secret garden holds the key to healing a broken heart.

 

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Lucinda says

"Anyone who loves literature and nature will find this novel inspiring and deeply affecting"

In the suburbs of Paris, Martin loses the woman he loves, Gabrielle, in a traffic accident. Inconsolable, he sinks deeper and deeper into the denial of her brutal disappearance. Gabrielle had two passions: reading and gardening. Martin, who had barely opened a book in his life, begins to read the passages she had underlined in her books and to care for the garden she had shaped. In the process, he discovers the secret that, out of love, Gabrielle had kept hidden from him. A secret that will lead him to some extraordinary characters and forever change his life, while helping him to overcome Gabrielle’s death in the most unexpected ways.

Transformed by the dual powers of nature and literature blossoming within him, Martin begins writing poetry, and reconnecting with his body and his senses. The process, however, soon turns into an obsession A Robinson Crusoe-like recluse in this garden, an earthly paradise that protects him from the harshness of reality and the outside world, Martin may not survive the friction with society knocking ever louder on his door. But the garden is indestructible…

A dramatic narrative, this tender and sometimes absurdly comical variation on the themes of undying love and crippling grief will keep the reader turning pages with every brisk chapter. An ode to the power of literature and a moving reminder of the resilience of life in all its shapes.

Stéphane Jougla, born in Toulouse in 1964, is the author of three other novels: L’idée (Gallimard, 2003, winner of the Prix Méditerranée des lycéens), Portrait d’une absente (Gallimard, 2005, translated into Polish and Korean), and La petite philosophe (Éditions du Seuil, 2009). He also writes for the social sciences journal Sigila and is the author of the Fleurs d’encre school textbook collection, published by Hachette. Jougla studied law and literature, and currently teaches modern literature at a middle school in the suburbs of Paris.

 

 
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LIBERTY AND EQUALITY

RAYMOND ARON

(EDITIONS EHESS, 63 PAGES, 2013)

Aron is the supreme destroyer, not of hopes, but of confusions and illusions.

—Stanley Hoffman, New York Review of Books

Aron scrutinized political life with indefatigable attention until his last day, because he could not retire from the place where humanity makes the test of itself.

—Pierre Manent

Raymond Aron (1903–1983) was one of France’s prominent intellectual and influential figures—a sociologist, journalist, political commentator, and, not least, an independent-minded liberal known for his fierce critique of ideological orthodoxies. In this, his final lecture at the College de France, in April of 1978, Aron concluded his long teaching career by reflecting on the nature of Western democracies and the challenges they face in reconciling their founding concepts of liberty and equality. Those challenges are as relevant today as they were at the time of this lecture, which eloquently sums up Aron’s philosophical legacy.

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Pascale says

"Not to be missed for anyone interested in the work of Raymond Aron. As relevant today as when this was recorded." 

Raymond Aron preferred to speak of liberties rather than liberty: “We all enjoy certain liberties,” he wrote, “and we never enjoy all of the liberties.” Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophers based their definitions of liberty on speculations about theories on human nature. But Aron was not interested in abstraction. Rather, he examined how liberties are actualized—or not—in specific sociological and historical contexts. Well aware that the definition of freedom has varied across space and time, Aron cautiously confined his observations to his own Western, liberal, and relatively prosperous democratic society.

In this lecture, Aron classifies liberties—political, personal, and social—in a clear and accessible manner, and discusses the ways they intersect or conflict with one another, all without losing sight of the unrelenting quest for equality. Aron sees signs of the “moral crisis of liberal democracies” in intellectual developments characterized by “the detestation of power as such.” Liberty, Aron observes, has come to be mostly understood as the liberation of individual desires. This worries him, not because he objects to individuals expressing their personality and realizing their intimate desires, but because, for him, a liberal democracy, in order to be sustainable, needs to include as it did in the past a definition of “the virtuous citizen.” In spite of these concerns, Aron reminds his audience that it is still a privilege to live in societies, how imperfect they may be, “with a deep tradition of seeking liberty in equality or equality in liberty.”

Raymond Aron was a political scientist, sociologist, and journalist who made major contributions to the study of totalitarianism, liberalism, Communism, and international relations. In 1945, he co-founded with Jean-Paul Sartre the journal Les Temps modernes; and, a year later, Combat with Albert Camus. Prolific and versatile, Aron produced thousands of journalistic columns, hundreds of essays, and many scholarly books, some of which were published posthumously and appeared in at least nine languages. Of his books translated into English, the most famous is The Opium of the Intellectuals (Norton, 1962; Routledge, 2001). Others include The Century of Total War (Praeger, 1981), Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations (Anchor Press, 1973; Routledge, 2003), Clausewitz: Philosopher of War, (Simon & Schuster, 1983), Main Currents in Sociological Thought (Routledge, 1998), The Imperial Republic: The United States and the World 1945–1973 (Little, Brown, 1974), and The Dawn of Universal History: Selected Essays from a Witness to the Twentieth Century (Basic Books, 2003). He also wrote Memoirs: Fifty Years of Political Reflection (Holmes & Meier, 1995).

 

 

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JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE: ALONE BEHIND THE CAMERA

BERNARD TESSIER

(FAYARD, 272 PAGES, 2017)

 

In Melville's films, there is an aesthetic that gives you the feeling that ... if you truly enjoy movies with all your heart, you cannot but succeed in making a good one simply by having spent time watching them. Le Doulos is my favorite scenario of all time. First, you do not understand anything and then, in the last twenty minutes, everything is explained.                                                                   

—Quentin Tarentino

The French master Jean-Pierre ... shot great, extremely elegant and complex gangster movies, made with love,  and in which criminals and cops adhere to a code of honor like feudal knights.                                                                                                    

—Martin Scorcese

Melville is a god for me. When I saw The Samurai for the first time, it was a shock: Melville technique and his very cool narrative style felt incredibly novel ... I love how Melville manages to combine his own culture with Eastern philosophy.    

—John Woo

Jean-Pierre Melville, beloved by the best of modern directors, is considered the godfather of the French New Wave influencing generations of international filmmakers with such movies—now cult favorites—as The Red Circle, The Army of Shadows, or The Samurai. More than forty years after his untimely death at age fifty-five, his biography remained to be written. Bernard Tessier has now filled the gap with this new biography in which he draws the portrait of a man who was passionately dedicated to his art and who persisted in making movies on his own terms.

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Pascale says

"A delight for Melville fans. A sober yet powerful portrait of a man' s unbridled passion for cinema as an art form"
 

Born Jean-Pierre Grumbach in a Jewish Alsatian family, Jean-Pierre Melville fought in the French Resistance during World War II and adopted the nom de guerre Melville as a tribute to his favorite American writer. In the first chapters of Melville, Tessier highlights the significant biographical elements that influenced the course of Melville’s life. In particular, he details, with the help of previously unseen documents, Melville’s impressive war record. Coupled with a great admiration for Hollywood gangster pictures of the 1930s and ’40s, the experience of war was a determining factor in Melville’s work that inspired both the themes and the filmmaking style of his movies.

Tessier shows the tortuous process that accompanied the conception and production of Melville’s fourteen movies: the never-ending financial struggle, the endless negotiations and stormy relationships with authors, producers and actors. Melville decided early on in his career to go his own way and, unwilling to compromise, he started making films on a very low budget. Then, in the early 1950s, he built his own film studio in Paris  – a legendary place visited by aspiring film directors like Godard, Chabrol, Malle or Truffaut and many of the most celebrated actors of post-war French cinema – from Simone Signoret to Jean-Paul Belmondo and, of course, Melville’s iconic actor, Alain Delon.

Melville, as Tessier describes him, was difficult, obsessive, and perfectionist, but many looked up to him nonetheless as someone who inspired, and encouraged, them to make movies in a different way. From the production side, Melville was, in many respects, a pioneer of independent film making, and the notion of home movies, in his case, could be taken literally: his studio on Rue Jenner was where he lived.  On the creative side, he reinvented the rules of cinematic convention with slow-moving entry scenes, minimalist dialogue, and innovative editing techniques.

Tessier reveals how Melville transformed French cinema in his own, individualistic, way. This book presents the reader with a fair, respectful, yet not indulgent portrait of a man through the one thing that mattered the most to him: the making of a memorable cinematographic universe. 

Bernard Tessier is a journalist, documentary filmmaker and the author of numerous biographies of French actors and singers.