Friday, 28 February 2014

Book Review: Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene world of espionage serves as background for many thrillers. I’m no big fan of the genre because mainstream writers tend to pack more open violence and perfidious intrigues into them than seems necessary to me, but a really good spy story will also give its readers a well-founded idea of international politics and the social as well as economic context of the plot and its characters. It’s almost inevitable that thrillers of this kind are period works which – unless they are placed in a historical or fictitious setting – become outdated by the vicissitudes of history. On the other hand, some gain a certain testimonial value and achieve the status of classics. One such spy novel, even though a satiric one, is Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene. 

Graham Greene was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England/U.K., in October 1904. Already as a boy he showed bipolar disorder and tried to kill himself several times. While in college at Oxford, U.K., he made his literary debut with a poetry collection which wasn’t well received, though. After graduation he earned his living as a tutor and as a journalist until his first novel, The Man Within (1929), was published and sold passably well. Real success, however, came only with Stamboul Train (brought out as Orient Express in the USA) in 1932. Among the most famous works of the prolific writer are his so-called Catholic novels Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), and The End of the Affair (1951), but he is also known for lighter entertainment (often inspired by his activity as a spy for M.I.6) like A Gun for Sale (1936), The Third Man (1949), The Quiet American (1955), Our Man in Havana (1958), and The Tenth Man (1985) plus several short story collections and his autobiographies A Sort of Life (1971) and Ways of Escape (1980). Graham Greene died in Vevey, Switzerland, in April 1991. 

It’s Cuba in the 1950s before the Fulgencio Batista regime was overthrown by Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries. Our Man in Havana is Jim Wormold, the local agent of Phastkleaners vacuum cleaners. After his wife left him ten years earlier, he has been bringing up alone their now sixteen-year-old daughter Milly. The girl takes for granted to be able to enjoy all luxuries and pleasures that well-to-do European residents in Havana, first of all her classmates at the American convent school, are used to at the time and she knows how to get her will. While Jim Wormold still ponders about how to meet his daughter’s latest desire, her own horse, without slipping deep into debt, he is approached by an Englishman called Hawthorne. He is quite astonished, when he finds himself all of a sudden recruited as a spy for the British Secret Service M.I.6. However, he can use the money and his friend Dr. Hasselbacher, a German veteran of World War I residing in Cuba for decades, encourages him to play his part in the Cold War game. For want of information to pass on, Wormold begins to make up reports and before soon he adds sketches of vacuum cleaner parts which he passes off as secret military facilities on the island. His intelligence work is such a success in London that a secretary and a radio assistant are sent to Havana for his support. From this point on the fake reports develop dynamics of their own pushing Wormold into the dangerous (and in several cases fatal) net of real espionage and towards his attractive as well as understanding secretary Beatrice.

Our Man in Havana is a satirical spy novel which Graham Greene himself labelled as entertainment rather than as literary fiction when it first came out. In fact, it’s a light and amusing read with the characteristics of the genre including several surprising turns leading to the deaths of innocent people as well as a budding love story. The plot is simple, clear and easy to follow. It is told from the point of view of a third-person narrator who attaches importance to depicting the protagonist’s inner life and motives for his actions as well as the socio-political and economical circumstances in which he lives. The characters are taken from life with all their strengths and weaknesses although a real Captain Segura might have been much more dangerous and pitiless than in the novel. Cuba was the obvious and perfect setting for such a story, a fact which was later confirmed by the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early 1960s. Language and style of the novel are functional and unpretentious as always with this author, but as requires making fun of the spying trade, Graham Greene salted it with an ironical undertone throughout. 

My impression of Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene has been a good one. I’m less enthusiastic about it than I was when I first read this novel some time in the latest 1980s, but the author had a way of telling his stories which is very much in my line. Not without reason I counted Graham Greene among my favourites until growing older I got out of the habit of reading him. In any case, Our Man in Havana has been an entertaining and enjoyable read which I recommend with good conscience.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Poetry Revisited: Spring Quiet


Gone were but the Winter,
Come were but the Spring,
I would go to a covert
Where the birds sing;

Where in the whitethorn
Singeth a thrush,
And a robin sings
In the holly-bush.

Full of fresh scents
Are the budding boughs
Arching high over
A cool green house:

Full of sweet scents,
And whispering air
Which sayeth softly:
"We spread no snare;

"Here dwell in safety,
Here dwell alone,
With a clear stream
And a mossy stone. "

Here the sun shineth
Most shadily;
Here is heard an echo
Of the far sea,
Though far off it be."

       Christina Rossetti

Friday, 21 February 2014

Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa’s only natural that Europe takes up a central place here on Edith’s Miscellany, but there’s no reason why I should omit literature from other continents. Past year I already reviewed a few books from non-European countries, notably during My Mediterranean Reading Summer 2013, and this year I want to continue roaming the literary globe. Today’s review spotlights Asia, more precisely Japan. At first I meant to dedicate this post to 彼女について by Banana Yoshimoto which I read in the German translation titled Ihre Nacht. Alas, when I set out to write my review, I found that it isn’t yet available in English. So I switched to The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa instead and be assured that this novel is just as worthy an example of contemporary Japanese literature. 

Yōko Ogawa (小川 洋子) was born in Okayama, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, in March 1962. She made her literary debut in 1988 with the prize novel 揚羽蝶が壊れる時 (The Breaking of the Butterfly). Since then the prolific writer brought out dozens of novels, short stories and essays in Japan, many of them award-winning, but only few of them available in English. The Diving Pool: Three Novellas (ダイヴィング・プール: 1991), Hotel Iris (ホテル・アイリス: 1996), and The Housekeeper and the Professor (博士の愛した数式: 2003) count among her internationally most successful books. More of her novels and short stories have been translated into other languages like German, French, Italian or Polish. The author’s latest work published in English is the novel Revenge (寡黙な死骸みだらな弔い). Yōko Ogawa lives in Ashiya, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan, with her family. 

The story of The Housekeeper and the Professor is that of the two characters already mentioned in the title plus the housekeeper’s ten-year-old son and the poetry of mathematics. It begins in March 1992 when the narrator takes up her job as the professor’s housekeeper in a shabby back yard garden pavilion. The sixty-four-year-old man used to be a renowned mathematician at a university until a serious car accident in 1975 left him with an amazing kind of failing memory. He can remember everything that happened before the accident and the last eighty minutes of his life, but the period in-between is lost. Every person entering his universe outside the eighty-minute window is a stranger to him and he has to get to know him or her from scratch. When the narrator arrives on her first morning the professor doesn’t care about her name. Instead he wants to know first her shoe size and then her telephone number connecting them immediately with other figures, the faculty 4 in the first and the total count of prime numbers between 1 and 100 000 000 in the latter case. The housekeeper is intrigued by the professor’s capacity to see figures of everyday life in a mathematical light. She soon gets used to the daily ritual of numbers and learns to deal with his memory lapses. One day she mentions her ten-year-old son and he insists that the boy comes to the pavilion after school to be in his mother’s care. As it turns out the professor loves children. It is the beginning of a strange friendship held together by the beauty of mathematics and the love for baseball. It lasts through different troubles and long beyond the end of the housekeeper’s employment. 

The Housekeeper and the Professor is a first-person narrative from the point of view of the housekeeper. Mirroring the professor’s inability to keep in mind the names of people surrounding him, the characters of the book remain nameless and are usually identified by their relations to the professor or simply by their profession. The only close exception is the housekeeper’s son whom the professor nicknames “Root” ever again because his flat crane reminds him of the radical sign √. This may also reflect the fact that except mathematics there is hardly anything stable left in the professor’s universe which is flooded by thousands of new things virtually in every moment and always without a warning. Like many people suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia the professor only has the present and a remote past which often makes things complicated for his surroundings, especially his housekeeper, but Yōko Ogawa shows that where there is a will, there is a way. It only needs respect along with flexibility to cope with the situation and to see the precious person behind the man with the annoyingly looping memory loss who constantly talks about numbers. It’s possible to have fun with him. It’s possible to like him as the person who he is. Yōko Ogawa tells the professor’s story with much empathy and equally great expertise in mathematics. For me it has been a long time – more than twenty-five years – since I last dealt with mathematics and I must admit that sometimes it was a bit of a challenge to get back into that frame of mind. Luckily the author uses a very clear and unpretentious language and doesn’t try to impress with eccentricities of style. 

To cut a long story short, The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa has been a very pleasurable read, a simple story which is much less bizarre than it may seem at first. Since I enjoyed the book, I warmly recommend it for reading. It’s worth the time!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Veza Canetti can be no doubt that the name Canetti is well-famed in the world of literature. Elias Canetti it goes without saying since it was he who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981. However, there’s also an Austrian writer carrying the family name: Veza Canetti, the first wife of the famous Nobel Prize laureate. Of course, she is present in some of his essays as well as in his autobiographies and after her death he dedicated all his publications to her, but the literary picture that the acclaimed author painted of her is strongly tinged by female ideals of the 1920s and 1930s. Veza Canetti appears as “literary muse”, “oriental princess”, “jealous partner”, “melancholic raven”, and “sacrificing woman without own ambitions”. That she happened to be a talented writer doesn’t seem to have mattered to the great man of letters. 

Veza Canetti was born as Venetiana Taubner-Calderón in Vienna, then Austria-Hungary, on 21 November 1897. Her father was an Ashkenazi-Jewish merchant from Hungary who died when she was six years old. Her mother, a descendent of Spanish-Sephardic Jews who had settled down on the Balkans, more precisely in Belgrade, Serbia, soon remarried to be provided for with her daughter. Little is known about Veza’s childhood and youth, but despite a physical defect – she had no left forearm so her hand was joined directly to the elbow – those forming years seem to have been quite ordinary. The girl graduated from a grammar school in Vienna and often visited her numerous relatives on the British Isles to improve her English. Besides, she applied herself to studying French, Spanish and Italian on her own. 

After the end of the Great War In 1918 Veza Taubner-Calderón worked as an English teacher at a private grammar school in Vienna until it was closed four years later. After that the young woman made her living as a translator into German and giving private English lessons. She also attended lectures of Karl Kraus (one of the grand men of Austrian literature at the time known today above all for his play The Last Days of Mankind from 1918) at the university of Vienna where she met her husband-to-be, Elias Canetti, in 1924. In the early 1930s Elias Canetti began working on his first (and only fiction) novel Auto-da-fé and also Veza turned her attention to writing. With the help of one of her students, she made her literary debut with a short story in the Wiener Arbeiter-Zeitung, a newspaper of the social-democratic party in Vienna, in 1932. 

During the following two years Veza Taubner-Calderón continued to publish in different newspapers and anthologies. Being Jewish, however, she could not use her real name, but had to resort to different pseudonyms like Veza Magd, Veronika Knecht, Martha/Martina/Marina/Martin Murner. Her rather radical short stories drawn from everyday life touched on burning issues like poverty, unemployment, abuse of power, humiliation, and violence within the family which wasn’t welcome after the events of February 1934 (Austrian Civil War and takeover of power by Austrofascists with conservative Catholic-patriotic ideals as answer to rising National-Socialism under Hitler in Germany). Veza’s novel titled Die gelbe Straße could not be released as planned anymore and the Jewish socialist writer had little opportunity to further publish her work. 

In 1934 Veza Taubner-Calderón married Elias Canetti and adopted his family name as required Austrian law. It is known that Veza wrote two not yet found novels, Kaspar Hauser and Die Genießer, until November 1938 when the Canettis fled via Paris, France, to London, U.K., where they settled down in 1939. In exile Veza Canetti produced Die Schildkröten, but couldn’t find a publisher for the novel. Since earning a living became a pressing issue, Veza put aside her own ambitions and worked as a translator from English again. For the rest she contented herself with supporting her husband’s work as his muse, literary assistant and sometimes secretary although he had several intense affairs. As it seems, Veza Canetti lost all hope for a breakthrough as a writer by 1956 and rumour has it that she not only gave up writing altogether, but also destroyed many of her manuscripts. 

Veza Canetti died in London, U.K., on 1 May 1963. The little that remains of her literary heritage has been (re)discovered and (re)published only in the 1990s and in the new millennium. Available in English are her novels Yellow Street: A Novel in Five Scenes (Die gelbe Straße: 1990) and The Tortoises (Die Schildkröten: 1998), plus the collection Viennese Short Stories (including among others the early stories from the German-language collection Geduld bringt Rosen: 1995). In German also the play Der Oger (1991) and more short stories Der Fund  (2001) have been brought out. 

Monday, 17 February 2014

Poetry Revisited: Le merle – The Blackbird


Un oiseau siffle dans les branches
Et sautille gai, plein d'espoir,
Sur les herbes, de givre blanches,
En bottes jaunes, en frac noir.

C'est un merle, chanteur crédule,
Ignorant du calendrier,
Qui rêve soleil, et module
L'hymne d'avril en février.

Pourtant il vente, il pleut à verse;
L'Arve jaunit le Rhône bleu,
Et le salon, tendu de perse,
Tient tous ses hôtes près du feu.

Les monts sur l'épaule ont l'hermine,
Comme des magistrats siégeant.
Leur blanc tribunal examine
Un cas d'hiver se prolongeant.

Lustrant son aile qu'il essuie,
L'oiseau persiste en sa chanson,
Malgré neige, brouillard et pluie,
Il croit à la jeune saison.

Il gronde l'aube paresseuse
De rester au lit si longtemps
Et, gourmandant la fleur frileuse,
Met en demeure le printemps.

Il voit le jour derrière l'ombre,
Tel un croyant, dans le saint lieu,
L'autel désert, sous la nef sombre,
Avec sa foi voit toujours Dieu.

A la nature il se confie,
Car son instinct pressent la loi.
Qui rit de ta philosophie,
Beau merle, est moins sage que toi !

Théophile Gautier


A bird from yonder branch at dawn
Is trilling forth a joyful note,
Or hopping o'er the frozen lawn,
In yellow boots and ebon coat.

It is the blackbird credulous.
Little of calendar knows he,
Whose soul, with sunbeams luminous,
Sings April to the snows that be.

Rain sweeps in torrents unrepressed.
The Arve makes dull the Rhone with mire.
The pleasant hall retains its guest
In goodly cheer before the fire.

The mountains have their ermine on,
Each one a mighty magistrate,
And hold grave conference upon
A case of Winter lasting late.

The bird dries well his wing, and long,
Despite the rains, the mists that roll,
Insists upon his little song,
Believes in Spring with all his soul.

He softly chides the slumberous morn
For dallying so long abed,
And bids the shivering flower forlorn
Be bold, and raise aloft its head.

Behind the dark sees day that smiles,
Even as behind the Holy Rod,
When bare the altar, dim the aisles,
The child of faith beholds his God.

He trusts to Nature's purpose high,
Sure of her laws for here and now.
Who laughs at thy philosophy,
Dear blackbird, is less wise than thou!

Translated by Agnes Lee

From: The Complete Works of Théophile Gautier, Volume XXIV: Enamels and Cameos
Cambridge, MA: University Press, John Wilson and Son, 1903

Friday, 14 February 2014

Book Review: The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago the past an objective reality that always stays the same? Is it a subjective and momentary, yet commonly accepted view of what once was? What if we did the unthinkable and changed the course of history with one simple stroke of the pen? Inserting one word into the proofs of a book, the protagonist of The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago does just that. He changes events that took place eight centuries earlier. And the arbitrary act of a proofreader serves the laureate of the Nobel Prize 1998 to combine a love story with metafiction about writing alternative history. 

José Saramago, in full José de Sousa Saramago, was born in Santarém, Portugal, in November 1922. At first he worked as a car mechanic, but soon turned to translating and journalism which earned him a living until he lost his job as assistant editor of a newspaper in the mid-1970s. Only then José Saramago’s career as a full-time writer began. His first novel, Manual of Painting and Calligraphy (Manual de Pintura e Caligrafia), was published in 1977. General acclaim came with Baltasar and Blimunda (Memorial do Convento: 1982) and increased with novels like The Stone Raft (A Jangada de Pedra: 1986), The History of the Siege of Lisbon (História do Cerco de Lisboa: 1989), The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo: 1991), and Blindness (Ensaio sobre a Cegueira: 1995). In 1998 the Swedish Academy awarded the writer the Nobel Prize in Literature. Among his notable later works are The Double (O Homem Duplicado: 2002), Seeing (Ensaio sobre a Lucidez: 2004), Death at Intervals (As Intermitências da Morte: 2005), and his final novel Cain (Caim: 2009). José Saramago died on Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain, in June 2010. 

Despite its title The History of the Siege of Lisbon doesn’t revolve around proven historical facts of the defeat of the Moors camping in front of the gates of Lisbon in 1147. Those important events of the Portuguese past serve José Saramago only as background for a story within the main plot taking place eight centuries later. Correcting the proofs of a history of the siege of Lisbon written by a renowned scholar, a poor proofreader in his early fifties called Raimundo Benvindo Silva feels the sudden and irresistible urge to insert a NOT where it doesn’t belong, a NOT that might have changed the course of Christian-European history, had the Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land really refused to help the defenders of the besieged city. When the mistake is discovered a few days later, an erratum sheet is added to the already printed copies and the publishing house engages Senhora Dona Maria Sara to supervise all proofreaders in order to avoid similar problems in future. The encounter of the bachelor Raimundo Silva and the divorcee Maria Sara is the beginning of their hesitant love story. Encouraged by Maria Sara the proofreader sets out to write his own, alternative history of the siege of Lisbon and is ever more drawn into his imaginative world crowded with twelfth-century Moors and Crusaders. At the same time he courts Maria Sara, at first with much restraint because he can’t imagine the younger woman to be interested in him, but like Morgueime and Ouroana in his historical novel they get closer day by day. 

The History of the Siege of Lisbon is a partly metafictional novel told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator. The two plot lines, the historical novel that Raimundo Silva writes and the love story between Raimundo Silva and Maria Sara, are interlaced and often interdependent. In the story within the story the author plays with possibilities and probabilities that even most accurate historical research must leave open because it relies on usually very limited sources. In other words the message is that our picture of history can be no more than a collage of a smaller or greater number of snapshots of the past, moreover an arrangement of individual pieces showing the subjective touch of the person, people or society that put them together. And as uses to be the case with pictures, we can only guess what people thought – the perfect starting point for a novel! In fact, The History of the Siege of Lisbon gives an interesting insight into the creation of a historical novel set in an alternative past. The contemporary love story, on the other hand, shows the hopes and fears, the doubts and convictions of a man and a woman who are attracted to each other and yet afraid of being hurt (again) and how they take cautious steps towards each other. The novel is written in the typical style of José Saramago which can be quite a challenge at first because he refrains from using punctuation except many commas and scarce periods. Paragraphs are long and often incorporate complex dialogues which are made visible only by capital letters within the sentences. Despite all I had no problem at all following the plot. 

For me The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago has been a very delightful and absorbing read, one of my best ever and one which made me long for more by this justly famous Portuguese author. Blindness confirmed my first impression and others of his novels made it on my list of books to read. In a nutshell, I enjoyed The History of the Siege of Lisbon immensely and am more than pleased to finally recommend this writer, particularly this book of his for reading.

* * * * *

This review is a contribution to the perpetual Read the Nobels challenge.

For more information and a complete list of books that I already reviewed for it »»» please read my sign-up post!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Poetry Revisited: La extranjera – The Stranger

 La extranjera


A Francis de Miomandre.

Habla con dejo de sus mares bárbaros,
con no sé qué algas y no sé qué arenas;
reza oración a dios sin bulto y peso,
envejecida como si muriera.
Ese huerto nuestro que nos hizo extraño,
ha puesto cactus y zarpadas hierbas.
Alienta del resuello del desierto
y ha amado con pasión de que blanquea,
que nunca cuenta y que si nos contase
sería como el mapa de otra estrella.
Vivirá entre nosotros ochenta años,
pero siempre será como si llega,
hablando lengua que jadea y gime
y que le entienden sólo bestezuelas.
Y va a morirse en medio de nosotros,
en una noche en la que más padezca,
con sólo su destino por almohada,
de una muerte callada y extranjera.

Gabriela Mistral

Nobel Prize in Literature 1945

The Stranger


To Francis de Miomandre.

She speaks in her way of her savage seas
With unknown algae and unknown sands;
She prays to a formless, weightless God,
Aged, as if dying.
In our garden now so strange,
She has planted cactus and alien grass.
The desert zephyr fills her with its breath
And she has loved with a fierce, white passion
She never speaks of, for if she were to tell
It would be like the face of unknown stars.
Among us she may live for eighty years,
Yet always as if newly come,
Speaking a tongue that plants and whines
Only by tiny creatures understood.
And she will die here in our midst
One night of utmost suffering,
With only her fate as a pillow,
And death, silent and strange.

Translated by: Helene Masslo Anderson

From: Gabriela Mistral – The Poet and Her Work by Margot Arce de Vazquez
New York University Press 1964

Friday, 7 February 2014

Book Review: The Cat by Colette
Already an entire week of February is gone – high time for my first contribution to the Books on France 2014 reading challenge! For today’s review I wanted a classic by a woman writer who has been much celebrated in her time and whose work has long been on my wish list. In the end I picked a novel which attracted me first of all because of its title: The Cat by Colette. There are many stories about love and unfounded jealousy, but to my knowledge none of them has a cat playing a central role in it like in this extraordinary short novel. 

Colette, in full Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, was born in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye in Burgundy, France, in January 1873. She began her literary career during her first marriage writing the novels lately brought out in English as The Complete Claudine, a collection which comprises Claudine at School (Claudine à l’école: 1900), Claudine in Paris (Claudine à Paris: 1901), Claudine Married (Claudine en ménage: 1902), and Claudine and Annie (Claudine s’en va: 1903). After her divorce she worked in the music halls of Paris for a living, but the continued to publish. Her most notable novel of that time probably is The Vagabond (La Vagabonde: 1910). Only after World War I the already well-known author became really famous. The most important among her works are Chéri (1920), My Mother’s House (La Maison de Claudine: 1922), Green Wheat (Le blé en herbe: 1923), The Other One (La Seconde: 1929), The Cat (La Chatte: 1933), and Gigi (Gigi et autres nouvelles: 1944). Cared for by her third husband, Colette died in Paris, France, in August 1954.

The scene of The Cat is Paris in the 1930s. Twenty-four-year-old Alain and nineteen-year-old Camille are soon getting married. The young man has a carefree life at his mother’s house surrounded by a spacious and well-kept garden. Saha, a Chartreux cat, is his loyal as well as tender companion ever since he bought her three years earlier. It has been love at first sight between him and the cat. Their established rituals are Alain’s daily joy, but he knows that everything is going to change. In fact first changes are already under way. With growing unease Alain watches the progress of the works on the marital apartment in the house. At last the wedding takes place and since their new home isn’t ready yet the newlywed couple temporarily moves into the studio of a friend located on the ninth floor of a new block of flats. Alain and Camille enjoy the pleasures of married life, but they also begin to see faults in each other. Already after the wedding night, Alain is taken aback by his wife walking about the room naked, while Camille is annoyed with his prudishness. As time goes by, Alain visits his mother and Saha ever more often. He finds Saha pining and losing weight because she refuses to eat. One day Alain can’t bear Saha’s quiet suffering any longer and takes her with him to the studio. By instinct Saha has always disliked Camille. In return, the young woman never cared for the cat and doesn’t understand at all why Alain is so devoted to her. Now the three of them are living together and Camille feels that Saha is getting more attention and affection from Alain than are her due. Moreover, after only three months of married life Alain is withdrawing from Camille. The young woman is jealous and Saha loves balancing recklessly on the balustrade of the small terrace… but cats have nine lives and malice doesn’t pay. 

The unusual love triangle making up the story of The Cat is told from Alain’s point of view which reveals him as a boy rather than the fully-grown man that his age suggests. Alain clings to his routines and rituals just as much as Saha or any other cat does. Alain loves his life as it always used to be and he loves Saha. Therefore I believe that Saha represents Alain’s comfortable life under his mother’s roof in the middle of a fairy-tale garden, a life that seems neverchanging. Saha may also have served Colette as a mirror for Alain’s sensitive and freedom-loving nature. Camille, on the other hand, is a bold and energetic young woman who wants her husband to completely belong to her alone and to share her desires. Her energy and love overwhelm Alain. Probably Camille also stands for the unpredictable changes and challenges of future. To me Alain and Camille seem the classical opposite tempers: Alain is the sensitive introvert who needs to be alone now and again, while Camille is the active extravert who best relaxes in company and can’t bear solitude. The characters in the book are all made of flesh and blood, including Saha. The way Colette showed Alain’s deep love for his cat is no less than the work of a brilliant observer and a writer of genius. The novel’s language and style are elegant and precise which doesn’t actually make it easier for a non-native speaker of French like me to read the original text, but it certainly adds to the pleasure. 

In my opinion The Cat by Colette is a marvellous piece of literature. It has been a pure delight to read this short novel and I feel very much like plunging into other works of this French author. In fact, I already did. The other day I finished the more famous novella Gigi (»»» read my notice on LaGraziana’s Kalliopeion) which is included in the only English edition of The Cat that I could find. Although I only reviewed the latter here, I warmly recommend both for reading.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Poetry Revisited: A Winter's Tale


Yesterday the fields were only grey with scattered snow,
And now the longest grass-leaves hardly emerge;
Yet her deep footsteps mark the snow, and go
On towards the pines at the hills' white verge.

I cannot see her, since the mist's white scarf
Obscures the dark wood and the dull orange sky;
But she's waiting, I know, impatient and cold, half
Sobs struggling into her frosty sigh.

Why does she come so promptly, when she must know 
That she's only the nearer to the inevitable farewell;
The hill is steep, on the snow my steps are slow—
Why does she come, when she knows what I have to tell?

                                                   David Herbert Lawrence