Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Back Reviews Reel: December 2014

In 2014 I made the last month of the year the first month of My WINTER Books Special featuring from December through the end of February 2015 only writings with the word “winter” in the title. I started with a French comedy from 1959 that may be better known today in Henri Verneuil’s adaptation for the screen starring Jean Gabin and Jean-Paul Belmondo, namely A Monkey in Winter by Antoine Blondin. For the following review I mostly stayed decidedly classic and French too because two of the three novellas combined in the 1939 edition of The Winter of Artifice by Anaïs Nin are set in Paris. Just before Christmas I finally switched to contemporary works, the first a rather unusual one from Italy in the late 1970s and the other a light Irish novel from 2012. In fact, If on a Winter Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino and A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy could have been hardly more different!

- - - - - Blondin opens the story of A Monkey in Winter in the off-season of a mundane summer resort at the French Atlantic coast. Gabriel Fouquet from Paris settles down in the hotel of Albert and Suzanne Quentin to be near his teenage daughter who attends boarding school there and whom he hasn’t seen since she was a little girl. For three weeks he leads an exemplary life and becomes dear like a son to his hosts, but then the young man falls back into old habits getting dead drunk every night and trying to tempt Albert to drink with him. The hotelier used to be a heavy drinker until World War II when he made the vow never to touch liquors again and for the first time in nearly twenty years his resolution is wavering.
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Much like the French author Anaïs Nin herself, who wrote the three novellas combined in The Winter of Artifice in English before moving to the USA for good, her protagonists all struggle with love in its various forms. The aspiring author Djuna is her literary alter ego torn between her ingenious and philandering writer lover, the fictionalised version of Henry Miller, and his attractive wife, while Lilith is a young woman who is about to see her father face to face for the first time since he abandoned his family twenty years earlier and who realises how much the hurtful experience formed her. With the help of The Voice, a nameless psychotherapist or psychiatrist, the two women as well as some other patients wish to come to terms with their emotional turmoil.
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- - - - - point of If on a Winter Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino is a defective copy of the book that contains only its first chapter over and over again. The reader complains about it in the book-shop and meets Ludmilla who is there for the same reason. The book-seller exchanges their copies for others, presumably flawless ones, but then it’s only the beginning of yet another book over and over again. They try to find out more about this new novel at university where a cranky professor is sure that he knows the original and they are disappointed again because his ex-tempore translation is of the opening fragment of a completely different book. They are drawn into book after book until they realise that the defective copies are the making of Ludmilla’s jealous ex-lover.
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- - - - - twenty years Geraldine called “Chicky” returns from the USA to her native town Stonebridge on the West coast of Ireland for a holiday. Out of the blue, the elderly owner of Stone House offers her the decrepit mansion for sale suggesting that she could turn it into a country hotel and after some hesitation Chicky accepts the challenge. With the help of friends and relatives who can use a job and of partners in the neighbourhood she restores the house bringing new life and hope to the place at the back of beyond that excels in natural beauty. The grand opening is in December with the first guests arriving to pass A Week in Winter. Maeve Binchy made them people with very different backgrounds and sorrows whom Chicky wants to feel at home.
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