Spotlight | Tatiana de Rosnay, Alicia Drake & Daughters of Simone de Beauvoir | Beyond Words French Literature Festival 2019

So many books have been written with Paris as a character and there are so many clichés about its seductive beauty, as a writer you need to find your Paris and step away from the great dark magnet that it is. Often the dark Paris is what is most interesting.” Alicia Drake

The vision of Paris as an intellectual’s city with writers and artists chain-smoking on café terraces, arguing about literature, art and Existentialism has been consigned to the attic by most contemporary novelists at work today who are worth reading. Tatiana de Rosnay and Alicia Drake are two such writers whose vision of the City of Light is anything but a picture postcard. They graced the stage at this year’s Beyond Words French Literature Festival at the French Institute in South Kensington.

There is, of course, some superb non fiction on offer which gives a genuine, riveting, and rather more leftfield take beyond the usual stereotypical reads – my favourite being the memoirs of late, great John Calder who I was lucky enough to know. The Garden of Eros: The Story of the Paris Expatriates and the Post-war Literary Scene is essential reading for anyone curious about visionary entrepreneurs operating in the publishing industry of yesteryear, and the Paris-London-New York golden triangle.

A forgotten Paris is described by the late Lesley Blanch in her memoirs On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life (Virago) in which she describes Russian Paris of the 1920s with theatre director, Theodore Komisarjevsky, and the beleaguered capital in 1945 when she was there with her younger husband Romain Gary, ambitious and unknown. “Romain developed a hunger for the atmosphere of the studios where a circle of newer artists worked. Long evenings would be spent trudging along the icy ill-lit streets and interminable boulevards. Public transport was scarce, very few people had cars then, and we had no money for taxis, which were rare. Continue reading Spotlight | Tatiana de Rosnay, Alicia Drake & Daughters of Simone de Beauvoir | Beyond Words French Literature Festival 2019

Book 2 Review | The Governesses, Anne Serre & Now, Now Louison, Jean Frémon | Les Fugitives

The Governesses by Anne Serre | Translated by Mark Hutchinson | Les Fugitives

Published 25 March, 2019 | PB 120 pages ISBN 978-978-0993009396

Experience had shown you, however, that no pact lasts forever. You knew that the members of the household would once again be shuffled together like playing cards, and that when the next hand was dealt the alliances would fall out differently.”

The Governesses is a most unusual erotic fable about sex and power, illusion and eroticism, beautifully translated from the French into supremely elegant, languid prose. Its atmosphere is reminiscent of Alain Fournier and Julien Green.

Inès, Laura and Eléonore are governesses, responsible for four boys. The “mistresses of games and pleasure” they radiate a wild and frisky innocence, and have the run of the upstairs salons in the country house of Monsieur Austeur and his wife, Julie. “The excessive silence of the households they wait upon” may be “conducive to reading thinking and raising little boys who are champion hoop rollers, and to the elderly gentleman’s repose, and the waning love of Monsieur and Madame Auster,” but it is stultifying. Their employers’ home is “a boundless void.” The young women have nowhere to go, and there are no distractions. Continue reading Book 2 Review | The Governesses, Anne Serre & Now, Now Louison, Jean Frémon | Les Fugitives

BookBlast® 10×10 Tour | Thurs 25 Oct., Waterstones, Birmingham | Elizabeth Briggs, Nafeesa Hamid, Aliyah Holder

The eighth talk of the BookBlast® 10×10 tour, a nationwide celebration of independent publishing, features Saqi Books @BhamWaterstones Founded in 1983 in London, Saqi Books is an independent publishing house of quality general interest and academic books on North Africa and the Middle East. Over the years Saqi has expanded its list to include writers from all over the world and has established two imprints, Telegram and The Westbourne Press.

 saqi bookblast diary interviewOn Thurs. 25 October at 6.30 p.m., Elizabeth Briggs, editor & marketing manager @SaqiBooks will chair the discussion with Nafeesa Hamid and Aliyah Holder @BhamWaterstones The talk has as its theme, The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write inspired by the anthology edited by Sabrina Mahfouz in which their writing is featured.

Contributors to The Things I Would Tell You include: Fadia Faqir, Amina Jama, Chimene Suleyman, Aliyah Hasinah Holder, Kamila Shamsie, Imtiaz Dharker, Triska Hamid, Nafeesa Hamid, Ahdaf Soueif, Seema Begum, Leila Aboulela, Shazea Quraishi, Shaista Aziz, Miss L, Aisha Mirza, Hibaq Osman, Azra Tabassum, Selma Dabbagh, Asma Elbadawi, Samira Shackle, Sabrina Mahfouz, Hanan al-Shaykh. Continue reading BookBlast® 10×10 Tour | Thurs 25 Oct., Waterstones, Birmingham | Elizabeth Briggs, Nafeesa Hamid, Aliyah Holder

Review | Vernon Subutex 2, Virginie Despentes | ‏Maclehose Press

He is off his head. He has episodes when he zones out. It is not unpleasant. From time to time, he tries to reason with himself: he cannot stay here indefinitely, it has been a cold summer, he will catch another bout of flu, he needs to take care of himself, he needs to go back down into the city, find some clean clothes, do something [ . . .] Painfully, he climbs over the railings separating the communal garden from the property where he has taken to sleeping. He grips the branches and hoists his body up almost falling flat on his face on the other side. He ends up kneeling on the ground. He wishes he could feel sorry for himself, or disgust. Anything. But no, nothing. Nothing but this absurd calm.”

Look who’s back . . . and sleeping rough now that sofa surfing is a thing of the past: Vernon, Mr. Superstar D.J. and former owner of cult record shop ‘Revolver’. At the end of Vernon Subutex 1 he was beaten up by a gang of neo-Nazis – along with his TV screenwriter friend, Xavier, who was trying to rescue him but ended up comatose in hospital instead. Continue reading Review | Vernon Subutex 2, Virginie Despentes | ‏Maclehose Press

Review | Emma, Other Ways of Seeing | Massot Éditions

Summer is the time for comics and graphic novels. They are an easier read when hanging out by the pool, or on the beach, than that 624 page whopper you finally have some time for, now that it’s the holidays.

Comic Books & Graphic Novels

From  Mad Magazine, The Beano, Billy Bunter and Asterix while growing up . . . to Charles Adams, Robert Crumb’s Kafka, Maus and Persepolis as an adult . . . comic books, and more recently, longer more complex graphic novels, are a delight. As culture has moved from being a print to a visual one, great novels like The Three Musketeers or Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way are now available in comic book versions. The trend is growing and business is booming. Those literati who turn their noses up at them are missing out!   Continue reading Review | Emma, Other Ways of Seeing | Massot Éditions

Review | Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex 1 | Maclehose Press

Some said it was karma, the industry had grown at an extraordinary upturn in the era of C.D.s – selling their clients their whole discography on a medium that cost half the price to make and was sold for twice the price in shops . . . with no real benefit to music fans, since no one had ever complained about vinyl records . . .” Age twenty, Vernon Subutex started work as an assistant at the record shop Revolver, and took over when the owner moved to Australia. File sharing on the internet thanks to the likes of Napster and Limewire heralded the beginning of the end of the party. In 2006 he shut up shop. 

Live for today, who cares about tomorrow?

Easy-going Vernon had drifted through Parisian night life, lost in music and high on sex and drugs, oblivious to time passing and how people change. “He didn’t do monogamy . . . Vernon understands women, he has made an extensive study of them. The city is full of lost souls ready to do his cleaning and get down on all fours to lavish him with lingering blow jobs designed to cheer him up.” Continue reading Review | Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex 1 | Maclehose Press

BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | July 2017

BookBlast® @bookblast presents the first of its monthly Top 10 reads, showcasing the internationalist diversity of indie publishers. There’s something for everyone – enjoy!

FANTASY & SHAMANISM

Lin Man-Chiu | The Ventriloquist’s Daughter (trs. Helen Wang) | Young adult fiction, Balestier Press ISBN 1911221050 buy here | Review, Global Literature in Libraries Initiative | @BalestierPress @HelenWangLondon

Move over Hollywood and all those creepy doll horror movies! This sours-weet story is compellingly weird and shamanic. When Luir’s mother dies, her father, a thwarted artist working as a doctor in the family hospital, is overcome with grief. He goes abroad to study and promises he will bring home a doll for his six-year-old daughter, Luir, who is left in the care of her grandparents. But the doll brought home from Peru by daddy is a menacing presence in the house, causing strife within the family.

The Ventriloquist’s Daughter was longlisted for the 2014 Found in Translation Award.

TARANTINO ON THE PAGE

Quentin Mouron | Three Drops of Blood and a Cloud of Cocaine (trs. Donald Wilson) | Crime fiction, Bitter Lemon Press ISBN 1908524836 buy here | Review, Crime Time | @bitterlemonpub @QuentinMouron1

This fast-paced and entertaining thriller is cocaine-fuelled Tarantino on the page. “Gomez lifts the top of the sheet. McCarthy is dumbfounded. He has seen dead bodies in Watertown before – the tragic residue of drunken brawls outside bars or nightclubs, victims of muggings committed by drug-starved addicts or illegals awaiting deportation; he has also had to deal with the settling of scores between motorcycle gangs; he even saw the lifeless corpse of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber, before the Feds took it away. Bodies with their throats cut like Jimmy’s aren’t rare. Yet this is the first time he has been confronted with a corpse with the eyes slashed, the tongue cut out, and the cheeks gashed up to the ears.”

Swiss poet, novelist and journalist, Quentin Mouron won the prix Alpes-Jura for his novel Au point d’effusion des égouts in 2011.

Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | July 2017

Lesley Blanch Archive | Amazons

Far To Go and Many To Love: People and Places by Lesley Blanch, edited and with an introduction by Georgia de Chamberet (Quartet, 9780704374348, hb illus £25, 1 June 2017)
On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life by Lesley Blanch, edited and with an introduction by Georgia de Chamberet (Virago, 9780349005461, pb illus £10.99, 12 January 2017)

Terrible and wonderful, the steely Amazons went to battle against Bellerophon, and Homer sang them to eternal fame. Boadicea led her woad-dyed hordes upon the unwary Romans at Londinium. Jeanne d’Arc stormed Orleans, a valorous mystic. Christian Davies of the Scots Greys, swaggered her way through the battle of Ramilies. Brandishing her cutlass, Mary Read joined Captain Rackham’s pirate crew. Théroigné de Méricourt led the pike-bearing furies on Versailles . . . their grandchildren, the Communards, rallied round Louise Michel, “the Red Virgin of Montmartre,” while all the bravura of the Polish Amazons was pitted against Tzarist-Russian oppression.

In the American Civil War, Mme. Velasquez posed as Capt. Harry Burford, with mock-moustachios to aid her alibi. At the battle of Mentana, Mme. Blavatsky abandoned astral preoccupations to fight for Garibaldi. In the October Revolution, the Women’s Battalion held the Winter Palace for Kerensky. Only yesterday, in Spain and China, thousands of unknown women fought bravely, bloodily . . . Terrible and wonderful, the Amazonian spirit lives on, manifest alike through ages of troubadours, whalebone or machinery; the clash of spears and sabres merge into the thunders of modern bombardment.
Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Amazons

Media Release | International Women’s Day | Waterstone’s, Oxford, March 2015

As the highlight of this special event for International Women’s Day, Elisa Segrave examines stories from her mother’s hitherto hidden wartime experiences at Bletchley Park, Bomber Command and post-war Germany. Georgia de Chamberet takes a look at the life and many worlds of Lesley Blanch, a woman whose aura of seductive glamour and erudition inspired the generation that followed her. Chaired by Claudia Fitzherbert, books editor of The Oldie.

During the day there will be numerous author signings by women who write about women, including Dame Professor Hermione Lee and Amy Mason. So come along for a bit of book browsing and then stay on for the talk and a glass of wine afterwards.

Lesley’s memoir ON THE WILDER SHORES OF LOVE: A Bohemian Life is published by Virago. Elisa’s memoir THE GIRL FROM STATION X: My Mother’s Unknown Life is published by Aurum Press.

Tickets £5 / £3 For Waterstones Cardholders
At: Waterstones, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3AF
Call: 01865 790212

Continue reading Media Release | International Women’s Day | Waterstone’s, Oxford, March 2015