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Format: Format Kindle
There are five French-to-English translations of this haunting novel presently offered for sale in the Kindle Store. Two are particularly good and worthy of praise: this one by Frank Davison and another by R. B. Russell. Another two, by Jennifer Hashmi and by Robin Buss, are not bad, but come across, comparatively speaking, as less smooth and natural. For instance, instead of using an ellipsis of three or four dots (periods), Hashmi regularly uses many dots (...........................) to indicate incomplete statements; this translational gimmick (unique to her) is quite distracting and draws undue attention to itself (especially when several such appear on the same page/screen). And to me, Buss's English syntax occasionally seems stilted. Again, neither is terrible, but given the luxury of comparative choice, Hashmi's and Buss's translations are not as much to my liking as Davison's and Russell's. The 5th (and most recent to appear in the Kindle Store) is also the least expensive. By an anonymous translator, its English syntax is so absolutely terrible it should be avoided altogether. By all means sample the first four to decide for yourself which you prefer, but don't waste your time sampling the anonymous one.
As to the merits of the novel itself, I have written about this wonderful and quite amazing book in my previous review of Russell's translation (and I would invite you to type "Russell Le Grand Meaulnes" in the Kindle Store searchbox to read that review). This is a very special book depicting one young man's mysterious transition from childhood to adulthood; it should be read by those who can still remember what it was like to be young and impressionable, a time of discovering life and the world, and being in love (for the first time) with one very special person in that world. Events depicted in this enchanting story seem quite real as we encounter them, but their reality ultimately proves to be not unlike the reality of dreams, which we (upon waking, recalling, and reflecting) ultimately recognize as having been more fanciful than factual, rooted in reality but operating somehow outside it. But whether real or a dream, whether fact or fancy, at some level, everything we read herein is undeniably true to human nature and all quite unforgettable to those still receptive to (or who can recall) the stirrings of adolescence and young-adulthood. This is a magical tale, one which will pleasantly haunt you for the rest of your life IF you approach it with the requisite suspension of disbelief required of all such fantasies. Author John Fowles, so affected, credits this book as being a major influence on his own bestseller "The Magus." Admittedly, any objective literary critic will recognize and must admit the work is stylistically flawed (even the admiring Fowles says as much), but only a curmudgeon would choose to dwell on this truly one-of-a-kind book's imperfections. The brilliance of this unique work overcomes ordinary criticism, and as we read and fall under its spell, we experience something quite hard-to-define and truly special (not only AS we read it but lingering long afterward--indeed, for many of us, a lifetime).
Although Davison translated the previous Penguin edition (which I own and have enjoyed reading in paperback), Penguin opted for Robin Buss to translate its current edition; in my opinion, Davison's is the more natural (and better) of those two. But as much as I like Davison's version (and I like it VERY much), I ultimately chose the translation by R. B. Russell for two reasons: (1) It is, to me, ever so slightly smoother, more natural and, therefore, even more enjoyable than Davison's, and (2) at the time I purchased it, Russell's cost only half as much. Since then, however, Davison's price has lowered and Russell's price has risen, such that price is no longer as much of a factor. In fact, you can't go wrong with either Davison's or Russell's translation. But you CAN go wrong if you read too much ABOUT this book (either in plot-revealing reviews or in analytical introductions) before you actually read it. Russell's edition is refreshingly free of all editorial comment, but this one has an introduction which can adversely affect the magic. SKIP IT until after you have finished reading the book.
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The mystery of the book is contained in its title,which is untranslateable,the many shades of meaning of `grand', but it's equivalent in irony and applause is Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby,which was influenced by it a decade later.Also another small difficulty lies in the author's name(the author died in the 1st weeks of the Great War),actually named Alban-Fournier,the Alain was adopted.The apparent matter of the book is simple and myth-like.Francois Seurel, the 15 year old narrator,is living in the provincial village of St.Agathe,in the snowy, bleak Sologne,in central France,around the turn of the last century.He's the son of the villageschoolmaster, and one day a new, slightly older boy,August Mealnes,arrives at the school.His size,natural charisma and sheer, physical presence, lead to him being called "the Great Meaulnes".He's big in spirit and body-a country boy, innocent and oddly blessed,whom Francois quickly recognises as a romantic fool,a knight errant in schoolboy clothes.
Not long after his arrival, Meaulnes mysteriously disappears for 3 days. When he 1st comes back,he is tight-lipped about his absence.Eventually he confides to the star-struck Francois.Lost on a country road in the snow, Meaulnes had wandered into an old chateau, a " lost domain", a vast and beautiful country house and garden complete with stables and outbuildings.Not abandoned,it is weirdly alive with children and young people,who have gathered together for the wedding of Franz de Galais, a member of the aristocratic family who still seem to own the run-down place.Meaulnes,strangely,is welcomed by the celebrants warmly,as an old friend.Following a strange Pierrot figure in a dance through the old rooms. He sees a beautiful young girl playing the piano,and the next day sees her again, near a silver lake on the grounds.She is Yvonne de Galais, Franz's sister,and Meaulnes instantly falls in love with this frail and lovely girl. But the wedding is mysteriously cancelled,and quickly the entire party abandons the chateau; Meaulnes is taken and roughly deposited on the highway near St Agathe.
The rest of the book tells of Meaulnes's attempt to understand what has happened to him,-to return to the lost domain,the enchanted castle,to find and win Yvonne(his Daisy) and to make the vision that has changed his life part of others' lives too.He does all this,with results predictably disillusioning and oddly re-enchanting. (At the end,he marries Yvonne,but he flees her side-perhaps from guilt,perhaps from a feeling of unworthiness-for another woman,returns and is left with the daughter that she has given him before dying in childbirth.That daughter, we learn from the wizened but not disenchanted Francois,will become for Meaulnes the repository of another set of romantic desires.)
This novel although romantic,may in its treatment of it seem hard to understand.It is simply" French",reflecting the way that French life prolongs adolescence while accelerating sex: at moments the protagonists having schoolyard snow-ball fights;at other moments, frequenting fast women and contemplating suicide.The improbability of the incidents are matched by the extremity of the experiences.Some parts are far-fetched,like after Meaulnes's mysterious sojourn at the chateau,the reader is stopped cold by a long incident involving a"Bohemian" gypsy and wandering player,who turns out to be Franz,the son of the mansion,in disguise.The details of provincial life-the cold and snow,the chestnuts gathered-are as earthy and homely as a Sisley painting..But then we are off into a fantasy world where long moony trips to Paris take place with no visible means of support. Meaulnes himself is never entirely credible as a character,an odd and empty vessel: at moments a gawky schoolboy,at others as receptive a hero as Dante seeing Beatrice.His appeal to Yvonne is very hard to understand, but not to Francois.
The novel's incidents are improbable,the entanglements of the 2nd part of the book are hard to recall.But the force of the imagery-the lost chateau-is so strong that it blissfully erases the apparent point of the story.What readers recall is the force and simplicity of the fable-the lost domain of happiness,the abandoned chateau brought to life again by the presence of children,the perfect fairy princess found within it and then pursued at the cost of common sense and grown-up sexuality- and the way the fable is made credible by the voluptuous prose surrounding the dream. Fournier placed a medieval allegory of love in terms of the late 19th century realist novel.The simple story is not without tension of two parallel but counter-pointed impulses:the 1st towards the idealised erotic love(Yvonne); the 2nd towards the recapture of childhood,evoked by the lost domain,whereMeaulnes 1st sees her.The hero is torn between the two-between a desire to retake the lost domain,and a desire to conquer the beautiful unknown, to get the girl and keep her. The erotic world leads back to a state of child-hood bliss. Le Grand Meaulnes is not a coming-of- age story-though the hero marries and even fathers a child-but like The Catcher in the Rye, a refusal-to-age story,a story of a fight,seen by the narrator as Quixotic and noble,to remain within the enchanted world of childhood,and at the same time to make that enchanted world continuous with the post-adolescent world of romance and erotic love.
Le Grand Meaulnes is both a kid who refuses to grow up,Peter Pan in provincial France, and a Parsifal,pursuing his love to the ends of the earth even as she proves to be merely another girl.This gives the book its persistent poetic intensity in the midst of its strangely dated atmospherics.The intensity of LGM as imagery and fable seem to have come from Fournier's adolescent erotic experiences and the immediacy of such emotions for the author. The Yvonne of the novel mirrors Fournier's own experience of seeing a ravishingly beautiful,blonde,blue eyed young woman when he was 18 years old on the banks of the Seine."Vous etes belles",he said to her after stalking her one day.He's romanticising his own life before turning it into literature.The force of this revelation-of perfect beauty,the one true love, revealed in a glimpse and then lost,or never even held-stayed with him through the next few years,as he did 2 years of military service.When published,his book was an instant hit in 1913.In the book there is a fear of sex,an ambivalence about sexual intercourse.The intensity of the romance of childhood is married to an erotic romantic dream. Its hard to imagine tha act of sex that produces the child.Meaulnes's final image in the narrator's mind is of the same big schoolboy with a taste for adventure,not a man tempered by experience,which makes him matter to Francois and us.LGM offers a daydream which has lasted,an adolescent fantasy,a lost enchanted world published just as the lights were about to go out all over Europe.