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Alfred J. Kwak

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The Widow
The Widow
par Georges Simenon
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 12,09

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Cauldron of passion and greed, 18 janvier 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Widow (Broché)
Intriguing novel completed just before the outbreak of WWII and published only in 1942. Full of dark portents foreshadowing high drama, but also a story from which readers may draw a variety of interpretations and conclusions. Is it a chess match or family feud about a farmhouse? A rustic novel full of pre-war professions and no electricity, with the widow of the title managing quite well to live from two cows, poultry, eggs an945d rabbits, some vines and produce? Or a character study of two extremes, the enterprising, stingy Farmer’s widow Tati and dissolute Jean (28) with his privileged background, who moves in with her?
Tati is a control freak who wants to innovate and expand. She uses Jean as a farmhand and hopes he will become her trusted ally against the others. After all, Jean wants to keep on living at the farmhouse too. But not with only Tati at his side…
Jean is an existentialist antihero, catapulted into a life he has not asked for, a spoiled weakling who gave up on school at age 14. Since then, he has lived a dissolute life in Paris, always financially dependent on his dad. When Tati and Jean first met in the red country bus, Jean was broke and recently released from a five-year prison term for what was a capital crime. Is hard work enough to exorcise his demons? Too realistic for reading clubs?


Hypothermia
Hypothermia
par Arnaldur Indridason
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 8,00

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Well plotted solo police procedural, 16 janvier 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Hypothermia (Broché)
AI’s novel “The Kings Book” did not feature Erlendur. Its first half was quite original and exciting, then it ran into plotting troubles and increasingly implausible: it has not been translated or published in English. “Hypothermia” was AI’s next novel. It starts almost timidly, but gradually acquires diesel-like qualities and is perhaps Elendur’s most personal and spiritual case. Or cases, because this novel deals with a wonderfully-plotted simultaneous investigation of two cold cases dating back to 1975-6 and the recent suicide of young Maria.
The cold cases deal with two missing persons, apparently unrelated and a month apart. Maria’s death has been ruled suicide, but Erlendur is intrigued by some aspects of her life, e.g. her depressions and guilt about her drowned father and recently deceased mother. And her belief in Resurrection and the possibility of a deceased person in the hereafter contacting a loved one still amongst the living. Without informing his colleagues Erlendur uses every possible clue from the records to interview persons known and unknown for more clues, making slow, incremental progress. A fourth line of investigation is the source of Erlendur’s life-long preoccupation with persons who disappear. At age 10, he and his younger brother were caught in a blizzard. Erlendur barely survived, his little brother was never found. Not a day passes without Erlendur remembering him…
Thoughtful, slow moving, thoroughly humane and satisfying.


Lionel Asbo: State of England
Lionel Asbo: State of England
par Martin Amis
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 12,39

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Outrageous, funny with dark undertones, 14 janvier 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Lionel Asbo: State of England (Broché)
Martin Amis (MA) writes novels full of passion, humor and hilarious scenes, occasionally including some of his fears. Being a word acrobat, he may be hard (or fun) to translate. This novel in four parts is situated in and around London between 2006 and 2013. He renders smells and sounds in unusual ways, even the weather is sometimes personalized. And what remains thrilling until the end: will he do it? What is announced before the start of Bart One, the drama waiting to happen, almost inevitably, as the novel speeds towards its conclusion?
Lionel has been problematic since his third and grew into a violent if hapless turnstile criminal who does not mind a regular timeout behind bars. He is the seventh and youngest child of Grace. His five older brothers by different fathers are named after the Beatles (incl. the fifth, forgotten Beatle , Stu Sutcliff). His only sister Cilla gave birth to Des, who is colored and the other principal character. After she died from a fall in the supermarket, Lionel took charge of his 12-year old nephew at his smallish 33rd floor apartment in a suburb with the worst health and educational indicators of the nation. When Des is 15, something happens between him and Grandma Grace that fills him with increasing fear as the book progresses. When Lionel wins 140 million pounds in the Lotto while enjoying his umpteenth timeout, many things change, some, pertaining to his family, do not. And the flat on the 33rd floor remains operational as Des’ home and Lionel’s pied à terre.
MA lovingly describes Lionel’s brutal worldview, pit-bulls, spending sprees, and epic tightfistedness towards his family as well as his biotope Diston North in rich, lyrical prose riddled with superlatives, puns, and alliterations. In a similar euphoric manner he portrays the London tabloid press, which follows Lionel’s every move and articulation. This is perhaps a personal phobia of MA himself. Another is getting older. In “The Pregnant Widow” he called it the grey tsunami, the upcoming wave of elderly people about to overwhelm and ‘stink up’ existing health care and other facilities. Here, their fate is symbolized by the sad fate of Grandma Grace as a result of a retreating state and indifferent children, even when super-rich. In view of the two driving plot lines mentioned above, the ending may disappoint some readers.


The Devil's Workshop
The Devil's Workshop
par Jachym Topol
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 17,29

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Satire? Neo-Gothic?, 28 décembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Devil's Workshop (Broché)
Am not impressed by this short, bleak novel situated during WW II and in 2008 in the Czech republic (part 1) and Belarus (part 2), but with plenty of flashbacks. Its starting point is promising: why do so many second and third generation Holocaust survivors visit the sites of mass murder? Is it about how the West and East remember their WW II dead: with monuments, plaques, beautifully maintained graveyards, annual remembrance days and ceremonies, but rarely anything special for Jews? Is that why so many young people are drawn to Terezin aka Theresienstadt, an ancient bulwarked garrison town with a Nazi camp and railhead for transports eastward? How will they appreciate this novel?
It is not brilliantly composed or written. Its characters are not well drawn or riveting. The nameless narrator admits early on that he served time for killing his own father, and helped the Czech executioner calm down men facing death by hanging, earning him early release and return to his origins, Terezin and its subterraneous warrens and tunnels. As a child, he gave Lebo, a man miraculously born in and surviving the camp, whatever he found underground. Released, he serves him as internet fundraiser and campaign manager helping Lebo become a Holocaust guru attracting ever more tourists whilst local authorities are keen to shut down every memory of WW II: Terezin had become a game park.
The much weaker part 2, about what happens next in Belarus, is for readers to discover. Find it not in good taste.
Topol’s novel is short, engaging and lively, eventful even. His arguing about what constitutes the East (and West) is perhaps new. His reflections about totalitarianism and genocide are not always original. The author’s own and his translator’s afterword are helpful for some to make further sense of this book. Nonetheless, what is the point Topol tries to make?


The Mission Song
The Mission Song
par John Le Carré
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 11,98

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Deep book, beautifully written, 19 décembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Mission Song (Broché)
As a long-time JLC fan who read his books more than once and reviewed many, I was delighted to discover this title, which I missed upon publication. Its action is compressed within a week, shortly after the 7 July 2005 London bombings. Its theme is typical for JLC’s post Cold War writings, dark schemes of global companies and their doings with at least connivance from Whitehal. Here, the subject is the Scramble for Kivu in eastern Congo with many foreign parties striving for control of its mineral deposits and possible oil reserves. What unfurls is a British plot to pre-empt other powers from seizing control, albeit on a shoestring budget and with special reference to Total Deniability. Its purported ringleader is a New Labour peer.
JLC’s main protagonist is Salvo, a child of mixed parentage, illegitimate son of an Ulster Catholic missionary and anonymous Congolese mother, called a ‘ghost child’ in Congo and a ‘zebra’ later in the UK by a Congolese character. The novel finds him aged 28 in London married to a tabloid’s star reporter, himself a highly-qualified translator/interpreter of English, French and Swahili plus a string of Central African languages and dialects he picked up in the servants quarters of Catholic mission stations. Many pages record his performance during a key impromptu island conference in Scotland (?) between a Nameless Syndicate, a charismatic Congolese politician with two advisors, and a trio of powerful men in Kivu, two warlords, the third able to become one too.
There is also a sudden love affair that changes Salvo’s worldview just before assuming his tasks during the meeting… Background about Congo and UK is impeccable and convincing. The prose is a mix of Charles Dickens, P.G. Wodehouse and JLC’s own unique way to ridicule upper class Brits’ ways. Many fruitful cross references and flashbacks. The many bit players are quickly and convincingly given characters too, a rare gift among writers.
I have disclosed perhaps 20% of a rich, extremely well-worded novel. Will Salvo survive the contradiction between his desire to conform in Britain and the memories of his beloved, native Kivu where millions have died in recent years? This book has a strong finish too.


Bells of Bicetre
Bells of Bicetre
par G. Simenon
Edition : Relié

5.0 étoiles sur 5 True masterpiece, 11 décembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Bells of Bicetre (Relié)
As in “Teddy Bear” from 1960, here in 1962 Georges Simenon’s focus is on a hospital. But this time the main protagonist is not a brilliant, flawed medical practitioner, but a complex patient, René Maugras (RM; 54), influential publisher of a tabloid and two lowbrow weeklies. The title refers to the tolling of church bells patients of the giant Parisian Bicêtre hospital hear every half hour. It is the first sound RM hears when he awakes from his coma, paralyzed and unable to speak. He was lucky to be found minutes after his stroke on the floor of the urinoir of a posh restaurant. It happened during the monthly gathering of the Club of 13, erstwhile studying or artistically struggling bar acquaintances, all now rich and famous, incl. brilliant physician Besson, who took charge immediately.
RM passively undergoes treatment day after day, recalling his youth, his friends, his work, his first wife and his second wife in a whirlpool of emotions. The medical specialists tell him that each day of recuperation entails its own risks, caused by e.g. medication, and that patients therefore, react every day different to their plight, fate, destiny. Care and treatment interrupt his stream of conscience. It annoys him greatly. At daybreak, all still quiet, he is best able to reflect on his life and death, which he does not fear, almost welcomes because of his lifelong feeling of being an outsider, out of step with nature too… According to his doctors, he is not as cooperative as he should be, but in clinical terms he makes progress.
In Ch 7 of 12, about RM’s sixth day in hospital, Simenon introduces the obese and talkative nurse Angèle. She drives him to near-distraction with her monologues, but elicits his first spoken words and makes him eat solid food. Alas, the rest is for readers to enjoy.
Superlatively-planned and written ‘roman dur’ brimming with colorful atmosphere, -flashbacks and tonnes of conflicting emotions. That they change by the hour is also typical for his affliction, his doctors say. Simenon has described the curing of supine, speechless René Maugras so brilliantly that I consider it his best (after reading 20+ of his psychological novels). Chapeau!


Teddy Bear
Teddy Bear
par Georges SIMENON
Edition : Relié

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Impressive, 8 décembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Teddy Bear (Relié)
Dramatic study of a career professional falling apart and illustration of the existentialist worldview. The main character Jean Chabot (49) is a prominent citizen, rich with a dream mansion and four servants, an attractive wife and three children aged 16-22. He has a practice at home, co-owns a private clinic elsewhere and is a professor at an academic hospital. He is a brilliant gynecologist in Paris. Simenon describes his early life and poverty, his hunt for scholarships, his relentless hard work to reach his current wealth and status and the many years of lack of sleep, intense fatigue, pills and cognac and his occasional fears of failure and existential doubt. And how he thinks the Others look at him and will judge him... And how he fears that one day—like an actor on stage forgetting his lines—he may suddenly lose his diagnostic prowess and clinical automatisms. What will happen then? With his reputation, family, home? He has been estranged from his family for years, but insists they have lunch together every day: he hates being alone. He is aware of other people looking at him in a searching way. For several months he has also felt threatened. He carries an automatic. To defend himself?
Truly impressive 1960 psychological novel about a man under constant stress, burdened variously by feelings of remorse, anger, indifference and loathing for a life and existence he never asked for, which only fate and destiny conspired to trap him in. Finally, the teddy bear of the title is not a cuddly toy. She is Emma from Alsace, the trigger for the edifice of JC to start disintegrating.


Like Family: A Novel
Like Family: A Novel
par Paolo Giordano
Edition : Relié
Prix : EUR 20,37

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Small masterpiece about bereavement, 3 décembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Like Family: A Novel (Relié)
Delightful short novel in 12 chapters about life’s key events and what sustains, inspires human beings to embrace life in good and bad times. The answer is faith and other people. Paolo Giordano (PG)’s hero is Signora A, a widow of 60, who takes charge as nanny, cook, cleaner, busybody and organizer of the chaotic household of then-pregnant and bedridden Nora (interior decorator) and her nameless husband, an insecure mathematics lecturer at an Italian university. He wrote what follows. Very early in this book, when son Emanuele is seven, Signora A suddenly resigns her job that was informal throughout, never legally binding or carved in stone, much to the alarm and sorrow of the threesome she served. The reason? She has fallen ill in a serious way.
In what follows, PG constantly mixes flashbacks of their life as a foursome with progress reports of her medical status. Signora A. had always great faith in certain knowledge and people, starting with her radio horoscope at 7 am, forms of folk wisdom and superstition and Catholic rituals and commands. As her plight worsens, she wonders, “why me?” and breaks with these sources of meaning or solace. Faith-wise, what remains is the medical profession and (very briefly) acupuncture, administered by a blind practitioner. (Only here, the narrator, largely immune to other people and their beliefs, trusting only the laws of math and physics, utters words of doubt, sarcasm).
The threesome stick with Signora A until the end and beyond. Little Emanuele provides the novella and the memory of his beloved nanny with a grand send off. Please read his two earlier, larger novels, also rich in content and drama. Given the universality of its themes, it could be a great discussion item for reading clubs.


Act of Passion
Act of Passion
par Georges Simenon
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 14,09

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Bleak worldview, 1 décembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Act of Passion (Broché)
The literal translation of the original title is “Letter to my Judge”. Georges Simenon (1903-89) challenged himself here by writing a novel in the rarely-used you-form, in combination with countless flashbacks. The letter writer is Charles, a fortyish small town doctor jailed for manslaughter. During his jury trial he has remained silent. Readers will need patience to read who his victim was and why he considers his murder premeditated. Charles presents himself as a victim of his caring but inquisitive mother and his near-perfect, highly respected second wife Armande. He has two daughters by his first wife who died in childbirth. Only once in his life did he experience true passion, during a one night stand with a girl in Nantes. When many years later, he meets the girl Martine, again in Nantes, again in the rain, he seizes the opportunity to escape his dreary life and destiny and initiates a relationship that is abusive from the start, from this reader’s viewpoint, but not Charles’…
Could not empathize one moment with Charles’ complex character, obsessions and actions, nor with bland and passive Martine. Both are as doomed in their love pact of shared madness as moths circling around a burning candle. Other readers may well find them riveting existentialist characters. Finally, this novel may have inspired Julian Barnes to write his 1982 novel “Before She Met Me”, which also ends badly, but not without a few stabs at irony and humor. This is undiluted craziness and bleakness from start to finish.


The Day the Leader Was Killed
The Day the Leader Was Killed
Prix : EUR 9,08

5.0 étoiles sur 5 A classic, 27 novembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Day the Leader Was Killed (Format Kindle)
Powerful novella with brief chapters about a love tragedy in Cairo, Egypt, with significant political and religious undercurrents. It all ends in September 1981, the country groaning under the effects of years of economic liberalization and a retreating state. The already privileged, the well-connected and the ruthless grow fabulously rich, many millions on fixed salaries lose out despite working second jobs. They fail to outperform inflation. The novella is primarily about Elwan and Randa, who grew up together with their families’ apartments one on top of the other. They have been in love and engaged for 11 years, even share the same employer. Now that they are both 26, they cannot afford to marry. They have only kissed.
Their sad predicament affects everyone in their close circle of family and colleagues, incl. Elwan’s grandfather, who is fond of him and tries to lift his spirits with wisdoms drawn from the Book. The now devout octogenarian— living in with his son & his wife and grandson, passing his remaining days watching soaps on TV and reading the Book—is also keenly aware that Elwan and his parents live harsher lives in less hopeful times than he himself: when young, there was little opprobrium to fulfilling one’s natural desires, letting go, partying, drinking, consorting with generous prostitutes (all sins to be atoned for in later life). It was also easier to find affordable housing and marry young. Grandfather is a Sufi Muslim and would love to be able to perform miracles for Elwan and everyone like him. Aware of his spiritual limits, he increasingly welcomes the coming of the angel the Almighty sends to collect His every creation’s soul.
One character pronounces solemnly that Egypt in 1981 truly hit rock bottom, it cannot get any worse. What a prophecy! During a recently-decreed National Holiday, live on TV, Elwan’s frustration and fury finally explode. Then, nation-wide, TV-screens go dark, then the sounds of military march music, then chants from the Book…


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