The Trolley by Claude Simon

Originally reviewed by Edith LaGraziana
on Edith's Miscellany 

For me it’s ever again amazing to see how vividly some people remember their childhoods even many decades later. Of course, everybody knows forceful experiences, good and bad, that seem to be burnt inerasably into our minds, while others simply fade with time until there seems to be no trace left of them in our memories. At certain times, notably at family reunions of any kind, some of us like to evoke the past and at other times, the recollections come just over us if we like it or not. The latter is what happens in The Trolley by Claude Simon who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1985. At the age of 88 years the author and narrator finds himself in the emergency unit of the hospital and he remembers his school days in Perpignan commuting every day on the trolley connecting the city with the beach where he stayed with his fatally ill mother.

Claude Simon was born in Antananarivo, French Madagascar (today: Madagascar), in October 1913, but grew up in Perpignan, France. After stints at the universities of Paris and Cambridge he studied painting and then travelled around Europe fighting in the Spanish Civil War. He also started writing his first novel Le Tricheur (tr. The Cheat) that was published in 1946. As a soldier in World War II he was taken prisoner, escaped and joined the French Resistence. Most notable among the novels he wrote after the war are La Corde Raide (1947; tr. The Tightrope), Le Sacre du printemps (1954; tr. The Rite of Spring), The Wind (Le Vent: 1957), The Grass (L’herbe: 1958), The Flanders Road (La Route des Flandres: 1960), Histoire (1967), Triptych (Triptyque: 1973), The World About Us (Leçon de choses: 1975), and The Georgics (Les Géorgiques: 1981). For a living he produced wine in the Roussillon. In 1985 Claude Simon received the Nobel Prize in Literature after which he published four more novels, namely The Invitation (L'Invitation: 1987), The Acacia (L'Acacia: 1989), The Jardin des Plantes (Le jardin des plantes: 1997), and finally The Trolley (Le tramway: 2001). Claude Simon died in Paris, France, in July 2005.

Shortly after the end of World War I, the author as a boy went to school on The Trolley connecting the beach of Canet at the Mediterranean Sea where he and his family stayed during the warm season with the centre of Perpignan about a dozen of kilometres inland. He is a feverish and sleepless old man whom tubes and electrodes confine to his hospital bed in the emergency unit, when childhood memories linked to the place, notably to the trolley, come back to his mind with full force. But he doesn’t only recall in great detail the strange electric vehicle that fascinated him so much as a child, the mute men in grey driving it always with a cigarette between their lips or the much admired grown-ups who dared to stay on the forbidden platform instead of moving on into the cabin. There are also the cinemas in the city or the vine-covered hills and the bourgeois villas along the line. He remembers the beach houses, the tennis court and the children – friends and relatives – with whom he played. And most importantly there is his loving, though fatally ill mother who passed her days enveloped in her bed-jacket and motionless like a mummy on a chaise-longue in the garden and reluctantly ate raw meat burgers until one day he returned from school and she was no longer there. The white-haired man whom he can see from his hospital bed reminds him of her because he is just as pale and weak as she used to be. He also recalls the mutilated men in their hand-bikes who gathered at one of the head stations. They made him shudder, but his mother they painfully reminded of the terrible war that robbed her of the only man whom she had ever loved.

In The Trolley the author himself as first-person narrator tells his story without a plot as guidance, but he pieces together seemingly at random very vivid as well as detailed memories and impressions that evoke unconnected scenes from his own long life or, to be precise, from his childhood and from what he feels might be his last days. In other words, the book contains literary ruminations of a sick old man who allows his thoughts to flow freely in the face of death. Naturally, the tone of the novel is melancholic and it becomes increasingly sinister as it advances towards the end. There are no dialogues at all, just plain narration in exceptionally long sentences that in many ways remind of Marcel Proust. In addition, the author likes to make long insertions in parentheses. As a result, it’s a read that requires quite some concentration to avoid losing the thread. Descriptions of scenery, people and events use to be extremely meticulous, but also very picturesque, not to say impressionistic because they create the emotions corresponding to the “snapshot” of life. Part of the latter effect certainly comes from the poetic language that made the book a pleasure to read.

Although The Trolley by Claude Simon turned out to be a difficult and somewhat confusing read, I enjoyed it very much for its beautiful language and impressive descriptions. In retrospect it almost felt like leafing through an old photo album or a picture book displaying in rich colours the most memorable moments of a life and giving later generations an idea of the world as it used to be. The effect of the novel is stronger, however, because the author portrayed his childhood in moving rather than still pictures transformed into words notwithstanding that there is no plot nor much action. It was this combined creativeness of the poet and the painter that earned the writer the Nobel Prize in Literature 1985 and that intrigued me from beginning to end. It’s a novel that won’t easily appeal to lovers of mainstream, but it definitely was my cup of tea. Therefore it deserves my warmest recommendation.

Original post on Edith's Miscellany:

Darkness Visible by William Golding

Originally reviewed by Edith LaGraziana

Fairy tales like The Beauty and the Beast should have prepared us for the fact that in life appearance often deceives. And yet, we all tend to neglect this ancient wisdom judging the world and especially people by what we see or otherwise perceive instead of taking a good look under the surface. Thus we can be deeply shocked at recognising that something beautiful is fundamentally evil and stunned at finding good in the ugly. Unfortunately, it isn’t always so easy to distinguish the one from the other because there are many shades between the light of Heaven and the dark of Hell. The hell of Darkness Visible by William Golding is a very human one. Starting in the inferno of World War II the novel tells the story of disfigured Matty with a mystical vocation in life and the beautiful twins Sophy and Toni who turn to crime or terrorism respectively.

Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero by Henryk Sienkiewicz

(Polish Title: Quo Vadis. Powieść z czasów Nerona) - 1895 

Reviewed by Marianne
from Let's Read

"Where are you going?" a question asked in the New Testament (John 13:36), used in the Latin translation as the book title, it is quite empowering. It gives a sense of mystery.

This book has been on my wish list most for most of my life. Why I have never tackled it before? Well, maybe I thought it was more of a tackle. As it is, it is a surprisingly easy book to read with an astonishing story and a lot of historical background. I have read other books about the early Christians in Rome and I have always been fascinated by them. Why does someone give up their life and that of their loved ones for a new religion? What is behind those martyrs, what are their motives, their desires?

This book gives a lot of answers to those questions. It is a book about history as well as a book about religion and philosophy, about slavery, power and poverty. We can learn about how Ancient Rome was ruled, how the rich lived and how the poor. We have love and war, trust and betrayal, prayers and fights, the whole world seems to gather on these pages.

Granted, it is a large book (more than 700 pages) but well worth it. We even meet Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the former is always named as the first Pope. We see how his followers see him, love him, find strength through him. Maybe the main reason why this book is called "Quo Vadis?"

Lygia is a young Greek slave and the Roman patrician Marcus falls in love with her. At the beginning, he doesn't know she is a Christian but he tries all sorts of tricks to get her. Not much has changed there but he has different kind of tactics up his sleeve. He involves his uncle Gaius Petronius (who is one of many actual historical figures in this novel) to help him.

The plot is not the most breathtaking part of the novel, even though it is pretty good. But the writing is just as powerful, the characters are described very vividly, and so are the scenes. A very realistic description of every tiny little detail makes you believe you are there in the middle of the book with all the people.

I am not surprised the author received the Nobel Prize, he was a fantastic writer. I will try to read more of his books, this one was magnificent.

From the back cover:

"Quo Vadis is a powerful historical novel about the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Through a romance between a high-born Roman pagan and a Christian woman, Henryk Sienkiewicz masterfully brings to life the decadence of imperial Rome during the reign of Nero Claudius Caesar (AD 54-68), the bloodthirsty persecutor of the early Christians.

Quo Vadis has been translated into more than forty languages, as well as adapted into several movies. Jeremiah Curtin's accurate and lively English translation of the novel successfully conveys Sienkiewicz's muted portrayal of the beginnings of Christianity and his spectacular, apocalyptic vision of the Roman Empire in decline."

Henryk Sienkiewicz received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905 "for his outstanding merits as an epic writer."

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.  

Original Post on "Let's Read".

The Green Pope by Miguel Ángel Asturias

Originally reviewed by LaGraziana

It’s not a particularly secret wisdom that those who have wealth are likely to have power too. After all, it’s money that makes the world go round… at least a materialistic world like ours. Little wonder that our society produces considerable numbers of men and women whose primary goal in life is to gain money and ever more money. In The Green Pope by Miguel Ángel Asturias, Guatemalan winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1967 “for his vivid literary achievement, deep-rooted in the national traits and traditions of Indian peoples of Latin-America”, a young American who cares for nothing but wealth and power starts a banana plantation in Guatemala mercilessly ruining, driving out or even killing small local farmers and opponents on his rise. Neither the suicide of his fiancé, the death of his wife in childbirth or the pregnancy of his unmarried daughter make him reconsider his priorities.


© Read the NobelsMaira Gall