Weekly Cultural Wrap-Up

Instead of just doing a reading and book buying wrap up of the week, I thought it might be fun to do a summary of all the cultural highlights. Which I have been fortunate enough to have plenty of, now that I am living near and working in London. So this will include any films, theatre, opera or ballet, book launches, talks or other events which I might have attended, as well as anything I might be aware of which is coming up for the following week, which might be of interest to others in the area. There’s got to be an upside to the downside of commuting (one day this week was particularly hellish, with my total commute taking over 4 hours – instead of 2.5 – in horrible conditions).

On Tuesday I got to see the witty, forthright and beautiful Leïla Slimani in action (and speaking English, much to my surprise!) at a Q&A and book signing at Waterstone’s Gower Street. With her journalistic background and feminist activist credentials, she had lots of opinions about current affairs and the #MeToo movement, but two things she said about her book Chanson Douce (translated as Lullaby in the UK and The Perfect Nanny in the US) particularly resonated with me: 1) how quick readers were to blame the mother Myriam for leaving her children with a stranger to go out and work when she didn’t need to, simply for her personal fulfilment and to go out for dinner with her husband; 2) how differently reviewers reacted to her book in France and in the UK/US. In France they commented mainly on her style and the narrative choices she made, while in the Anglo-Saxon community it is marketed as a thriller and is mainly about plot and unlikable characters. French literature is of course littered with unlikable characters, but so is classic English and American literature, so I don’t understand what this current emphasis is on sympathising with your protagonists. Besides, you can empathise and feel sorry for both Myriam and Louise (the nanny) in the book.

On Friday I saw a ballet double bill at the Coliseum. Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, a very modern tale of depression and suicide (gorgeous Ivan Vasiliev as the young man and the wonderful, ever-young Tamara Rojo as the woman), followed by the very different, classical romantic ballet of La Sylphide, full of men in kilts and the long white tutus of the ghostly sylphides. It was delightful to see the Sylphide played by a junior soloist of the company, the very young, incredibly light and graceful Japanese dancer, Rina Kanehara. Afterwards, we had a wander around the West End to admire the light installations of the Lumiere Festival – although London proved it was not quite the 24 hour city it prides itself on being, with the lights switching off promptly at 22:30!

Westminster Abbey illuminated by French digital artist Patrice Warrener, courtesy of Creative Boom website.

This week I’ve been reading the biography of Shirley Jackson, which has prompted some more purchases of her lesser-known novels Hangsaman and The Sundial. Of course I had to buy the English translation of Slimani’s novel to get it signed by her and I’ve already read it (review will be coming up shortly). And, since I never escape unscathed from a bookshop, I also stumbled across one of those photo-rich trilingual Taschen Bibliotheca Universalis editions about the filming of The Man Who Fell to Earth. As the bookseller said, ‘You can’t go wrong with Bowie.’

In other reading: just finished Hell Bay by Kate Rhodes, set on the Isles of Scilly (review coming up on Crime Fiction Lover) and am currently reading Nadia Dalbuono’s The Extremist set in Rome (review coming up on Shiny New Books). I’m reading Marie Darrieussecq in both English and French and will be posting a review of her disappearing husband book, as well as Hawksmoor on this blog very soon.

On TV, I’ve only watched the mistitled Big Cats documentary (because it refers quite a bit to wildcats which are smaller than my own moggy – who was watching just as carefully as me and probably taking hunting lessons) and my beloved Engrenages series.

Last, but not least, the Winter Issue of Asymptote Journal is out, and it is an anniversary edition, as Asymptote celebrates its 7th birthday. Yes, it first launched in January 2011, before I even became absorbed by writing or moved to France. For this special edition, there are some big names (Ismail Kadare and Daniel Mendelsohn), as well as many new voices and languages, including translations from Montenegrin, Mè’phàà and Amharic. For those of you who like short samplers, there is also a special feature on international microfiction or flash fiction.

Coming up: I would really like to attend (but can’t) the Gower Street Waterstone’s Forgotten Fiction Book Club this coming Tuesday, which will be discussing one of the defining books of my adolescence:  Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier. Two art events to catch this coming week (for those who can make it): last week of the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican and the Hayward Gallery at the South Bank finally reopens after refurbishment with a photography retrospective of the work of Andreas Gursky.

27 thoughts on “Weekly Cultural Wrap-Up”

  1. A great cultural week, Marina, despite that horrible commute. I started my blog thinking I’d include things other than books but that seem to have gone by the board. Perhaps I should try again.

    1. So kind of you to say so! It probably takes up far too much of my time, but I’m doing it for the love of cultural ‘stuff’ rather than to garner lots of followers.

  2. You’re very lucky to have such cultural riches on your doorstep and I don’t blame you for taking advantage of them. And I’m very glad I’m not the only one who never gets out of a bookshop unscathed… 😉

    1. I am lucky indeed – well, something has got to make up for my homesickness for the mountains! A friend just posted a picture of herself snowshoeing in the Jura and I could strangle her!

  3. That’s a great idea, Marina, I really love hearing about various cultural happenings alongside bookish discussions 🙂 Readers’ reception of ‘Lullaby’ in different countries is very intriguing – is this perhaps why some countries shy away from translated fiction? Because they don’t really read the same meanings into the book as readers from the country of origin do? I’ve definitely seen that happening with Japanese literature.

    1. Thank you for encouraging me, Akylina. As an anthropologist, you can imagine how fascinating I find it that our cultural heritage affects so much of our understanding of current matters or literature (even when we are not aware that it does and even in this age where people travel so widely).

    1. It would be nice if it were an uninterrupted commute, but the I actually only spend about 20 + 10 minutes on the train and the Tube (if they are not delayed, which is seldom the case, of course). Sadly, most of it involves driving, parking, walking, waiting for the next train after the cancelled one…

  4. Lucky you to have had such a great cultural week, Marina Sofia. That’s definitely an advantage of living where you do, even with that commute. Wise of you to make the time for those things.

  5. You are busy.
    The various cultural reactions to Lullaby are interesting. I read a couple of reviews after seeing your mention and see that the book is based on the real-life murders of two children in NY. I remember the case which was horrendous.

    1. No, she said in her talk that she only loosely based it on that story. There have been a couple of real-life cases like that, but she only used them as an impetus for writing her own story. All of the details are fictional.

  6. I need to read Chanson douce.

    I’ve seen these lights in Lyon! They were on the Théâtre des Célestins and it was a truly gorgeous site.

    You really have a busy life, I’m glad you get to enjoy London and not just suffer from the inconvenience of living in a big city.

  7. Great week Marina Sofia! I’ve also enjoyed the Lumiere installations and Engrenages is an ongoing obsession 🙂 (I think Josephine might have attacked the wrong one of her 2 creepy bosses, what do you think?)

  8. I have just finished and pulled together my review for Lullaby by Leila Slimani… for me it was about what happens to those around one if has low self respect (Louise) – others begin to disrespect. It’s about the balance of power and control between the two grown up women… and ethnic communities… oh, and lots more layers. Such a good read and beautifully translated by Sam Taylor who is skilled at retaining a French flavour.

  9. I used to go to London to the theatre fairly regularly but haven’t been fo a few years now. Part of the reason is hat it’s so expensive if you dont live close by and have to stay overnight. The live streaming initiative by the National and RSC is marvellous but seeing these events through your eyes is a great treat also

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