The Expat Experience: Hausfrau

HausfrauThere is a quote that does the rounds of expat circles: a man once said that when he dies, he wants to come back as an expat wife. It’s an understandable (if tactless) remark. There is a perception of an expat life of privilege in exotic locations, on a generous salary and benefits package, sitting around sipping cocktails and with nothing else to do except hatch intrigues.

While there may still be some such ‘expat bubbles’ out there, in most cases the reality is quite different. In many cases the so-called trailing spouse (most of them still remain women in this day and age, although there are some men too following the careers of their wives) has had to give up her own career, is lonely, frustrated, resentful and isolated. The expat packages have been reduced, they do not speak the language and they have to adapt to a completely alien culture, where even doing the supermarket shopping or installing a telephone line becomes an epic battle.

This is the case with Anna, the self-destructive protagonist of Jill Alexander Essbaum’s novel Hausfrau, set in a suburb of Zürich. Anna is an American woman who thought she had chosen order and reliability when she followed her Swiss husband back to his home country. Instead, she feels dead inside. Whether we can empathise with her or not, Essbaum describes Anna’s circumscribed lifestyle, her feeling of entrapment, very clearly. Anna is only just learning the language. She doesn’t have many friends, certainly not among the Swiss, and her banker husband is cold and distant. She doesn’t drive, so she is dependent on trains or on her husband’s or mother-in-law’s willingness to give her a lift.

Anna was a good wife, mostly… It’s not just an adage, it’s an absolute fact: Swiss trains run on time… From Pfäffikon, the train made sixteen stops before it reached Dietlikon, the tiny town in which Anna’s own tiny life was led… the ordinary fact of a train schedule modulated Anna’s daily plans… Boredom, like the trains, carried Anna through her days…

From Fodors.com
From Fodors.com

Visitors to Switzerland revel in the quaint, chocolate-box prettiness, tidiness and order, but, just as there is a malaise beneath the politeness and well-functioning machinery of Japanese society, there is something sinister about the myriad of rules and regulations in this Alpine country. Outwardly, Anna follows her rules: goes to German language classes, picks her children up from school, dutifully goes to see a psychoanalyst to deal with her depression. She is infuriatingly passive and accepting, a passenger in her own life.

Allowing Bruno to make decisions on her behalf absolved her of responsibility. She didn’t need to think. She followed along. She rode a bus that someone else drove. And Bruno liked driving it. Order upon order. Rule upon Rule. Where the wind blew, she went… it grew even easier with practice.

But of course one will suffocate under all those rules at times. Swiss youths rebel through drug-taking and suicide; Anna rebels by having reckless flings. The book has been compared (even by myself) with those other novels about adulterous women Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, but Anna is much less guided by passion and idealism. If anything, she is far too self-aware, self-critical and analytical. Every phrase she learns in German class, every discussion with her analyst is dissected and applied to her life.

Love’s a sentence. A death sentence… The body would become ravaged. And the heart will become broken… ‘To become’ implies motion. A paradoxical move toward limp surrender. Whatever it is, you do not do it. It is done to you. Passivity and passion begin alike. It’s only how they end that’s different.

From bookpeople.com
Jill Alexander Essbaum, from bookpeople.com

Her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, her risk-taking reaches endemic proportions… and then tragedy strikes. I won’t say more, except that Essbaum is a poet and her fragmented prose style may not be to everyone’s taste, while the descriptions of sex are anything but poetic. I was initially sceptical of just how relevant the German class or psychoanalyst discussions were to the main story, but they provide surprising analogies to the banality of marital breakdown and adultery. I personally loved the mix of barbed observational wit, philosophical ruminations and poetic despair. In some ways, it reminded me of Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, but I liked this one more, even though it’s longer. It has a well-defined story arc, it’s raw and emotional and very, very honest, with none of the cold detachment of Offill’s book.

I’ve mentioned previously how excited I was to receive this book for review from Penguin Random House. A great addition to my collection of novels about expats – and a timely one, given that I am currently writing a novel about expats. Below is a list of my personal favourites among this type of novels, and the countries in which they are set. The protagonists may feel at first like fish out of water but end up being forever changed by the countries they live in. Word of caution: none of them seem to end well!

Glamorous expat life? From The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Glamorous expat life? From The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Chris Pavone: The Expats (Luxembourg)

Hilary Mantel: Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (Saudia Arabia)

Somerset Maugham: The Painted Vale (China)

Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley (Italy)

Christopher Isherwood: The Berlin Stories (Germany)

Malcolm Lowry: Under the Volcano (Mexico)

Lawrence Durrell: The Alexandria Quartet (Egypt)

Graham Greene: The Quiet American (Vietnam)

Joseph Conrad: The Heart of Darkness (Congo)

Henry James: The Ambassadors (France)

Elsa Marpeau: L’Expatriée (Singapore)

 

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Rebecca Kreisher?

RebeccaKreisher

Today I have the great pleasure of introducing yet another crime fiction lover and blogger to you. Rebecca Kreisher blogs as Ms. Wordopolis , primarily about crime fiction. She is passionate about translated crime and likes to challenge herself by reading books set in countries all over the world. You can also find Rebecca on Twitter.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

While I read and loved Nancy Drew mysteries when I was little, I wasn’t really hooked on the genre until I was much older. Patricial Cornwell, Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton are what hooked me as a twenty-something law student.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I tend to gravitate to police procedurals such as those by Arnaldur Indriðason, because I’ve moved on from the PI novels I used to read.

What is the most memorable book you have read recently?

Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland was a recent favorite. It was more of a thriller than I expected, and the social/political commentary was quite good as well.

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

I’d bring the Wallander series by Henning Mankell, both because I haven’t finished the series yet and because the books themselves tend to run long.

TBRRebeccaWhat are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

I’ve been catching up with Laura Lippman lately, and I’m looking forward to her newest Hush Hush.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

Honestly, I usually recommend crime novels, so this is a difficult question to answer. I like Allegra Goodman and Ann Patchett for smart fiction, and Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration for nonfiction.

 

Thank you, Rebecca, for some great suggestions here. Several authors I’ve been meaning to explore further – like Laura Lippman. But I will stay strong for a month or so longer, for the sake of my TBR Double Dare Challenge!

For previous participants in the series, just follow this link. If you would like to take part, please let me know via the comments or on Twitter – we always love to hear about other people’s criminal passions!

 

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Janet O’Kane?

JanetOkaneIt’s a real pleasure to welcome another avid crime reader and writer on the blog today: Janet O’Kane. Now happily ensconced on the Scottish Borders, Janet is not only a friendly voice and discerning reviewer on her blog http://janetokane.blogspot.co.uk/  and on Twitter under the handle @JanetOkane, she is also the only writer I know who keeps chicken. I ‘ve had the pleasure of interviewing Janet about her debut novel No Stranger to Death for Crime Fiction Lover. She kindly agreed to answer even more of my questions here today.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

I dedicated No Stranger to Death to the person responsible for my love of crime fiction: my Mum. I remember climbing aboard the mobile library with her when I was small, thrilled to be choosing my books as she chose hers. She read historical and crime fiction and once I’d outgrown children’s books (there being no such thing as Young Adult literature back then), she introduced me to her favourite authors. I read all of Jean Plaidy’s historical novels but it was the so-called Queens of Crime – Christie, Sayers, Allingham, Marsh – whose work captured my imagination. Agatha Christie was still writing at that time; I recall the arguments at home over who got to read her latest book first. Mum’s now in her 80s and still a huge crime fiction fan. When I last visited her, the pile of books next to her bed included ones by Mari Hannah, Denise Mina and Ann Cleeves.

Scottish crime pileAre there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

Maybe because I cut my teeth on traditional crime, I gravitate more towards police procedurals and psychological crime fiction than action-based thrillers. I can also see from my shelves that I’m biased towards UK writers (though I’ve recently been on a Scandi-crime binge), especially Scottish ones, although this has been a conscious decision because I live north of the Border now. That said, I’m open-minded and will try any author once.

What is the most memorable book you have read recently?

Of all the books I read in 2014, two in particular stand out. The first is Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason. I’d not read any Icelandic literature before and it’s made me keen to try more. I’m a big fan of fictional investigations which delve back into the past to solve a present-day crime, and this is an excellent example of that type of story.

2014 was also the year I started downloading audio books, and I enjoyed another excellent novel this way: A Pleasure and A Calling by Phil Hogan. It’s an unusual tale of an estate agent who keeps the keys to every home he sells, so he can let himself in when the new owners are out. As well as being truly creepy, this novel has some very black humour in it, and I can’t understand why it’s not been hugely successful.

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

I think the complete works of Scottish crime-writer Christopher Brookmyre would keep me busy for some time and, very importantly, would make me laugh too. His debut novel Quite Ugly One Morning is among my all-time favourite reads, and I’ve enjoyed plenty of his subsequent books too.

scandicrime pileWhat are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

I’m currently trying a new approach to reading, by choosing a different theme every month. So far I’ve done Scandi-crime and Scottish crime, and next up is books written by friends. I’m particularly looking forward to reading at least one of Dave Sivers’ Archer and Baines novels and Rebecca Bradley’s recently published debut, Shallow Waters.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

I have a fondness for science fiction, probably because, like crime fiction, it’s a broad genre which embraces many different types of stories. When I was a teenager I read all John Wyndham’s books and they’re still on my shelves. I reread The Chrysalids recently and found myself loving it all over again but for different reasons to when I was younger. I’ve also enjoyed I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and for my recent Open University degree I read several books by Philip K Dick, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

What a delightful personal selection; this is what I love about this series, who’d have guessed that Janet O’Kane is a sci fi fan? So pleased to see that Phil Hogan’s delightfully subversive book gets a mention here – I too thought it deserved much wider recognition.

For previous participants in the series – and there have been some good’uns (only good’uns, to be honest), just follow this link. If you would like to take part, please let me know via the comments or on Twitter – we always love to hear about other people’s criminal passions!

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Tracey Walsh?

TraceyAfter a rather busy start to the New Year, fraught with drama and sadness for my adoptive home France, it’s time to return to an old favourite of mine: being nosy about other people’s reading habits. Time to meet another online friend – welcome, Tracey Walsh! Tracey is one of those people who always seems to have just read those books I have only just heard about – and her recommendations have taken me to many new places. She reads, blogs and tweets tirelessly about crime fiction and has even created a fantastic map of the UK with her personal crime fiction favourites on her Crime Reader Blog.  You can also find Tracey on Facebook.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

I have happy childhood memories of Enid Blyton’s “The Five Find Outers” as my first mystery series. Then, in my teens, I binge-read dozens of Agatha Christies, with my favourites being the Miss Marple books. Later still, ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier and Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series confirmed me as a lifelong crime fiction addict.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

My preferred genre is psychological thrillers, because I love being immersed in twisty plots that examine the characters’ motives and relationships, the darker the better. Within this genre I have enjoyed several ‘domestic noir’ novels recently, for example Paula Daly’s ‘Keep Your Friends Close’ and Julia Crouch’s ‘Tarnished’.

What is the most memorable book you have read recently?

‘I Let You Go’ by Clare Mackintosh. I absolutely loved this book, which has one of the best twists ever. It was also memorable, because I found myself thinking about the characters even when I wasn’t reading, and imagining what would have happened had they made different choices.

bookpileTraceyIf you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?
This would come down, not for the first time, to a toss of a coin between Val McDermid’s Tony Hill/Carol Jordan books and the Roy Grace series by Peter James. And the winner is…Peter James. There are ten books in the series (soon to be eleven) starting with ‘Dead Simple’, which has probably the best opening to a crime book I can remember.
What are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

‘No Other Darkness’ by Sarah Hilary – the follow up to one of the best debuts of last year, ‘Someone Else’s Skin’. Also, ‘Death in the Rainy Season’ by Anna Jaquiery – the follow up to ‘The Lying-Down Room’, a haunting literary crime novel.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?
I really only read crime so that’s all I’m likely to recommend. I love recommending new authors to my friends, most recently the debut books by Paula Daly (‘Just What Kind Of Mother Are You?’) and Colette McBeth (‘Precious Thing’). It was particularly rewarding to introduce my Dad to the Roy Grace books by Peter James. I bought him the latest two in the series for his 80th birthday last year.
As a departure from reading the books I’m looking forward to seeing the stage play of ‘Dead Simple’ in Manchester soon.
Thank you, Tracey, I love your unabashed crime addiction and eagerness to explore new writers as well as old favourites. The Dead Simple play sounds like a good reason for planning a trip to Manchester! Excellent choice for a desert island series, as well. I notice that everyone tries to find really long-running series to take with them, for fear of running out of reading matter.
This series depends on your willingness to participate, so please don’t be shy if you would like to tell us about your reading passions. For previous posts in the series, please check out this link. 

 

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Fiction Fan?

A Glaswegian by birth and now back living in a small town just outside the city after a detour to the bright lights (and better employment opportunities) of London. Fiction Fan (who prefers to keep her anonymity) started reading when she was four and anticipates still being as enthusiastic about it when she turns 104. Although her tastes in reading are eclectic, crime is how she ends every day. Clearly, one murder before bedtime puts her in the right frame of mind for sleep! She started reviewing on Amazon about 4 years ago in a tiny way, was then invited onto the Amazon Vine programme – at that time a wonderful source of free books – and became addicted to the whole reviewing thing. You can find her discussing books on her wonderful blog or on Twitter.

Tommy and Tuppence.
Tommy and Tuppence.
How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

Very traditionally – via Enid Blyton first, especially George and Timmy in the Famous Five books. Then on to Agatha Christie in my teenage years: she has remained one of my all-time favourites, which explains why my cats are called Tommy and Tuppence. My elder sister was, and still is, a voracious reader of British and American crime, so through her I met up with a huge range of authors in my teens, from PD James to Ed McBain and all points between.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I wasn’t really aware of it till I started keeping a record of my reading through reviewing, but I’ve discovered my tastes are incredibly insular. Though I read a wide range of authors from different countries, my favourites always tend to be British and often Scottish. I guess it must be because I feel at home within the cultural setting. In older books, I enjoy the classic mystery style with a private detective, but in modern crime my tastes run very much towards police procedurals with strong central characters – Ian Rankin’s Rebus, Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan, Sharon Bolton’s Lacey Flint.

Untidy bookshelvesWhat is the most memorable book you have read recently?

Ooh, so many! But I’d have to go with Anthony Horowitz’s Moriarty. Brilliantly situated within Holmes’ world, but Horowitz has avoided the problems of characterisation and tone that so often beset ‘continuation’ novels by omitting Holmes and Watson entirely, except by reference. So well written and with a twist that left me gasping and applauding, it has everything – great descriptions of London, excitement, peril, horror and enough humour to keep the tone from becoming too grim. Wonderful stuff – hope he’s hard at work on the next one!  

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

Ah, that would have to be Reginald Hill! I can’t imagine life without Dalziel – for decades I waited eagerly for publication day for each new one to come out, and there’s not one of them that doesn’t stand up to repeated re-readings. I loved seeing how Hill’s style changed and developed over the series, from fairly standard crime novels at the beginning to almost literary novels by the end, often playing with aspects of some of the classic writers. If I had to choose one favourite crime novel of all time, it would be Hill’s On Beulah Height – superbly written, deeply moving and still with a great crime story at its heart. But I’d want to take his Joe Sixsmith books along too – lighter in tone and great fun. Oh, and his standalones, of course…

What are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

Peter May’s Runaway, due out in January. I’ve been a long-term fan of May since his China Thrillers days, but his more recent books – The Lewis Trilogy and then Entry Island – have taken his writing to a whole new level, perhaps because he’s writing about his native Scotland and somehow that has given his books a deeper integrity and more of an emotional heart. Runaway is set partly in Glasgow, partly London and is apparently influenced by events in May’s own early life. Can’t wait!

I’m also eagerly awaiting the English translation of Zoran Drvenkar’s You (in January too, I hope, though it’s been put back a couple of times already), having loved his previous very dark Sorry. Just threw that in to prove I do occasionally read non-British authors!

KindleFanficOutside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

Ah, my poor friends and blog followers will be heartily tired of me recommending – nay, evangelising about – Patrick Flanery, the most exciting newish literary author on the block, in my opinion. His first book Absolution is set during and in the aftermath of apartheid, seen from the perspective of the white South Africans. It is a brilliant look at how memories are distorted and conflicting, and how hard it is to distinguish whether motives are personal or political. A book that actually made me re-assess my opinion of the time. And his more recent novel, Fallen Land, is a stunning cross between thriller and literary novel, looking at the state of the American psyche in the post 9/11, post global economic crash world. I somewhat arrogantly declared it The Great American Novel for this decade – and I still stand by that! Oh, and it’s also an absolutely enthralling and rather terrifying read.

Otherwise I fear I incessantly recommend whatever new thing has taken my fancy (which happens on average once a week or so), be it factual, fiction, crime or just plain weird… I actually found myself trying to talk people into reading the manga version of Pride and Prejudice not so long ago! Well, an enthusiasm shared is an enthusiasm doubled, isn’t it? Especially when it’s a book…

I see nothing wrong with manga or BD versions of great literature. I’ve read most of my French classics in this way! And I’m completely in agreement with you about ‘On Beulah Height’ being one of the most remarkable of the Reginald Hill (or perhaps even all British crime fiction) canon.

This will be the last of the ‘What Got You Hooked’ series for this year. Thank you so much to all of my participants for their patience, humour and insights. You’ve added many, many authors to my TBR list! For previous participants in the series, just follow this link. If I have enough people willing to take part, I will continue the series in 2015, so please let me know if you would be prepared to answer these questions, don’t be shy!

 

 

Points of view (POV) in fiction

My natural preference in fiction is for first or third person point of views, limited but allowing you to build up quite an in-depth picture of your narrator (and even seem some of their own blind spots). If you were to ask me ‘in the abstract’, without any examples, I would say that I don’t like books where the author can hop from one head into another, emit omniscient asides and foreshadow like billy-ho with complete nonchalance. It feels like lazy writing, I’d tell myself, it interrupts the flow and confuses me.

Yet here I am about to extol the virtues of two books which do precisely that. Which goes to show that rules are made to be broken and that I can be won over to just about anything by good writing.

Lauren Beukes: Broken Monsters

LaurenBeukes2

This is marketed as a crime thriller, but, as is so frequently the case with Lauren Beukes, it defies any genre description. It has all the elements of a police procedural, albeit one of unnerving grittiness and despair, but also swerves into YA, horror and fantasy territory. All areas I usually stay away from, but in Beukes’ wildly inventive mind and confident hands, it works. She moves effortlessly from one interpretation of events to another, equally pitch-perfect as a teenager, a stressed female officer, a homeless drifter or journalist despising himself for writing nothing better than lists of Top Tens for second-rate websites, all in a lively, exuberant language on the brink of change.

This is a story revealing all our anxieties about the digital age and urban decay. It’s set in the almost post-apocalyptic landscape of Detroit, now fallen victim to fans of ruin porn and graffiti, hipsters trying to ‘get’ the edginess of the city and to further their careers, scavengers making their way into repossessed houses.

brokenmonsters
South African cover.

Detective Gabi Vesado has seen a lot of bodies in her time with the Detroit police force, even children’s bodies, but this one is shocking even by her standards. A boy cut in half, with deer legs somehow fused to him. Unfortunately, this is but the start of a sinister series of killings, all arranged artistically, as if to mimic contemporary art installations. Beukes is wonderful at mocking the pretensions of much modern art, but she also takes us into the murderer’s mind – which, disconcertingly, is the mind of an artist taken to extreme. An obsession with beauty and creating new paradigms, opening the door to a new consciousness, which sometimes makes him the most relatable character in the book (at least, to a writer/artist/creative person). He may be a monster, but he’s a broken one (I never thought I’d say this about a serial killer).

UK cover.
UK cover.

There are plenty more quirky and very well-drawn characters: Gabi’s teenage daughter Layla, who engages in dangerous games of online pedophile baiting with her friend Cas; Cas herself, who seems cynical beyond her years, perhaps discussing a much deeper vulnerability; the failed journalist Jonno who dreams of going viral with his online videos, helped by his DJ girlfriend with the wild dreadlocks; and homeless TK, who only wants to survive, but cannot sit by idly while his friend is being hurt. Each of these (and a few others I’m not mentioning here for lack of space) have a complete back story, although most of it remains hidden from us like an iceberg.

brokenmonsters
US cover.

I’m a little tired of the serial killer trop, or of graphic descriptions of violence (although, to be fair, in this book it is more about the reaction of the people who get to see the violence), but this book is about so much more than that. Beukes almost crams in too much: psychology of teens and of loners, social commentary about poverty and abandonment of society’s most fragile members, the Internet as a place we can project the myths we tell about ourselves, but also a place where our own stories can be used against us, herd instinct and our love of conspiracy theories, media frenzy about the more sensationalist aspects of crime. Throughout, the author transports us into a vivid yet surreal world, a world of nightmares and hallucinations, where we lose the ability to distinguish fact from fiction.

Just as an aside: I’ve included all three covers for the book – let me know which one you prefer. I think the South African one is the most beautiful, though perhaps a bit too explicit.

BelCanto
UK edition.

Ann Patchett: Bel Canto

The blurb itself promises an unusual book, difficult to pin down in terms of degree of seriousness:

In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. His hosts hope that Mr. Hosokawa can be persuaded to build a factory in their Third World backwater. Alas, in the opening sequence, just as the accompanist kisses the soprano, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.

From publiclibrariesonline.org
From publiclibrariesonline.org

In this house under siege – and the siege extends to weeks rather than days – a kind of truce develops and the most unlikely of love stories spring up, while hope and despair alternate in rapid succession. Ann Patchett is a delightful mix of 19th century elegance and 21st century knowingness in this book. I loved her brand of suave humour, gracious omniscience and flitting around from one character to another, observing all human foibles but also all human aspiration for something grander, more ennobling – such as music. The opera singer, the Japanese industrialist, the talented translator, the young terrorists who have just left their native village, the idealistic priest, the hardened paramilitary leader who still has a heart hidden somewhere: these are not stereotypes, but beautifully rounded characters described with tenderness but also irony. This ‘mature and knowing narrator’ POV, filled with sly observations, reminds me of Jane Austen. Patchett has an uncanny ability to describe someone (and their way of thinking) in just a few sentences.

The international negotiator, Messner: ‘The Swiss never take sides. We are only on the side of the Swiss.’

belcanto2
US cover.

The doctor who tries not to draw attention to himself and his profession: ‘The conclusion was that no doctors were present. But that wasn’t true. Dr. Gomez was lying in the back… and his wife was stabbing him sharply in the ribs with two red lacquered fingernails. He had given up his practice years ago to become a hospital administrator. When was the last time he had sewn a man up?.. He was probably no more qualified to do a decent job than his wife, who at least kept a canvas of petit point going all the time. Without taking a single stitch he saw how the whole thing would unravel: there would be an infection, certainly; they would not bring in the necessary antibiotics; later the wound would have to opened, drained, resewn… It would not go well. People would blame him.’

The kitchen scene of cooking coq sans vin, without allowing the hostages access to knives, is one of the funniest scenes:

Thibault, the French ambassador, one of the few among the hostages who knows how to cook, is manning the kitchen. He is trying to show the terrorists how to peel an aubergine but has forgotten that he is not allowed to handle knives. (Apologies for hte choppiness and lack of clarity in what follows: I’m skipping big chunks of text here in an effort to convey the flavour of the scene).

Thibault did not understand what he had done. He thought at first Beatriz [one of the captors] was angry that he had corrected the boy on his peeling, He thought the problem was with the eggplant, and so he laid the eggplant down first and then the knife. […]

‘Go ahead,’ Ishmael said, taking out his own gun and pointing it at the Ambassador. ‘I’ll shoot you, too, if I have to. Show me how to peel an eggplant, I’ve shot men over less than an eggplant.’ […]

What would Edith say when she heard he had been shot over an eggplant or turning on the television? If he was going to die he had hoped for a little bit of honor in his death.

‘Well,’ Ruben said, wiping his face with a dishtowel. ‘Nothing around here is a small event.’ […]

‘No one is leaving! Dinner for fifty-eight, is that what they expect? I will not lose one pair of hands, even if the hands belong to the very valuable translator… May I inquire as to the state of the onions or will you threaten to shoot me?’ […]

‘Why does he get to cook the onions?’ Beatriz said. ‘They’re my onions. And I won’t wash the chickens because that does not involve a knife. I was only sent in here to work the knives.’

‘I will kill her,’ Thibault said in weary French.

 

 

 

 

Friday Fun: Writers’ Residences in Rhône-Alpes

I am fortunate enough to be living (for the time being) in an extremely beautiful part of France. Although the region Rhône-Alpes is a relatively recent administrative invention, the diversity and beauty of its landscapes and its historically autonomous status (parts of it belonged to Savoie rather than France) have been attracting writers for centuries. This Friday I would like to introduce you to some of those and their favourite homes.

Voltaire's chateau in Ferney-Voltaire. From culture.fr
Voltaire’s chateau in Ferney-Voltaire. From culture.fr
Rousseau's country retreat at Les Charmettes near Chambery became a pilgrimage site.  From culture.fr
Rousseau’s country retreat at Les Charmettes near Chambery became a pilgrimage site. From culture.fr
Antoine de Saint-Exupery's childhood home in Saint Maurice near Lyon. From Terre des Ecrivains website.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s childhood home in Saint Maurice near Lyon. From Terre des Ecrivains website.
Paul Claudel's Chateau de Brangues, in a village that Stendhal wrote about in 'The Red and the Black'.
Paul Claudel’s Chateau de Brangues, in a village that Stendhal wrote about in ‘The Red and the Black’.
Gertrude Stein's refuge from Paris during WW2, Bilignan near Belley. From Tourisme Belley-Bas-Bugey website.
Gertrude Stein’s refuge from Paris during WW2, Bilignin near Belley. From Tourisme Belley-Bas-Bugey website.

Finally, two villas for which I couldn’t find current pictures. The first, the ivy-covered manor house Boringe on the shores of Lake Annecy, completely captivated Hippolyte Taine. For twenty years he spent March to November there and wrote every morning in his study.

BoringeTaine

The second is on the shores of Lake Geneva, near Evian, where Anna de Noailles spent her childhood summers. It was here that she met Marcel Proust in 1899 and this is the place she returned to time and time again in her writing.

Villa Bassaraba, from Comtesse de Noailles fan blog site.
Villa Bassaraba, from Comtesse de Noailles fan blog site.

The information for this post comes from the beautifully illustrated book ‘Dans le pas des écrivains en Rhône-Alpes’ by Anne Buttin and Nelly Gabriel, published by Glénat. They mention so many other writers who lived, studied or passed through the region (Baudelaire, Camus, Huysmans, Stendhal, Simone Weil and many more).