The #1965Club: Ion Vinea

Hosted by two of my favourite book bloggers, Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambles, and with the participation of so many other readers whom I love ‘chatting to’ online, how could I not take part in this week of celebration of literature published in 1965!

Young Vinea

But I have to admit that I haven’t made it easy for myself. In the Wikipedia list of books pubished in 1965 I came across a Romanian one that I’d never heard of: Ion Vinea’s Lunatecii (The Lunatics). I was unable to find a copy of it in time, but I discovered that there was a radio play adaptation of it dating from 1991, so I listened to as many of the episodes as I could find… in a way, this is my first audiobook!

I mainly knew of Ion Vinea as a poet and translator (of Shakespeare, for example) and it turns out that this is how the Communist censorship wanted him to be remembered. He had been a very active and well-respected figure of the interwar literary scene in Romania, a modernist poet and friend of Tristan Tzara’s, worked on the same paper as Mihail Sebastian, met F. Scott Fitzgerald in Paris, and had a somewhat ambiguous relationship with the Nazis during the Second World War (disenchanted with both the right-wing and left-wing parties at the time). After the war, however, he was suspected of being a British spy, had to go underground for a while and worked as a plasterer and porter. When one of his close friends fled the country, he and his (ex-)wife Henriette Yvonne Stahl were repeatedly questioned and tortured by the secret police. So the novel was only published after his death, in 1965, when there was a relaxation of censorship, from materials gathered together carefully by Stahl out of the hundreds of pages that he had produced over the 30+ years that he had been working on the novel.

Vinea (holding the dog) with his Symbolist friends, including Tristan Tzara (first on the left).

The novel is firmly set in the late 1920s and was apparently inspired by Tender Is the Night. In many ways, it is the swansong of a lost generation and shows aristocracy and intelligentsia in decline, without them even realising it. But it is also a psychological novel, the story of a disappointed and failing man.

This failure of a man is Lucu Silion who, when the novel opens, is an elegant, successful man in his early 30s, who enjoyed an early success after publishing his first (history) book and was considered a heavy-hitting intellectual. However, he is starting to slip a little: unable to repeat his early success, working in a dead-end administrative job, not sure what he wants to do next professionally (his mother suggests the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but he nips that in the bud with a passionate discourse about hypocrisy and corruption in the civil service). His mother is domineering but cold and admits that she never wanted to have him, yet he still trusts her enough to admit to her that he feels haunted by his own interal demons.

Sure enough, those demons show up. He is at first merely pleasantly successful with the ladies (Vinea himself was a notorious womaniser), but then finds himself torn between mysterious Laura, who seems to be suffering from an incurable disease, and demanding Ana, obsessed by marriage, whom he can’t quite let go. As you might expect, all this shilly-shallying between the two women does not end well, and he treats both of them rather badly. He does get his come-uppance, however, and in the final scene, we find him lonely and neglected, washed-out and abandoned by society and his friends, following a rapid descent into poverty, alcoholism, and vagrancy.

An older Vinea.

It’s hard to judge the quality of the writing from a radio play version, but the plot, such as it is, seems to be fairly simplistic. The inner turmoil seems to be the driving factor here, and it all feels a little Richard Yates to me. Although the bulk of Vinea’s novel had been written by the time Yates’ Revolutionary Road appeared, I wonder if he was familiar with it at all and perhaps slightly influenced by it?

So a bit of an obscure and unusual one for my first 1965 read. The next one, by way of contrast, is relatively easy to find and very much a product of the 1960s.

March Madness

This is not quite a return to blogging, as I don’t think I have the peace of mind to do it systematically. It’s more of a summary of a crazy month, and a note to self about future things. A reminder that future things still exist, even though it might be hard to remember them when you are stuck in the morass of present-day sludge.

Cultural Events

The fun (and far too small) exhibition ‘Cats on the Page at the British Library confirmed that I really do know my moggies, literary and otherwise. I was born to be a cat lover, beats me why I waited so many years to get my first pet cat! (And she is an absolute pet…)

I also went to see a play that was billed as ‘optimistic and loving’ by a friend who clearly thought I needed some therapy. This was Gently Down the Stream at the Park Theatre, starring Jonathan Hyde as an aging American pianist living in London, who has played with all the greats in the past. He meets and falls in love with young lawyer Rufus (Ben Allen), who is fascinated by the past but represents the new generation of gay men, who have never had to be ashamed of their feelings. It was sweet, romantic, but rather melancholy, so not quite the boost of optimism that my friend had planned.

Once again, I made the most of my Mubi subscription and watched lots of films (particularly suitable when you are hiding under your bedclothes at the weekend), but realised that most of them are depressing as hell: Brothers of the Night, about young Roma men from Bulgaria hustling for money in Vienna, while all the while despising the men who buy their bodies, the heart-rending Iranian film A Separation directed by Asghar Farhadi, the classic noir Laura (with Gene Tierney as a beautiful blank canvas for men to project their fantasies on) and, in the cinema Can You Ever Forgive Me? – which is a comedy tinged with quite a lot of sadness and loneliness. Or is it just me finding the dark side of everything at the moment?

Books Read

I probably didn’t do myself any favours by picking quite depressing books this month, although when I became aware of this tendency, I wove in some lighter reads. It frequently happens that a theme emerges once the month is over, a theme that I’m not really aware of whilst in the midst of it. This month, it has been biographies of famous writers. A couple of them qualify for the #EU27Project, which fortunately has had its deadline extended… just a teensy bit!

Mihail Sebastian: Women – a series of interrelated novellas about a Romanian man abroad and the women he meets, mostly in a romantic context but not only. This is early Sebastian and feels less accomplished than some of his later works, as well as demonstrating a certain amount of mysogyny, which is perhaps more typical of the time and culture, rather than of Sebastian himself (who doesn’t seem to display that in his diaries). Not his best work, but interesting to see his evolution.

Ersi Sotiropoulos: What’s Left of the Night – spend a few days in Paris in this fictionalised account of Cavafy’s awakening to his own sexuality and to his poetic inspiration. As you might know, I am a huge Cavafy fan, so this was an interesting riff, oozing with sensuality and strangeness (a bit like the poet himself).

David Peace: Patient X – Akutagawa Ryunosuke was one of the best Japanese short story writers of all time (the most prestigious literary prize in Japan is named after him). David Peace sticks quite close to Akutagawa’s life and literary influences in this book, but some of the references are quite subtle and not that well known to those outside Japan (the Kappas, for instance). So perhaps one for Japanophiles rather than the casual reader, or those who really like Peace’s fragmentary, rhythmical, hypnotic prose, which works quite well with Akutagawa’s troubled psyche.

Baudelaire: A Self Portrait (in letters, edited and translated by Lois & Francis Hyslop) – well, this one was a surprise! Another poet that I revered as a teenager, it turns out he must have been the most difficult son for a mother to love: constantly in debt, constantly asking for money, chiding his mother for having a life of her own (he hated the man she married after the death of his father), unwilling to ‘corrupt’ his art by getting a real job, falling prey to dodgy women (or so it must have seemed to his mother), prosecuted for indecent verse… And of course, no real success to boast of in his lifetime.

Tove Ditlevsen: Early Spring, transl. Tiina Nunnally – Danish poet, one of the most prolific and well-loved in her home country (although relatively unknown abroad) – this is her memoir of growing up in a poor working-class family in Copenhagen who does not quite appreciate her literary aspirations.

All quite worthy, as you can see, so, for fun:

Christopher Morley: Parnassus on Wheels – charming little book about books and romance and that it’s never too late to break free – what’s not to love? Found it hard to believe that this was written a hundred years ago, it still feels remarkably fresh, like a modern writer writing a novel set in the past.

Mavis Doriel Hay: Death on the Cherwell – another piece of escapism, because who doesn’t love a campus novel, a murder mystery set in Oxford and an excitable group of female undergraduates who try some sleuthing?

Rod Reynolds: Cold Desert Sky – escapism of a different sort, into the gritty world of 1950s Hollywood and Las Vegas (before the latter became the glitzy famous place it is now) – very Chandleresque but more in keeping with our present-day sensibilities

Julia Boyd: Travellers in the Third Reich – this turned out to be so interesting – an account of living through ‘interesting’ times without the advantage of retrospective wisdom. I’ll definitely write a proper review of this later.

Bits and Bobs

May is going to be my month of French revolution – or rather, one in particular – the Paris Commune. And, since it might be quite a mouthful to swallow 5 books on the same topic in just one month, I will embark on some of the reading in April. Plus continue with my #EU27Project. Can I just ask publishers and translators why they want only miserable, earnest, highly experimental books from Eastern Europe? They are making my head ache a little when they come in quick succession one after the other.

In other news, my older son has had a conditional offer for the sixth form of his choice and is going through more mock exams. My younger son’s hairline fracture is getting better, but he has to see a physio and do exercises. What with shepherding them to different schools, doctors, physio appointments and what not else, I’ve had a pretty unsettled time. Exacerbated by braying ultimatums and threats, uncertainty and panic, and offers that keep coming back unchanged, even if they’ve been voted down (that refers to both Brexit and my ex, by the way).

One piece of good news, however: my younger son has mastered the art of the chocolate fondant cake. After many, many attempts that were either too liquid or too hard, he finally created a perfect one. He now ambitiously plans to bake the Apple Rose Custard tart below. Just in time for Mother’s Day, I hope!

Update: the real-life product involved Mum’s close supervision for nearly 2 hours and came out looking like this. In other words, there’s no such things as unicorns. It was quite tasty, though!

Reculegem

There is a Romanian expression: ‘Să luăm o pauză și să ne reculegem.’ Translation: ‘Let’s take a break and gather our thoughts or our forces or our strength.’ There is a similar word in French: ‘recueillir’, and we could potentially say it’s equivalent to ‘recollect’ in English. But it means a lot more than just remembering: it has nuances of ‘meditation’, ‘keeping a minute’s silence’, ‘recovering your equilibrium after an emotional upset’ and so much more.

So why am I launching into this lengthy etymological explanation? I suppose it’s my way of saying that I need a break as my personal life gets more complicated and unpleasant. Previously, I was able to find refuge in reading and writing when things got tough (summer of 2014 – bet you didn’t even notice at the time that things had gone awry). But as things drag on and on even longer than the Brexit negotiations, and with an equally impossible outcome, I need all my strength to cope with the turmoil. I’m finding it very difficult to write reviews or poetry or anything that is not an angry rant.

In other words, it’s time to press the ‘Pause’ button.

Painting by Nicolae Grigorescu

Friday Fun: Prepare Your Workspace

Two months of throat clearing and finger flexing. It’s now time to write! Oh, but first let me find or create the perfect workspace…

Everything in its perfect whimsical place, from anvilthemovie.com
A more comfortable chair might be called for, but this white calming space could bring forth wonders. From beachcomber.blogspot.com
More for crafts and artistic endeavours, but I could live with this tidiness. From Charity Hofert on Flickr.
There is a bit of a nostalgic flavour to my post today, isn’t there? More old-fashioned office from Elizabeth Broderick on Instagram.
Another Instagram beauty, complete with cat.
Finally one that acknowledges our computers, although not necessarily our sensitive backsides, from veropalazzo.com.ar

Friday Fun: Country House Style

As the granddaughter (and great niece) of farmers, I spent every summer in the countryside, but our ‘maison de campagne’ (country house) style looked nothing like the beauties below!

You’ve got to have a great armoire, don’t you? From brico-bistro.com
A big clock is always appreciated. Fun fact: my parents bought a set of chairs like those (but brown) for their wedding and still have them half a century own. Do they count as antiques now? From Marie Claire.
Plenty of room for the whole family to sit and eat, from cotemaison.fr
Although not quite as much fun as my aunt’s table under the grape vines. (Sadly, no personal pictures are available, so this is from casepractice.ro).
Simple fireplace and coloured plates also spell country style, from deavita.fr
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that nearly all of the above are French, so here is an English country cottage interior, from Elegant Home Design.
That’s more like the houses I remember – traditional Romanian peasant house interior, from adelaparvu.com

Recent Reads, February 2019

Not all of the books I read warrant a full review, so here are some short ‘also ran’ mentions. Good comfort reading for a rather stressful month.

Erich Kästner: Emil and the Three Twins, transl. Cyrus Brooks

To be honest, I cannot remember if I read this in my childhood or if I saw a film or TV series, but I do clearly remember certain aspects of it, especially the little island with a palm tree in the North Sea. Sadly, the rest was not quite as fun or good as I thought I remembered: a barely there suspense story and criminal deed, a desperate attempt to bring back the charm and quirky characters of the original Emil stories and a bit too much preachiness (for instance, regarding the relationship between Emil and his mother). If you loved Emil and the Detectives, then I’d recommend The Flying Classroom or Double Lottchen (the original book behind the film The Parent Trap) instead.

Anthony Horowitz: The Word is Murder

What one might call an ‘amuse bouche’ if we were dining at a French restaurant – something to tickle your palate and while away the time while you wait for the main course. Not quite as experimental and ground-breaking as Magpie Murders, but a bit tongue-in-cheek about the author himself, his profession and his bumbling abilities as an amateur detective.

Penelope Lively: Treasures of Time

A TV crew descends on the house of the distinguished (now deceased) archaeologist Hugh Paxton and the Neolitich barrow which made him famous. His widow Laura is delighted, his daughter Kate is dismayed and Kate’s boyfriend Tom is bemused, baffled and rather too pleased with himself. Lively is, as always, such a skilled and detached observer of human nature, although the book has aged a little – it had a very 1970s feel to it.

John Boyne: A Ladder to the Sky

Another book that was great fun and easy to read: psychopaths and narcissists always make for good subject matter, all the more so when it’s set in the literary world. Boyne is clearly playing around with that far too frequently uttered question at literary events: ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ The handsome, self-centred Maurice Swift, who wants to become a prize-winning, famous writer, has got a problem: he has no ideas of his own. So he steals other people’s ideas and stories, breaking hearts, destroying reputations and lives along the way. Maurice is shallow but not too one-dimensional (especially when seen by other people) – however, he is no Ripley. Never once was I tempted to wish him to succeed.

Friday Fun: Fairytales and Magic

Sometimes you just have to allow yourself to be carried away to the land of enchantment.

Almost a gingerbread house in Carmel, California. From hookedonhouses.com
Moroccan splendour, from thevenuereport.com
This must be Rapunzel’s tower, from abouther.com
Fancy a hobbity dwelling in Romania, from Romaniatourstore.com
Russian fairy tale, from boredpanda.com
A floating terrace makes me think of fairytales, from thefancy.com
Last, but not least, this is the perfect garden for meeting Tinkerbell and her mates, from woonblog.eu