vendredi 28 octobre 2016

Dernière soirée à Tenerife : l'automne des Canaries me manque déjà...

   Ma semaine de vacances à Tenerife touche à sa fin; demain, je prendrai à regret l'avion pour retrouver le ciel bas et gris de Londres au mois de novembre. Pour ma dernière soirée, je vais me promener le long du Paseo maritimo et goûter la douceur de l'air des îles Canaries, une atmosphère tropicale intemporelle qui attire chaque année des millions de visiteurs dans cet archipel volcanique situé à quelques centaines de kilomètres des côtes africaines. Une fois rentré à Londres, je pourrai toujours me consoler en relisant ce texte dans lequel Saint-Amant, poète baroque du XVIIème siècle (1594 - 1661), célèbre l'automne dans cette terre fertile bénie de Bacchus et de Pomone (déesse romaine des fruits et des arbres fruitiers). L'automne des Canaries me manque déjà...

L'automne des Canaries

Voici les seuls coteaux, voici les seuls vallons
Où Bacchus et Pomone ont établi leur gloire ;
Jamais le riche honneur de ce beau territoire
Ne ressentit l'effort des rudes aquilons.

Les figues, les muscats, les pêches, les melons
Y couronnent ce dieu qui se délecte à boire ;
Et les nobles palmiers, sacrés à la victoire,
S'y courbent sous des fruits qu'au miel nous égalons.

Les cannes au doux suc, non dans les marécages
Mais sur des flancs de roches, y forment des bocages
Dont l'or plein d'ambroisie éclate et monte aux cieux.

L'orange en même jour y mûrit et boutonne,
Et durant tous les mois on peut voir en ces lieux
Le printemps et l'été confondus en l'automne.

Marc-Antoine Girard de SAINT-AMANT (1594-1661), Poésies

dimanche 16 octobre 2016

A disappointing New York novel by Jay McInerney: Bright, Precious Days

    Jay McInerney ranks amongst my favorite contemporary American writers, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading his previous New York novels, Brightness falls (1992) and The Good Life  (2006). Thus, when I heard that he had written a sequel with the same characters, I immediately rushed to buy a copy and relished the prospect of reading it. Alas! The third volume of McInerney's trilogy is such a disappointment that I dropped it halfway through. Athough the novel, like its predecessors, is highly inspired by the mythic presence of New York, it lacks structure and plot, and in the end boils down to a series of anecdotes and names about people and places in the great city. To be fair, there are moments of brilliances here and there, but they are not  enough to offset the absence of a story, and as a reader, after a few attempts, I quickly lost interest.

dimanche 2 octobre 2016

A very British social satire: Decline and Fall, by Evelyn Waugh

   Evelyn's Waugh's first novel, Decline and Fall, became an instant success when it was published in 1928. The book immediately appealed to a large number of readers, and was praised for its humorous social satire of British society in the early twentieth century. Having read it, I must admit that I did not particularly enjoy it.

   The novel tells the picaresque misadventures of Paul Pennyfeather, a young man who is expelled from Oxford University for indecent behavior after a prank from his fellow students of Scone college. Losing financial support from his guardian, he is forced to take a job as a teacher at Lllanaba Castle, in Northern Wales. There, he meets his new colleagues, and soon becomes acquaninted with the honorable Mrs Margot Best-Chetwynde, an upper class lady secretly runs a prostitution business in Latin America. Paul becomes infatuated with her, and they soon start making wedding plans. On the eve of their highly anticipated wedding, Paul is arrested and thrown into prison because of the role which he played on a mission for Margot's illegal business. Ultimately, Margot makes arrangements to get him out of jail, but the fickle high society lady marries someone else. In the end, Paul goes back to Scone college at Oxford and starts a new life in disguise.

   The novel touches upon some very British themes, including social class, education, racism, justice,  marriage. It is a brutally ironic description of a class system where the Oxbridge-educated 'Old Boys' protect their own at the expense of social justice. This is probably the aspect of the book which I enjoyed the most, and I think it is best summed up in the delightful section in which Paul is sentenced to prison: 'Margot Best-Chetwynde's name was not mentioned, though the juge in passing sentence remarked that 'non one could be ignorant of the callous insolence with which, on the very eve of the arrest or the most infamous of crimes, the accused had been prepared to join his name with one honoured in his country's history, and to drag down to his own pitiable depths of depraity a lady of beauty, rank and stainless reputation.  The just censure of sociey', remarked the judge, 'is accorded to those so inconstant and intemperate that they must take their pleasure in the unholy market of humanity that still sullies the fame of our civilization; but for the traders themselves, these human vampires who prey upon the degradation of their species, society had reserved the right of ruthless suppression.' So Paul was sent off to prison, and the papers headed the column they reserve for home events of minor importanece with PRISON FOR EX SOCIETY BRIDEGROOM. JUDGE ON HUMAN VAMPIRES, and there, as far as the public was concerned,  the matter ended.'

    Outside of these flashes of brilliant irony, I must admit that I found it hard to sustain my interest in the misfortunes of Paul Pennyfeather, whose story I found confusing and sometimes grotesque. Anyway, it is still a book worth reading for anyone interested in British society.