Monday, 30 April 2007

Hit or myth?

It's probably not often you're going to hear me talking about French literature on here, my experience of it being severely limited by the fact that I failed miserably to learn French (and German) at school.
In fact, my reading of French literature is pretty much limited to two books (I'm not counting history here, though Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks sticks in the memory as an entertaining but bloodthirsty read. Or Asterix, come to that) - L'Etranger, by Camus, and Le Grand Meaulnes, by Alain-Fournier. Saturday's Guardian contained this lengthy article on the latter, much of which I found myself agreeing with. I'd take issue with one or two of the comparisons it draws with The Great Gatsby, because I don't think the events of the latter are anything like as improbable, but maybe that's me jumping to the defence of a favourite novel, and anyway it's probably missing the point.
I'm speaking from memory here, and a pretty cluttered memory at that, because I've only read Le Grand Meaulnes once, about ten years ago, but I think its lasting appeal has something to do with the fact that it works on a mythical level. In the true sense of the word myth, that is, meaning a profound truth contained in a wholly invented setting. And myths can be full of improbabilities, and still work fine, can't they?
Secondly, as Tobias Hill suggests in this earlier Guardian article, it might be one of those books that needs to be read at a particular time in your life, in the same way that The Catcher In The Rye does. I might have been too old to fully appreciate it at age 27, having bought a copy after being intrigued by the title on my sister's French language copy. I remember thinking that the first half created a wonderful, unique atmosphere, which was let down a little by the seeming inconsistencies in the second half of the book. But anyway, I'll read it again now, try to imagine myself first discovering it as a teenager, and see how I feel.
It was a bit of a coincidence finding that Tobias Hill piece when I Googled LGM - his Nocturne In Chrome And Sunset Yellow arrived in the post this morning. I look forward to getting into it.

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