Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lydia Davis / Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert / Review by Nick Fraser

Madame Bovary 

by Gustave Flaubert 

– review

Lydia Davis's new translation of Madame Bovary captures for the first time in English the powerfully filmic aspect of Flaubert's narrative
Lydia Davis
American short-story writer Lydia Davis spent three years translating Madame Bovary. Photograph: Theo Cote
I didn't like Madame Bovary when I first encountered the book as a teenager. The story of a suicide of a doctor's wife in rural 1840s Normandy seemed too banal for me. Like many others, I didn't really like Emma, who seemed neither intelligent nor charming. But the book has become one of the few works of fiction that I read again and again, decade by decade, and each time it seems different, as if Flaubert and his heroine were following me through life. It may help that my French family come from the part of Normandy in which Flaubert set his story, but I sense that I would love the book as much if I came from Patagonia.
  1. Madame Bovary (Penguin Hardback Classics)
  2. by Gustave Flaubert
I feel I've seen the expanse of white stocking between Emma's ankle-length boots and her long skirt that so excited Flaubert. Every moment of her terrifying death by arsenic poisoning might be occurring now, before my eyes. I've encountered many versions of the brilliantly rendered discussions about human existence that dot the novel, giving it its sharp, ironic edge. Someone whom I married told me that most women think of life as negatively as Emma did. Thirty years later I am still wondering whether this is true. When my French mother was 92, I found myself arguing about the book with her. She said that she had never met a woman as stupid as Emma, but I was convinced that Emma was far from stupid. She just had the wrong ideas about life and – in a modern way, for which I couldn't reproach her – felt entitled to them.
There is no Shakespeare in French literature, and Hugo and Balzac don't quite fit the bill. My mother was a Proustian, capable of reinterpreting a host of his observations for her own life. I do that, too, but Madame Bovary fills another gap. Every observation of Flaubert's has gone into French life with the force of a large meteorite. I like to look at the impact, in other novels, in films, even in photography. But I also know that I shall never really comprehend the full extent of the damage done to our illusions by Flaubert's great book.
"A good sentence in prose," declares Flaubert, "should be like a good line in poetry, unchangeable, as rhythmic and sonorous." But Flaubert writes in a variety of styles, some low, some high. He taught us to read novels for their style, and yet his own masterpiece deprives one of such comfort. It is absurd to insist, as Flaubert did, that Madame Bovary is not a work of realism. As his very un-Flaubertian contemporary Zola observed, the book is profoundly, shatteringly real.
Are we capable of being truthful? Do human beings ever really tell the truth about the things that really matter? "Madame Bovary, c'est moi," Flaubert exclaimed. He seems to say either that we should tell the truth but don't, or, worse, that we cannot: "... None of us can ever express the exact measure of our needs," he observes in what must be the book's most celebrated mot, "or our ideas, or our sorrows, and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we beat our tunes for bears to dance to, when we long to move the stars to pity."
This is the 20th English translation of Madame Bovary. Lydia Davis is an accomplished American short-story writer and translator of Proust. She she recently that she didn't much like the character of Emma, and spent three years on the book. (Flaubert took four and a half years to write the original.) Sometimes Davis's staid American idioms remind me of the genteel locutions of the literary folk in Tom Rachman's recent comic novel The Imperfectionists, set in a failed American newspaper in Europe. Something of provincial France – the sheer crudeness of much of the dialogue, its obsessive rehashing of vulgar cliche – has gone badly missing. Davis isn't alert enough to the sheer range of Flaubert's progressive bêtes noires.
It is just not plausible to suggest, as Davis does, that the pharmacist and would-be politician Homais, with his ugly children and republican Phrygian caps, is one of the more sympathetic characters. Homais writes a piece suggesting that Emma mistakenly dipped her hand in the arsenic jar while making a cake. Emma, of course, never baked a cake in her life, and this is a feeble lie contrived to save the pharmacist's skin. Not incorrectly, Flaubert believed that most of the public discourse of his time consisted of lies.
But I don't agree with the eminent Flaubertians (Julian Barnes among them) who find Davis's efforts clunky. Emma's passions extend to shopping as well as sex, and the connection is spelled out by Davis's spare prose. She has also caught for the first time in English the powerfully filmic aspect of Flaubert's narrative – the way in which he is able to cut without apparent effort between close-ups and wide shots. In a Greenwich Village cinema, I once encountered a half-ruined print of Jean Renoir's 1932 version. Emma was plumper than I had imagined, Charles even glummer. But you could see the characters struggle, always failing. Against the odds, Davis has performed a similar act of transposition, creating a Madame Bovary for our time.
Nick Fraser is editor of Storyville, the BBC's documentary strand

Real also
Biography of Lydia Davis

Sunday, November 14, 2010

How Christine Keeler provided inspiration for Giacometti

 Christine Keeler, a key figure in the 1963 Profumo Scandal which rocked the government, was the subject of intimate sketches by the sculptor Alberto Giacometti. Photograph: Popperfoto/Popperfoto/Getty Images

How Christine Keeler provided inspiration for Giacometti

As the Profumo scandal raged, the artist Alberto Giacometti was fascinated by a French news report and dashed off some previously unknown sketches

Dalya Alberge
Sunday 14 November 2010

Dozens of previously unknown sketches by the artist and sculptor Alberto Giacometti have come to light, including impromptu drawings of Christine Keeler, the showgirl whose 1960s affair with Conservative minister John Profumo shook the British establishment.

Nine months ago, one of Giacometti's sculptures sold for £65m. Now the Swiss artist's family has allowed his biographer, the distinguished art historian Michael Peppiatt, access to the collection for a major new book and a loan exhibition. The unseen images reveal Giacometti at his most intimate and unselfconscious.
Giacometti seems to have taken his inspiration for the Keeler sketch from a 1963 French newspaper report. A series of nude female figures sketched across a page from France-Soir is thought to represent her. The collection also contains sculptures, paintings and drawings not seen since they left his dilapidated studio in Paris. Another find is an art book owned by Giacometti which he used to produce a striking drawing of Van Gogh's self-portrait.
Another previously unknown sketch appears across a torn-out page of L'Express, a 1964 edition with a report on Lee Harvey Oswald, President John Kennedy's assassin. Giacometti scribbled over Oswald's photograph, giving him a beard and scrawling across the page the repeated word continuare ("to go on") and the phrase "the busts were made quickly, and a painting this evening, the drawings soon". The words seem to convey Giacometti's constant urge to push himself into yet more work. The artist, who died in 1966, obsessively scrutinised his work for hints of failure, always destroying works that did not match his vision. Peppiatt said that the newspaper sketches showed that drawing was fundamental for Giacometti. "Drawing was a form of instinctive thinking for him. He was never without a pencil in his hand or a fag in his mouth," he explained.

Peppiatt, an art critic for the Observer during the 1960s, recalled his excitement at being given access to the images, taken from a collection owned by the widow of Giacometti's nephew, Silvio Berthoud: "There is something very intimate about these works. I was allowed to choose from 300 drawings. I was deeply moved. I felt that Giacometti was almost there with me … as if his drawings were dropping from his hands. He had scribbled over the inside covers of books, doodled on bits of paper in cafes." Some of the unknown images are in Peppiatt's forthcoming book, In Giacometti's Studio, and a loan exhibition he has curated at the Eykyn Maclean gallery in New York.
Through newly published letters, Peppiatt offers new insight into Giacometti, the man and his art. He has delved into the artist's relationships, notably his doomed affair with Isabel Rawsthorne, a raucous, bohemian painter and model.
Peppiatt said: "Isabel was a terrifying animal, a man-eater. She was having affairs with both sexes and drinking everybody under the table. He was ambivalent towards women. What he liked were prostitutes. Giacometti was both attracted and repelled by Isabel." Feelings of despair emerge from their letters, Peppiatt said. In one, Giacometti wrote: "I didn't think your stay was a washout, Isabel, otherwise I wouldn't have felt so upset when you left. My throat was tight. I was sobbing inside."
Peppiatt also casts light on the artist's friendship with Samuel Beckett. Describing Giacometti's skeletal figures as a visual embodiment of the Irish writer's pared down prose, he said: "They had the same nocturnal habits. They'd bump into one another in Montparnasse around midnight, go to the same brothels together and walk home together." He tried to imagine their conversations as they strolled the deserted streets. "I researched and researched, following every line of inquiry, until I came to the truth," he recalled. These 20th-century geniuses would walk in "deep, utter, total silence", he said.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Row over Vince Vaughn's 'gay insult' in Ron Howard film

Vince Vaughn
 Actor Vince Vaughn's use of the word 'gay' as an insult in the new Ron Howard movie, The Dilemma, has sparked a row. Photograph: Danny Moloshok/AP

Row over Vince Vaughn's 'gay insult' in Ron Howard film

Offending scene cut from online versions of trailer for The Dilemma after gay pressure group protests
Ben Child
Wed 13 Oct 2010
The US release of Oscar-winning director Ron Howard's new comedy, The Dilemma, has been overshadowed by a row over a scene in which star Vince Vaughn uses the word "gay" as an insult.
CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper first raised the issue on his TV show, Anderson Cooper 360°, after viewing a trailer for the movie which features the scene. Pressure group the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) followed up on Monday by urging its supporters to contact studio Universal and demand that the "offensive" promo be removed from cinemas.
The offending scene, which has now been cut from online versions of the trailer, sees Vaughn in a boardroom delivering a presentation about electric cars. He tells his colleagues: "Electric cars are gay. I mean, not homosexual gay, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay."
GLAAD itself has also come in for criticism over its handling of the affair, with some suggesting that the body moved too slowly to take Universal to task and is too close to the media organisations it was set up to monitor.
The Dilemma sees Vaughn as a man who is unsure if he should tell his best friend and business partner (Kevin James) that his wife (Winona Ryder) is cheating on him. It is due to arrive in cinemas in the US in January.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Nemesis by Philip Roth / Review by Tim Martin

Nemesis by Philip Roth: review

The late flowering of the American novelist Philip Roth’s work is one of the best surprises in modern literature. Tim Martin examines his 31st book, Nemesis, in which he strips back his rhetoric and flirts with his own demise

Readers of Philip Roth have grown used to taking little at face value, particularly if it relates to Philip Roth: this last standing titan of the American novel has a long track record of playing with the truth. The Facts (1988), purportedly “a novelist’s autobiography”, was interspersed with splenetic hijacks from the author’s favourite alter ego, the fictional writer Nathan Zuckerman. Operation Shylock (1993) bore the subtitle “a Confession” and the postscript “This confession is false”, while The Counterlife (1986) was a novel whose five main parts each contradicted the others. Indeed, the author has been famously quoted as saying that “Making fake biography, false history, concocting a half-imaginary existence out of the actual drama of my life, is my life.”

So it’s hard to know what to make of two striking bits of information in Nemesis, Roth’s 31st book, which are left — deliberately? carelessly? – lying around on the paratextual sidelines. The first, given the gloomy, death-haunted tone of the recent fiction, strikes a distantly worrying note: it comes in a line at the end of the author bio, which for some years now has justly boasted that Roth is “the only living novelist to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America”. This most recent crop of British editions, however, has acquired a biographical postscript declaring that “The last of nine volumes is scheduled for publication in 2013.”
Roth is now 77, and his late flowering of work has been one of the best surprises in modern American literature: at least four of the 12 books he published after turning 60 in 1993 are commonly hailed as among his finest, and for the past five years he has published a book each autumn, a rate of productivity that puts writers half his age to shame. Can he really be announcing his retirement in a throwaway sentence in his blurb? Or is this talent for misdirection — what Roth calls his “serious mischief” — finding its way out of the novels and on to the endpapers as well?
Amid such confusion the reader enters the new book, and almost instantly encounters another quiet revelation. Roth’s fictions have frequently availed themselves of recurring characters, each more or less a surrogate for their irrepressibly tormented and loquacious author, and the bibliography inside each new work naturally groups them under the name of their protagonists — the Zuckerman books, the Kepesh books, the Roth books and so on. With Nemesis, though, there appears a new category. EverymanIndignation and The Humbling, three of the terse novellas that Roth has published since 2006, are now filed, along with this year’s offering, under “Nemeses: Short Novels”.
At first this looks merely like an odd piece of legacy-management, a late attempt to impose cohesion on four books that have been more divisively received than almost anything else in the author’s career. John Banville hailed Indignation, for example, as a late masterpiece; Christopher Hitchens said it showed an author “repeatedly fouling his own nest”; and critics of the others divided along roughly similar lines. None of the four books shares a protagonist, or even a cast member. Only two of them take place in Newark, Roth’s birthplace, which forms the spiritual and geographical focus for many of his novels. And the situations they explore bear no instantly striking similarities: Everyman is a dark and sardonic post-mortem on the life of an advertising executive, while Indignation retells the downfall of a college student in small-town America during the Korean War. Last year’s The Humbling infamously followed a blocked actor as he seduces a lesbian half his age before committing suicide, while Nemesis, Roth’s new novel, is about a PE teacher who lives through a polio epidemic in New Jersey in the Forties.

But with the release of Nemesis — the last of the Nemeses, as we may yet learn to call them — a measure of retroactive cohesion begins to operate. The new book tells the story of Bucky Cantor, a fit young specimen of American manhood who works as a playground supervisor in the Weequahic area of New Jersey, in the summer of 1944. The Allies are on their way through Italy, but Cantor’s poor eyesight makes him unfit for service: so he stays in America, stalked by a powerful sense of shame that he submerges in teaching the neighbourhood children “never to allow themselves to be pushed around or, just because they knew how to use their brains, to be defamed as Jewish weaklings and sissies”.
Neither strength nor compassion, however, are any use against poliomyelitis, a disease that in 1944 was still a good six years away from an etiology or cure. As children begin to die off one by one and the Jewish community draws in on itself in grief, then fear, then hysteria, the basic props of Cantor’s existence begin to fall away. Raging against God, “cold-blooded murderer of children,” he flees town for a job at a summer camp with his girlfriend, only to find his conscience tormenting him for running away. As the epidemic develops, Cantor finds himself pinned between desire and duty, and — since this is late Roth, after all — being dragged, grimly and inexorably, under life’s steamroller.
Like every Roth novel in the past five years, Nemesis is told in a narrative voice that sometimes borders on the pallid. The unmistakable Roth delivery — that inimitably juicy, excoriating, grandstanding blend of the demotic and the literary that peaks in ranting splendour in the best of his long novels — is here reduced to a narrative voice that seems to flirt with banality. Unless we’re to assume that Roth has simply suffered literary collapse, an allegation that the striking scenic form in these late novellas in no way bears out, he must be up to something. In Exit Ghost, the novel from 2007 in which he finally dismissed his long-standing alter ego Nathan Zuckerman, he gave Zuckerman’s mentor, the writer Lonoff, a dying speech that seemed to hint at a new position on writing: “The end is so immense, it is its own poetry. It requires little rhetoric. Just state it plainly.”
This is, of course, the kind of proposition that protagonists like Mickey Sabbath, the grandiloquent declining satyr of Sabbath’s Theater, would have laughed out of the room. Sabbath spends the entire book (one of Roth’s very greatest) resolving to do away with himself, only prevented from doing so in the book’s famous last line because “Everything he hated was here.” Such earlier protagonists approached the great immutables of sex, God and death with biting anger and grandiose rhetoric: this was stuff they took personally.
But the fight has gone out of Roth’s late protagonists. There’s a terrible moment in Exit Ghost when Roth’s veteran surrogate Zuckerman, now neutered, incontinent and humiliated, suffers the most embarrassing kind of writerly senior moment: he blanks on a famous quotation. The passage he fails to remember is the one in T S Eliot’s “Little Gidding”, in which the speaker meets a “compound ghost” that pitilessly discloses to him what to expect as he grows older. “Beyond that I cannot go,” Zuckerman tells himself. “A frightful prophecy follows that I don’t remember. I’ll look it up when I get home.” He never has the nerve to do so, but any reader who does will find the passage that seems to lie behind these late books: get ready, the ghost announces, for

the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to
And last, the rending pain of
Of all that you have done, and
been; the shame
Of motives late revealed, and
the awareness
Of things ill done and done to
others’ harm
Which once you took for exercise
of virtue.

If Roth’s mid-period novels are masterpieces of sarcastic choler, then the prevailing humour in this late quartet is black bile. In two of them, the protagonist is dead before the book begins: another ends in bathos with a successful suicide attempt, as though in rebuke to the author who created Mickey Sabbath. Even the writing comes to seem deliberately clumsy, as though the author, in full retreat from trickery, has forsworn his arsenal to cede the stage to the banality of disappointment, age and death. The cumulative mass of sorrow and dread has undeniable blunt force, but it’s hard not to be thankful that Roth considers his experiment in nemesis to be at an end. These elusive excursions into literary self-cancellation would make a bitter farewell to writing.
* Tim Martin is a journalist who lives in Paris
by Philip Roth
304pp, Jonathan Cape

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Author, author / Philip Pullman calls time on the present tense


Philip Pullman calls time on the present tense

If every sound you emit is a scream, a scream has no expressive value. What I dislike about the present-tense narrative is its limited range of expressiveness

Philip Pullman
Sat 18 Sep ‘10 00.06 BST

Last week, the Daily Telegraph printed a story headlined "Philip Pullman and Philip Hensher criticise Booker prize for including present-tense novels".

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nelly Kaprielian / A Week in Culture

A Week in Culture: Nelly Kaprielian, Critic

September 15, 2010 | by Nelly Kaprielian


10:00 A.M. How can you tell when a novel is great? When, even on a second reading, you keep discovering new things, you keep being amazed, impressed, amused, when the text keeps making you think about the world and your own life. That's how it is with Michel Houellebecq's new novel, La Carte et le Territoire. I just finished rereading it this morning in preparation for my interview with him tonight. The book comes out September 8 and already—ever since August 20—the press has been full of raves.
Every Houellebecq novel is an event. The only real phenomenon in French letters, and the only French author known abroad, Houellebecq has certainly paid a price: to be idolized like a rock star, yes, but also hated, scorned, dragged through the mud by his idolators. Since The Elementary Particles came out in 1998, Les Inrockuptibles has stood by Houellebecq, defending him against the unfounded attacks that greeted one of his best books, The Possibility of an Island, in 2005. Out of loyalty, Houellebecq has granted us the first in-depth interview about the book, and the only long interview in a serious weekly. Needless to say, such loyalty is rare in the literary world. Ironically, thanks to the new book, Houellebecq finds himself lionized yet again by the press. Whenever a book of his appears, the media’s reaction tells you as much about them as about the book itself.
11:00 A.M. It hasn’t got any sex in it, no swingers’ clubs, no Thai whores. The novel, which is less angry and less polemical than his previous work, will be read on its own terms, simply as a great book: a total novel, a metaphysical labyrinth of dizzying complexity, a vision of the world that we once knew and have lost to globalization. No, it isn’t exactly funny. And yet Houellebecq manages to combine his despair with an irony that draws you helplessly in. It strikes me that this is why I do my job—why all critics do—for the intense feeling, for the adrenaline rush, of discovering a work of genius. If it wasn’t eleven in the morning, I’d pour myself a shot of vodka.
12:00 P.M.. At the office, in Bastille. I have other people’s reviews to edit, headlines to write (trying to be witty, to think up puns … a nightmare), etc. But first I can’t resist going straight to the editor of the TV section and begging him—on bended knees, with clasped and trembling hands—to let me borrow season three of Mad Men. That’s one advantage of working for a culture journal. You can get all 13 episodes at once, and watch five in one night. Ecstasy.
5:40 P.M. Houellebecq’s novel features a misanthropic alcoholic named Michel Houellebecq, who says at one point: “You know, it’s the journalists who’ve given me the reputation of a drunk: what’s odd is that none of them ever realized that, if I drink a lot in their presence, it’s only so I can stand them.”
I pick up a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.
6:07 P.M. Houellebecq is … Houellebecquian. The Ritz? The Meurice? The Plaza? No. While in Paris he stays at a completely crummy chain hotel—in the 13th Arrondissement, no less, the same neighborhood where his main character, the artist Jed Martin, lives. The room is depressing enough to make you want to jump out the window. Pajamas balled up on the unmade bed, electric toothbrush recharging on the table. The usual slow delivery, the usual long silence before every sentence, the usual cigarette in the corner of his mouth. And yet he has changed: he’s thinner, his face is more deeply lined, his eyes seem washed out, he seems exhausted. It worries me. “Thank you for the champagne, but I already picked up a bottle. We’ll drink them both.” And so we do.
10:30 P.M. Michel orders a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape at the Moroccan restaurant where he has taken me to dinner.
11:35 P.M. He has fallen fast asleep on the table. What to do? The kind waitress hails a taxi, I shake Michel by the shoulders to wake him up, help him to his feet and put him in the car. “Where are we?” he asks, still half asleep. In the taxi he finally recognizes the 13th Arrondissement and seems reassured. I tell him that the most worrying thing, for me, is that I seem able to hold my liquor better than … Michel Houellebecq himself. “Yes, but you have practice, what with all those literary cocktail parties they make you attend.” All is well: he has got back his sense of humor.
11:55 P.M. In front of his hotel we smoke a few more cigarettes while the taxi waits to take me home. “Alcohol, you know, is a thing of my youth. I don’t drink the way I used to. I’m old now, and I don’t think I have much longer to go. La Carte et le Territoire may be my last book … “ Touching, moving, sincere, brilliant, funny, utterly down-to-earth … An interview with Michel Houellebecq is not like an interview with anybody else. No doubt about it, I love the guy.


9:30 A.M. Not even a hangover! I call my head editor, who is dying to know how things went with Michel H. He’s thrilled when I told him the whole story: “Write all of that in your article, starting in the taxi on the way there.” He's right, naturally, only I hate articles that start with some cut-rate gonzo cliché about being in the taxi before an interview. Above all, I hate the kind of journalism that reduces a great writer to his biography for the sake of a profile. I recently read an article in a British paper about Bret Easton Ellis’s new book—and all it talked about was his bad relationship with his father. (While we’re at it, what about his dog?)
10:30 A.M. Starting to write my article about another great book: Summertime, by J. M. Coetzee. A fictional autobiography told by five narrators (mostly women) who mattered in Coetzee’s life (he is dead when the book begins). To hear the women tell it, he’s cold, shy, repressed, a bad lover, and they didn’t fall in love with him. He’s ridiculous and pathetic. Coetzee dwells on the distance between life and literature, the difference between the writer as his readers imagine him and as he, disappointingly, is. I have interviewed billions of writers. I’ve dated some. And of course Coetzee’s point amuses me deeply. He’s so right!
12:00 P.M. There is a funny similarity between Coetzee’s and Houellebecq’s books. Each writes about himself, presenting himself as pathetic—and, sooner or later, as dead. Each kills himself through fiction. Houellebecq describes himself as lonely, depressed, dirty, drunk all the time, eating junk food, spending his days watching cartoons on TV. Yesterday he was telling me that he took an intense masochistic pleasure in writing about himself that way. Also, he has turned up as a character in other people’s novels, and he likes showing all of these writers who used him that they could have done a better job. Indeed!
In his own way, Coetzee is making it impossible to write a biography after his death. No one, in speaking of those two, can do worse than they have done. Each novel is a sort of master class.
2:30 P.M. At the office. Not much going on, to tell the truth. Can’t wait to go home and watch Mad Men.
7:30 P.M. Oh, no ! I forgot I have a dinner party to go to. So much for Mad Men. Fortunately, Élodie, who works for a publishing house, lives just up the street. There are two other book critics there. Each manages the culture or book section of a weekly magazine. Each of us has brought someone from outside the business, so we do our best not to talk about literature. But it’s like asking junkies not to talk about drugs. After lots of champagne (in France, a good book critic is a critic who drinks, I wouldn’t trust a sober one…), we crack. “What did you think of X?” “Did you read Y?” blah blah blah. I pity our friends, who seem to be standing on the sidelines of a game whose rules nobody’s bothered to explain.
3:20 A.M. I notice my watch on the floor—what is my watch doing on the floor? I never, ever lose that watch. Or almost never. Pick it up and realize it’s after three. Standing up to leave, I also realize we’re all drunk.


9:00 A.M. Hungover. And wouldn't you know it, this morning I have to go on national TV (and not just national: France 24 is broadcast in other countries too) to talk about that typically French phenomenon known as the "rentrée littéraire." Every year, at the end of August, French publishers bring out about 700 books, all at once, hoping for a shot at one of the literary prizes that get awarded in October and November—most famously (and always most controversially) the Prix Goncourt.
10:45 A.M. I begged the makeup woman to camouflage my Elephant Man eyes, whatever it took. Now I have the eyes of an Elephant Man who tried really hard to look pretty.
11:00 A.M. Why are the offices of a TV station always spacious, neat, futuristic, beautiful--when the offices of a print journal are always a pigsty? The program starts. The interviewer asks the ritual question, the same one they asked last year and will ask again a year from now: "Seven hundred books—isn't that too many?"
It's funny, in June or July, while I'm trying to select the best novels for our special rentrée issue, I hate that figure, 700. I spend every night all summer reading while normal people are out on some café terrace having fun. But by late August, when it's all over, and when they ask me the question, I always answer, "Would you prefer to live in a country that published only three books a year?"
Choice is freedom. And if some of the books don't get read, too bad. A good book will always find readers.
11:30 A.M. The preordained question about the new Michel Houllebecq: "Everyone says it's a masterpiece. True or false?" No question about it, he's the star of the rentrée.
Forgive me. How can I help writing about him every day?
1:00 P.M. Back to work. Meetings, tension, soul-searching. All par for the course, since the magazine is being completely redesigned and relaunched on September 15. I'm happy because we managed to keep our book section long, with real reviews and not just advertorial capsules. Nowadays you can't take a thing like that for granted.
8:30 P.M. Mad Men and herbal tea. Everyone has a theory about Mad Men. Mine is that our era has reduced women to two choices about their bodies—puritanical guilt (the burka, the chador, anorexia) and pornography (fake boobs, fake blonds, muscles, tramp stamps, etc.)—and we're nostalgic for a time when a woman could dare to have a woman's body, when a woman could be comfortable with her sensuality, her breasts, her dress size, her legs. The dresses on Mad Men show everything, even as they hide everything, and that's what makes them so provocative in 2010.
Today Christina Hendricks's breasts are a thousand times more subversive than any tatooed lower back.

 Nelly Kaprielian is a critic and editor in Paris, France.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mad Men's Jon Hamm is the talk of The Town

Mad Men's Jon Hamm is the talk of The Town

Star of award-winning US drama takes a break from his day job playing an ad man to promote new Ben Affleck movie at the Venice film festival
Xan Brooks in Venice
Thursday 9 September 2010 15.51 BST

 Jon Hamm as FBI special agent Adam Frawley in The Town, directed by Ben Affleck

It seemed significant that the biggest cheers at the Venice press conference for The Town were not for Ben Affleck, the film's director and star. Nor were they for the British actor Rebecca Hall or for Jeremy Renner, the Oscar-nominated star of The Hurt Locker. Instead they went to Mad Men mainstay Jon Hamm, a small-screen actor who has come to eclipse his big-screen counterparts.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

My hero / David Lynch by Paul Murray

David Lynch

My hero: 

David Lynch by Paul Murray

'He's violent and original, but most of all he's brave'

Paul Murray
Sat 14 Aug 2010

was 15 when Twin Peaks, David Lynch's surreal murder-mystery-soap-opera, first aired on TV. Until then, I'd found the suburbs of Dublin where I grew up almost terminally boring. They were art-proof; there was nothing interesting you could say about them – or so I thought. Lynch's dreamlike vision of suburbia uncovered the violence, mystery and dark magic of a world that I, in my naivety, had dismissed. Spectral white horses appeared in living rooms, detectives practised Zen; in the bravura opening sequence of one episode, a terrifying journey down a network of fibrous tunnels was revealed to be a close-up of an ordinary ceiling tile. Everything held an unknowable secret; for me, that was an invaluable lesson.

Beneath the surrealism, Lynch's work abides by fiercely held principles. While in some ways he is an old-school romantic, with a fondness for beautiful ingénues and the kind of clean-cut heroes you find only on the screen, his films are defiantly unconventional. For all our postmodernity, we remain quite traditional in our regard for logic, and a film such as Lost Highway, whose antihero, without explanation, turns into someone else halfway through, is genuinely shocking.
Look Lynch up on YouTube and you'll find a polite, soft-eyed man with a carefully swirled quiff and a dark suit, probably making a speech about Transcendental Meditation. I don't know much about his life, but he seems a good example of Flaubert's dictum about being regular and orderly in your life so you can be violent and original in your work. He's violent and original, but most of all he's brave. It takes real courage not to make sense. The scariest thing about making art is that you don't know what you're doing; the temptation to fall back on established forms is a strong one. Lynch has the ability to trust in nothing but his vision, and for all its weirdness, that vision is one of great beauty – the expression of an almost childlike fascination with and love for the world.