29.11.2017 um 19:57 Uhr

Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex

von: magger

(I read it in French)

Vernon, who for a long time run a sort of music-shop in Paris, is compelled to give it up – though he’s a real expert, but the times are a’ changing and everybody has laptops, tablets or smartphones, and nobody needs discs, cassettes or walkmen anymore. Even Vernon himself does his job as DJ with Youtube. But with nearly fifty years he can’t find a job anymore, first he sells everything he owns on E-Bay, then he roams on for a time as a guest of his kiddos and ex-girlfriends until he finally ends on the street. Alex Bleach, black pop singer who did help him financially, accelerates things by his suicide. As a shadow he will follow us further on. Well, we are used to see our heroes suffering (read my lips Feodor Dostojewski!), but mostly in the end they recover again. But not Vernon. The longer it takes, the more he gets turbid.

One after the other Despentes presents us Vernon's friends and other people, sometimes Vernon tells, sometimes these are reflecting, telling us their point of views and their situation too. The author leads us through a panopticum of characters: Despentes language is without mercy, she shows us former punks, gays, porno-stars transvestites, “Arabs”, freaks of the internet, dandies, trendy people, bummers. In doing so she designs an unsparing image of the French society

 Une blonde en doudoune, un cabas rose fuchsia coincé sous le bras, lit le dernier Stephen King, en se tenant à la barre. Une brune à lunettes mâche son chewing-gum, elle a laissé ouvert les boutons du haut de sa chemise noire à pois blancs, elle porte des perles nacrées aux oreilles. Elle a une allure de délurée giscardienne. Un adolescent black, teddy rouge, crâne rasé, lunettes à épaisse monture noire, tape un texto sur son portable, quelque chose semble le contrarier. Un quadragénaire, sac au dos et écouteurs fluo jaunes, est assis les jambes écartées, il n’a pas l’air de connaître la ville.” (too lazy to translate).

In it’s composition and dialectics “Vernon Subutex is quite a little masterpiece: take the fact, that the only real and deep love of the very promiscuous Vernon is just the tranny Marcia, take that porno-star Pamela Kant wants to write a sex-book for kids, the fact that people from very different edges of our society suddenly unite in the pain of their dead dogs. Read how Despentes characterizes the furnishings of former punk and now petite-bourgeoise Emilie in one sentence – or towards the end the book how a tacky street gang kicks a hoodlum into coma...

All the social themes which are of burning importance are developed, even the sighs of right-sided chaps on Islam in France:

Xavier a envie de décocher un formidable coup de pied dans le cul de la grosse Arabe voilée qui se pavane devant lui. Est-ce qu’on pourrait, par pitié, faire deux cents mètres dans la rue sans avoir à supporter leur voile, leur main de Fatima au rétroviseur ou l’agressivité de leurs rejetons ?... Sale race, m’étonne pas qu’on leur en veuille ! Lui, il est là à faire les courses au lieu de bosser parce que sa femme ne veut pas qu’on la prenne pour une bonniche, et pendant ce temps ces sales feignasses de crouilles traînent dehors, peinards, à rien foutre, entre chômeurs grassement entretenus par les allocations, ils passent la journée au café pendant que leurs meufs triment. Non contentes de s’occuper de tout dans la maison sans jamais se plaindre, et d’aller bosser pour les entretenir, elles ressentent encore le besoin de porter le voile pour afficher leur soumission. C’est de la guerre psychologique, ça : c’est fait pour que le mâle français sente comme il est dévalué.”

(“Xavier was tempted to give a kick up the arse to the fat and veiled Arab woman walking in front of him. Is it possible to walk in the streets, only for 200 meters, without having a veil or Fatima’s hand in sight? Dirty race! No wonder they are dogged by bad luck! He is doing couses because his wife don’t wants to be taken as a maid, ... meanwhile this filty types sit in the cafés doing nothing. Their wifes though work hard to nourish the family, then they do the houshold without complaining, but additionally they feel the need to wear headscarf as a sign of submission. This is psychologic war! This serves to show French men their devaluation!” – translation by me)

Now the name “Subutex”: It seems that Subutex is a painkiller. Good for us. Even better for Vernon.

But I had the followin thought too: does “Subutex” mean subtext? The whole book is in fact full of subliminal meanings: We hear Vernons story but we get the state of the French society, wher some groups are left behind with nothing but hate.

The book we read in our group before “Vernon Subutex” was “The Return to Reims” by Didier Eribon. Without being aware of we made a good choice – Eribon and Despentes are treating the same themes, but in quite different ways! Eribon is writing about himself as a gay kid and adult, Despentes remains invisible and describes without any judgement and rather empathic. The more her language is far nearer the people she describes, showing the daily slang they use. Eribon is the typical – male –  French professor. His book is more an essay than a novel, is nice to read, but maybe Foucault could do it better?

Despentes plans a following volume of “Vernon Subutex”. I’m curious about.



12.10.2017 um 15:25 Uhr

Zadie Smith, London NW

von: magger

15.08.2017 um 15:52 Uhr

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

von: magger


How we are used to the common roles of women and men! The women’s everlasting feelings, the male exemplaries of us stuck inside ourselves and inapt to express any emotions... It could remind us of Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo, couldn’t it? It is about time to aproach sex and gender with a fresh mind. It did begin though! Don’t we love the appearance of David Bowie, Brian Molko (the frontman of “Placebo”), Boy George, Tilda Swinton, Michael Stipe, Tanita Tikaram, k.d.lang, Marla Glen, Annie Lennox, Michael Jackson and meanwhile many other singers and actors playing deliberately with genders? Anything seems possible like in the antiques, where nobody was wondering about Hermaphrodites. They were even worshipped as holy people and prophets – see Tiresias, being first a men and changing into woman.

Jeffrey Eugenides’ book is all about this matter. Even the title, “Middlesex”, though mainly an adress of Detroits suburb Grosse Pointe, can be an allusion to the third sex, the gender in the middle of female and male.

Callie Stephanides, our hero, is expieriencing this in her own body, being born as a girl and turning into a boy with 14 years...

She is the teller of our book, sometimes omniscient narrator too, beginning the story even before her birth or consception, telling us about the doings of her parents while away in California or even going inside Father Mike’s head. Actually she/he is 41 years old, living in Berlin, just finding a new girlfriend, doing big flashbacks into the story of her family, her grandparents Desdemona and Lefty, her parents Tessie and Milton, her brother Chapter Eleven, her aunts and uncles.

“Grow up in Detroit and you understand the way of all things. Early on, you are put on close relations with entropy.”

There is but a big lifespace in between Bursa in Anatolia and Detroit. The unifying motive is the silkworm, doing it’s metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly and doing this by spinning itself into cocoons.... In my opinion this is the hidden motive of the whole book.

The main theme though is sex and gender, and we get aware again, how fluent the borders in between sexes are. At one point it even is said about hermaphrodites: we are the new gender, the one of the future. But even samples of the past are cited: The Oracle of Delphi, Tiresias, Homeros, Heraklit with his “panta rhei”, the nymph Salmakis (whose pool,by the way, is to be found in Bodrum!) turning to Hermaphroditos, the poet Sappho...

Eugenides though is very less didactic but always good for a joke. I like his wry sense of humour:

“She didn’t surrender until after Japan had.”

“The days of the harem were over. Bring on the era of the backseat! Automobiles were the new pleasure domes. They turned the common man into a sultan of the open road.”

“I crossed to the intercom and put my mouth against the speaker and said in a deep voice, ‘I’m not going into that church.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Have you seen what they charge for those goddamn candles?’”

“The slight gracelessness of my walk, which Dr. Luce had commented on, predisposed me to join the graceless sex.”

“Sing, Muse, of Greek ladies and their battle against unsightly hair! Sing of depilatory creams and tweezers! Of bleach and beeswax!”

“On sunny days the lake still managed to look blue. Most of the time, however, it was the color of cold pea soup.”

“By April of 1972, Desdemona’s application to join her husband in heaven was still working its way though a vast celestial bureaucracy.”


1st Encore:

Some have the opinion, only the initial story of the village near Bursa, the war in between Turcs and Greeks, the terrible end of Smyrna and the escape of sister and brother to the New World and finally to Detroit is catching, the rest of the book rather boring. I am not in that opinion: I read this thick book until the last page like a police-novel.

2nd Encore:

The figures emerging all along the plot are quite interesting: Peter Tatakis, Jackie Halas, Father Mike, Sourmelina, Aunt Zo, Dr. Philobosian (“Dr. Philobosian smelled like an old couch, of hair oil and spilled soup, of unscheduled naps. His medical diploma looked as if it were written on parchment.”), the prostitute Irini, Captain Kontoulis, Jimmy Zizmo, Sophie Sassoon, Marius Wyxzewixard Challouehliczilczese Grimes, the Charm Bracelets, the Obscure Object, Maxine Grossinger, Mr. Da Silva, Zora, who doesn’t want to be a woman, Bob Presto, Julie Kikuchi and many others.

3rd Encore

All along the book the thesis of the surroundings, the education being important for the gender of someone against that of the genes (“I try to go back in my mind to a time before genetics, before everyone was in the habit of saying about everything, ‘It’s in the genes.”) are elaborated. But finally the author solves the opposite theories by stating, that everybody has her/his own free will.

"What’s the reason for studying history? To understand the present or avoid it?”

Lets end with the motto on the flag of Detroit: “Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus. ‘We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.’”

30.06.2017 um 07:13 Uhr

James Salter, All That is

von: magger

(read in English)

Another book I read two times, but not because it is difficult, but because I love it! Straight away coming to the end I returned to the beginning.

"His mind moved elsewhere, to the great funerary city with its palazzos and quiet canals, the lions that were its feared insignia. 'You know,' he said, 'I’ve been thinking about Venice. I’m not sure Wells was right about the best time to go there. January is so damned cold. I have a feeling it would be better to go before then. So what, if there’re some crowds. I can ask him about hotels.' 'Do you mean it?' 'Yes. Let’s go in November. We’ll have a great time.'"

This is the last paragraph of his novel. In the beginning there are some pages about his being a soldier against the Japanese. The rest is describing his life, his loves, his jobs and his holidays in New York and its surroundings. Salter, though widely unknown, is another of this great American laconic writers. Please read "A sport and a pastime" too!

22.06.2017 um 18:10 Uhr

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

von: magger

(I read it in English, but it is available in other languages and there's even a movie)

Big Bang! Particularly because Margaret Atwood just took the Peace-Prize of German Editors. Though this book isn’t peaceful at all: People are shot, hanged and even lacerated. There’s peace of the graveyard in the whole country since a group of fundamentalistic-religious officers shot most of congressmen and suspended the constitution. Now we have –Old Testament-like – Republic of Gilead. I bet you know the saying: “Who sleeps in Democracy will wake up in dictatorship”?

Gilead is in war, there are even nuclear contaminated regions (the “colonies”). But inside the country there’s a strict order: women are covered and divided in castes, the girls (dressed in white), the wifes (blue) the handmaids (red), the Marthas (green), the Aunts, who control the handmaids (grey). Men are mainly soldiers, guardians, chauffeurs, etc. Handmaids are used for reproduction, as the birthrate is very low and makes big problems. If a wife is not getting pregnant (and this is by law always women’s fault), the handmaid takes their place in a weekly ceremony: she lays in between the legs of the wife and is fucked there by the husband. To get pregnant is life-saving! But the baby has to be given away.

Our story is told by such a handmaid. Her name is “Offred” along the name of the commander (or does it mean”offered”? a nice word game of Atwood). Names and words are strictly regimented and a lot of words are forbidden. The dystopic novel reminds us of Orwell and Huxley, I had some nightmares while reading it, especially when we are told how it all began. But the language is poetic,sharp and precise. So please read it!