A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.
Samuel Johnson 1709-84
This week I’ve been reading where my inclination took me. I’ve been tempted to re-read old favourites through thinking and writing about the books I read five years ago, particularly the Iris Murdoch books and then looking at books on my bookshelves set me off again.
But in the end I concentrated on my current reading and finished The Hidden by Tobias Hill. I need to think about it more before writing about it. I also read a bit more of both Suite Francaise and The Various Flavours of Coffee, and also started Tartan Tragedy by Antonia Fraser, although I’ve not read much of it yet. This is set on a remote island in the Scottish Highlands. There is a forbidding stone house, a family feud, Scottish nationalism and a couple of suspicious deaths. Jemima Shore, on holiday is drawn into the mystery.
From Scotland I moved to France, reading the opening pages of Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier in preparation for the discussion on 14th February over at Cornflower’s book group. I haven’t managed to get the same edition as Cornflower’s as I’ve borrowed the book from the library. There were several copies held in the County Reserve stock (kept in the basement of the building next door to the library), one in French. My copy is a Penguin Twentieth Century Classic, published in 1966 with no introduction. From the back cover:
A classic of immaturity and adolescence … told with lucidity, grace and even magic.
The only novel by a brilliant young man who was killed in action in 1914 at the age of twenty-seven, it is a masterly exploration of the twilight world between boyhood and manhood, with its mixture of idealism, realism and sheer caprice.
I was wondering about “Meaulines”, not sure what it means or how to pronounce it. “Le Grand Meaulines” is what the boys called Augustin Meaulines. Fortunately there is a footnote on page 18 by the Translator (Frank Davison), explaining that he has not translated the title because no English adjective conveys all the shades of meaning of “grand” which takes on overtones as the story progresses. It could mean the tall, the big, the protective, the almost grown up – even the great Meaulines, or “good old Meaulines” and it is pronounced like the English word “moan”.
Here’s a coincidence: the front cover of this book shows a detail from Small Meadows in Spring by Alfred Sisley, who I had never heard of until last Thursday at the first of a five week WEA course on the Impressionists. Sisley was influenced by the Barbizon School of painters. He moved to Moret-sur-Loing next to the Forest of Fontainebleau in 1880 and painted Small Meadows in 1881. It’s now in the Tate. Sisley, a French landscape painter born in Paris of English parents was one of the founders of the Impressionist School of painting. A definite French trend seems to be going on here – first Suite Francaise, then Le Grand Meaulnes and now the Impressionists. This could be a distraction from my current reading as I want to know more about the Impressionists now.
I’m wondering where my inclination will take me next week – my intention is to read more of Suite Francaise and Le Grand Meaulines and to finish Tartan Tragedy, but maybe I’ll be tempted into starting something completely new, looking at the lives and works of the Impressionists, or I’ll be drawn back into reading an old favourite.