29 October 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Not the most common of connections, but that’s the angle that Bloomberg‘s Robert Hilferty takes in his review of Proust’s The Lemoine Affair:

A hundred years ago French novelist Marcel Proust (1871-1922) lost money in the stock market, too. And as he would in the epic In Search of Lost Time, he converted the stuff of life into art. [. . .]

Translated by the super-talented Charlotte Mandell, this is the first time The Lemoine Affair is available in English, and it’s part of Melville House’s Art of the Novella series. (Which has been getting a lot of play here the past few days.)

As described on the Melville House site, this novella is a series of pastiches in which Proust imitates the writing styles of other famous French authors, such as Flaubert and Balzac. Based on this alone, I still can’t believe this never came out in English before. And the story behind the novel just adds to my disbelief:

A Parisian engineer named Henri Lemoine claimed to have invented a method of manufacturing diamonds from coal. He convinced the London-based president of the De Beers diamond empire, Sir Julius Wernher, to underwrite the process. The executive invested about a million francs before the fraud emerged.

After De Beers stock plummeted because of the scandal, Lemoine bought shares expecting to profit when the stock recovered. The ruse was discovered and Wernher sued Lemoine, who was tried and imprisoned in 1908.

Proust had inherited De Beers stock from his parents and fretted that the scandal would erode his portfolio. At the same time, he was inspired by the literary potential of Lemoine’s intrigue and hit upon an ingenious way to retell it — that’s the true alchemy here.

Add this to the growing list of Melville House novellas we’ll be reviewing over the next few weeks . . .

20 August 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

In reading the new translation of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Levi Stahl came across a really interesting translation issue. In “The Prisoner,” when Madame Verdurin suggests inviting Comtesse de Mole to a party, the Baron de Charlus insults her:

“Well, well, there’s no accounting for tastes,” M. de Charlus had replied, and if yours, dear lady, is to spend your time with Mrs Todgers, Sarah Gamp and Mrs Harris I have nothing to say, but please let it be on an evening when I am not here.”

Fans of Dickens will recognize these three women as characters from Martin Chuzzlewit—and their names, you can surely imagine, were quite a surprise coming out of the Baron’s mouth.

A note accompanying the line explains:

M. de Charlus’s reference in the original is to Mme Pipelet, Mme Gibout and Mme Joseph Prudhomme, minor creations of hte nineteenth-century writers Eugene Sue and Henri Monnier. They are chosen as examples of women utterly lacking in social distinction: Mme Pipelet, for example, is a concierge. Three comparable characters from Dickens have been substituted.

As Levi points out, this isn’t a huge issue, but it is sort of weird, since in either case—leaving the names as were, or using ones from Dickens—an explanatory note is necessary . . .

....
The Indian
The Indian by Jón Gnarr
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .

Read More >

Mother of 1084; Old Women; Breast Stories
Mother of 1084; Old Women; Breast Stories by Mahasweta Devi
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .

Read More >

Tristana
Tristana by Benito Pérez Galdós
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband.. . .

Read More >

The History of Silence
The History of Silence by Pedro Zarraluki
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .

Read More >

Flesh-Coloured Dominoes
Flesh-Coloured Dominoes by Zigmunds Skujiņš
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .

Read More >

Iraqi Nights
Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .

Read More >

Three-Light Years
Three-Light Years by Andrea Canobbio
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .

Read More >