Notes on a Thesis – Tephanie Riviére

One of my current goals is to undertake a PhD, although life events keep stopping me from starting that (such as children!) But the cynical look at PhDs in the comic press always helps steer me away, as opening up for such a long drag always comes with hesitation. Riviére’s examination of a PhD is one of that tone, a woman who starts with dreams and ambition, and just about manages to end it.

A grim and adult look at relationships under pressue, family, ambtion and poor mentor support. Only the last I thought was unfair – putting words into the mouth of an advisor to make them unsympathetic rather than just distracted. Although French academic culture may be different in this regard.

But there are plenty of dry laughs in here, and a driving need to see if Jeanne succeeds. The art is also inspired, with lecture theatres full of vicious tigers one moment and shy kittens the next as she learns to manage lecturing and conferences. Worth a read!

 

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami

Tsukuru Tazaki has spent his entire adult life in the shadow of the expulsion from his friendship group in his late teens. Now in his mid-thirties, he is given the impetus to go and find out what has happened to his friends since then, and why they cast him out.

This was not what I expected, and every twist took this in a different direction. Throughout though, I found myself rooting for Tsukuru and hoping that he would be satisfied with the outcome of his pilgrimage. It also offers a view on contemporary Japanese life, with the ordinary everyday, and social structures, being visible alongside the emotional journey Tsukuru has to travel. Of course he doesn’t really take ownership or drive, but I am learning that that is typical of Japanese literature. He at least makes his own decisions about his life in the end, and any lack of resolution is balanced against the complete absence of any clarity at the start.

The Sermon on the Fall of Rome – Jérôme Ferrari

This month’s serious fiction for serious people, The Sermon on the Fall of Rome is the story of man, or a bar, or a family. Drawing parallels to Saint Augustine’s sermon, it looks at Marcel’s life from the perspective of the end, where old memories run together, and living grandchildren have a much closer impact than long-deceased parents.

A look at mortality, of empires and businesses as well as the obvious mortality of Marcel himself and the slow disintegration of memories of people as everyone who knew them gradually passes on.

I managed not to hold the back cover comparison of this to One Hundred Years of Solitude against it, and definitely liked The Sermon much better than the dull One Hundred Years. The translation reads well, with references that I recognise, which is an art I can respect, although I’m now tempted to read it in the original French.