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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Books Read in April

A Dangerous Liason by Carole Seymour

Two myths surround Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. One is that they were loyal workers for the Resistance. The other is that they had had a wonderful romance. Seymour puts paid to both in this rather plodding biography.

This couple actually had rather a good time in the war - they even held parties and drank wine with Picasso. They were also not averse to working for the Germans. Sartre did write plays promoting the cause of freedom, but neither Sartre nor de Beauvoir did much for the Resistance according to this book. De Beauvoir could even be anti-Semitic at times.

They may have had a very long romance but it was very anguished. According to this book they liked to torment each other by having affairs with each other's lovers. De Beauvoir even had affairs with her young women students and passed them on to Sartre. Then she wanted to know the details of his affairs with them. They apparently constantly used and abused people and were really a nasty pair.

Sartre and de Beauvoir were also 'fellow travellers' and regarded as 'useful idiots' by the Soviets. Sartre was even carried away by a female Soviet agent. Neither of them saw the evils of Communism. De Beauvour made the remark that the notorious labour camps were really for 'rehabilitation.'

Seymour does write about their good points. They could both be generous and they also did much to promote their causes. Sartre invented Existentialism and constantly protested about the evils of French colonialism, for example. De Beauvour was one of the first feminists.

De Beauvour cared for her mother when she was dying which made me like her a bit better.

I wouldn't have bothered continuing with this book if I hadn't been so interested in the subject. It was difficult to read and written in a fairly dull way, I thought. This was odd when it is such a fascinating story.

Love Letters by Katie Fforde

This book kept me company during long and lonely hours at airports in Paris and Bangkok, and on long plane trips. It's very light chick-lit but it was extremely enjoyable and I will certainly read more novels by Katie Fforde. I found her writing quite soothing!

The quiet and shy heroine of this book, Laura, is feeling down at the beginning because the bookshop where she works is closing. She feels better when she gets the chance to organise a book fair but she impulsively suggests that she should make her literary hero, Dermot, the star of the show. This is difficult because she has never met him!

The novel becomes a delightful chase as Laura visits Ireland to find the elusive Dermot and gets into all sorts of scrapes! The attractive Dermot turns out to be rather lascivious. Can Laura avoid becoming just another notch on his belt?

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman

This is a luminous novel about the relationship between sisters, and art. Mary, an Impressionist artist, loved to paint her sister, Lydia. Chessman paints in words how both sisters feel and their moving relationship. This is a book that one could read many times.

The main problem with the book was that it was a bit hard to understand the relationships between the other family members. Lydia remembers her past and examines her life and the loss of her lover and brother. I wasn't quite sure how many brothers she had.

The Unknown Matisse by Hilary Spurling

This is a brilliant analysis of Henri Matisse's stubborn Northern character, his rebellion against his father, his rebellion against conformism, and his struggle to transform modern art into a glittering world of light and colour.

This biography is well-written and interesting. However, it's very long and detailed.

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