Review Catch-up & Book Group Report: Le Blevennec, Heisey, Wharton.

As the Eagle Flies by Nolwenn Le Blevennec

Translated from the French by Madeleine Rogers

The most recent novella from Peirene is the story of a relationship and the effect of an affair on it. The story is told after the end of the affair for good by our narrator, who is a mother of two young children with Igor, her partner of more than seven years. She works in a magazine, and one day notices Joseph, the Artistic Director.

Three years later, I find myself no more than ten metres away from the location of that first encounter. 1 January, 2019. I’m on call in the newsroom…. As for Joseph, he took off several months ago. At the moment, he’s exhibiting in Budapest. … He’s living his best life. While here I am, scrolling endlessly through Twitter. It’s pathetic. … I reread our messages in silence. But on this, the first day of 2019, I realize that these exchanges don’t upset me. … Everyone told me that indifference would break through in the end. I see that the moment has come.

She goes on to tell us her story, of how Joseph so intoxicated her that she couldn’t live without him, about how they repeatedly got together, broke up, and got together again before breaking up for good at last. She explains about how Igor, ten years her senior, was just always there picking up the pieces, bless him (I rather liked Igor). Meanwhile she and Joseph are constantly playing mind games when apart, he is currently in Provence.

Joseph said that I wielded power over him. He was starting to realize it because Provence was outside my zone of influence. In Paris, what I was doing with him was tantamount to religious indoctrination. By the way he’d watched an education programme on France 3 about that: free will and alienation can coexist. I was like the Islamic State and he was on the verge of being radicalized. The more time passed, the more he risked falling for my ideology.

I particularly enjoyed the narrator’s voice in which, with hindsight, she sardonically mocks herself and her behaviour at the time. She too feels for Igor, but at the heights of the affair is just too wound up in self-absorption and has no room for him too. I very much liked her complicated way of looking at things, her cultural references and philosophies. As it happens, the next novel I read and reviewed below was also a break-up story – but the narrator here is less whiny, more self-analytical in a good way, it also doesn’t outstay its welcome. Guess which I preferred?

Source: Own Copy. Peirene flapped paperback, 155 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link

really good, actually by Monica Heisey

This first novel from comedian and Schitt’s Creek scriptwriter Heisey got a lot of attention last year, and she was branded the new Nora Ephron. I waited to read this until the hype had died down, and while the book certainly had some funny moments, some laugh-out-loud, it was too long and repetitive, and most of it was too ‘poor me’ to be totally enjoyable.

Our narrator Maggie is twenty-nine, and the narrative follows one year in her life which is full of big, big changes. Firstly, her husband leaves her after she’d questioned the state of their marriage, and takes the cat. They’d been together for ten years, but only married for nearly two. Left in an apartment she can’t afford on a single salary, Maggie doesn’t take it well, and loses interest in almost everything including her core friends, who begin to get fed up with her. She spends her time trolling her ex online, emailing him constantly. Her job suffers too, but her long-suffering boss, a literature professor she does research for, is a godsend to her, offering her her basement bedsit and letting her take her time to find her way back – which she does eventually, thanks to friend Amy who gets her on Tinder and out again.

The set pieces were great, as were Maggie’s lists which pop up now and again throughout the book, but the rest wasn’t really up to Nora Ephron’s standard; although Heartburn has its prolonged ‘poor me’ moments too, it’s much briefer and Ephron’s pithy one-liners stand out better, although Heisey does get in her own Ephron joke, having a fantasy about being discovered at karaoke, she says of her voice: “But look what she’s done with it. She’s like Nora Ephron, if Nora Ephron had the voice of Adele.” Younger readers will doubtless find more to identify with as Heisey critiques the effect of social media on Millennials; I have no intention of ever swiping right!

Source: Own copy. I read the 4th Estate hardback, 376 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s in paperback via my affiliate link

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton – a brief Book Group report

This was the penultimate choice for now, picked by playing Word Association Football. For our March read, we’re moving onto a period of ‘flora & fauna’ connections next. Meanwhile, The Age of Innocence was also our Christmas classic read. Having read it before and re-read parts of it when my daughter did it for A-Level a few years ago, I didn’t re-read it all as I felt I remembered it quite well. I really enjoyed the first hundred pages I managed to fit in before we met and skimmed the rest, but may yet carry on to the end properly; however, I seem to have signed up for a load of blog tours at the mo!

Back to the group. We had a really good discussion about many aspects of the book; from the 1870s New York society matriarchy led by old Mrs Manson-Mingott to Newland Archer’s snobbery and initial desire to mould his fiancée, May, to be his ideal wife. Then Archer’s weakness once he’s fallen for the returned Countess Olenska who, we decided, would have dropped him soon if he’d have given in to running off with her.

I really enjoyed Wharton’s style of writing in this novel, which is not without humour and snark. A funny line that made me laugh occurs near the beginning: they’re at the opera where Newland muses,

She sang, of course, ‘M’ama!’ and not ‘he loves me, since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of the English-speaking audiences.

The upshot was this was an excellent book group choice, and most of us would read more Wharton, The House of Mirth or Ethan Frome perhaps. I’d certainly like to see Scorsese’s film again too.

Source: Own copy. Penguin paperback, 301 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s in paperback via my affiliate link.

10 thoughts on “Review Catch-up & Book Group Report: Le Blevennec, Heisey, Wharton.

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    The Wharton was a good choice for my book club during Covid; we then screen-shared the Scorsese movie via someone’s Amazon Prime account, which didn’t work particularly well, but it’s a sumptuous film. I love your group’s quirky method of choosing books. We’ve never had a good system in mine, so often I end up just choosing based on what’s available as a library book group set. (Or giving the co-leader a choice of three and getting her agreement.)

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I saw the film at the cinema when it came out. Michelle Pfeiffer was superb. We always pick books two months ahead on a theme – we all come with a choice to pitch, and do a random pick from those deemed possibles unless there’s a single title that most are keen on.

  2. Liz Dexter says:

    I wasn’t keen on the Heisey so didn’t pick it up – she even came to the Bookshop but still I resisted. Too Millenial Disaster Girl for me, I fear!

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