Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Love story between a Fairy and a Wizard

Author Laurel Snyder asked of the blogosphere, "What is your favorite book from childhood?", and following Amy Guth's post on her blog I am now telling you about one of my favorite childhood books: L'Enchanteur by René Barjavel. I think I must have read that book four times. It was one of our French class reading assignment and it luckily came in during my I'm-crazy-about-Arthurian-legend period. I would definitely suggest it to anyone who reads French (I'm afraid it has never been translated into English, please correct me if I'm wrong).

Written in 1984, L'Enchanteur could be seen as yet another novel based on the Arthurian legend, but Barjavel manages to make much more of it. He freely transforms the story into a romance: one between Merlin the Wizard (L'Enchanteur) and the Lady of the Lake Vivian. I still vividly remember the tenderness that links both characters (I can still hear Viviane's soft voice in my head). The main theme remains of course the quest for the Graal, and many other well known heroes appear in the novel: King Arthur, Perceval, Queen Guenièvre and Lancelot, whose love story is also quite powerful in Barjavel's narrative. The author plays a lot with conventions through voluntary anacronysms as well, introducing for instance tin cans and an electric chimney into the medieval story. Nevertheless, the main theme of this magical novel remains LOVE. The love story between kings and queens, knights and queens, between Vivian and Merlin, the Fairy who could see the human in the Wizard.

Photo: Cover of the Paperback edition - Collection FOLIO

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Sincerity of Margo Rabb

Remember I wrote about Margo Rabb and her essay about Young Adult literature in the New York Times this summer. I have finally had the chance to read her latest novel “Cures for Heartbreak” (better later than never!). I had searched for it in several bookshops in Amsterdam and in Brussels, and since I couldn’t find it I simply ordered it online. After being away for a month, I was back home and “Cures for Heartbreak” was waiting for me…

The only family grief I have ever experienced was the loss of my grandfather four years ago. It was sad but in no way comparable to loosing one’s parent. So I had absolutely no idea how it must be like to lose one’s mum at the age of 15. I still don’t have a clue of course and I will never; because I am 29 and my mother is still alive and in good health. The day she will be gone, I will experience grief, but not like a 15 year old girl. I have been deeply touched by Margo Rabb’s narrative. I am not going to discuss why it is a YA novel or why it should or shouldn’t be, simply because I am no specialist in the field and also because no matter on what shelve the book has been placed, I am only interested in sharing my feelings about its content and not about its label. But the subject in itself is quite fascinating and really interesting. Many writers and reviewers have discussed the subject of YA literature on the blogosphere (check Colleen Mondor’s blog Chasing Ray among many others and of course Margo Rabb's essay on the NYT).

"Cures for Heartbreak" starts with Mia, her sister Alex and their father choosing a coffin for their mother’s funeral. “We’re in a play in which the funeral is the last act” says the father for the fifth time in two days. It all indeed looks so surreal: one day, Mia’s mother is diagnosed with cancer, “If she dies, I’ll die” writes the young 15 year old girl in her diary, and twelve days later, she dies But Mia doesn’t. She carries her grief everywhere, because this kind of love never dies but it hurts deeply. Throughout the novel, I was immersed in Mia’s world, in her fears, her doubts, her wishes, her friendships, her laughs and even her grief. Michael Chabon puts it absolutely right when he writes that the novel is “(…) sad, funny, smart, (and) endlessly poignant (…)” As she explains in the afterword, Margo Rabb has based herself on her own experience to write this novel. However, what makes the book magical and real is not that it contains autobiographical elements, but the sincerity of the narrative voice. Mia is not Margo, she is a fictional character and she has a life on her own, she is free from any psychological therapy many authors are unfortunately producing throughout their characters. This why I loved “Cures for Heartbreak” and I strongly recommend it to everyone, no matter how old. The still unconvinced ones can start having a look at Margo Rabb’s original and really enriching blog Books, Chocolate, Sundries where you will meet plenty of other fascinating authors presented through Margo's eyes. Again, always in a very sincere way.