A Film for November: Fear Eats The Soul

On a rainy night in Munich in 1974 a lonely 60 something widow walks into a bar enticed by the sounds of Arabic music. Emmi orders a coke and Ali a 40 something Moroccan ‘guest worker’ asks her to dance. Their friendship deepens and they decide to marry. The reaction that their relationship provokes and in turn, the effect that society has on their life together is told in this tale of intolerance and prejudice.

Emmi (Brigitte Mira) and Ali (El Hedi ben Salem) offend everybody just by being together. Spurned by everyone including her children, the subject of gossip and name calling, Emmi’s isolation builds until she finds herself adopting the same xenophobic attitudes as her friends and neighbours to feel included.

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Eugénie Grandet

This was such an unexpected surprise and I feel incredibly fond of this book. On the one hand it’s a simple story of the Grandet family. Felix, his wife and their daughter Eugénie. Their maid Nanon and the two families of friends, the Cruchot’s and the des Grassins who visit them. They live in Saumur, in the Loire Valley region of France in a house whose appearance ‘weighs as heavily upon the spirits as the gloomiest cloister,’. Into this gloomy house comes cousin Charles from Paris and Eugénie falls immediately in love.

But on the other hand it isn’t simple at all because avarice is the enormous all pervading silent character that engulfs their lives on every page. The lowly cooper, Felix Grandet made a fortune in 1789 when he bought land confiscated from the aristocracy. A bumper harvest in 1811 increased his wealth and he’s quick to invest in business, so that by the time the novel opens ‘one day in the middle of November in the year 1819’ Grandet has a fortune so large that his every action is ‘cloaked in gold‘ and he has become a miser who worships his gold at the cost of everything else, keeping it secretly in a strongroom

‘while Madame and Mademoiselle Grandet soundly slept, the old cooper would come to commune with his gold, to caress and worship, fondle and gloat over his gold.’

This is only a short novel, my Penguin copy is 248 pages, and the gathering of his wealth, the swindling and hoodwinking of his neighbours, takes up by far the largest part, so that I did wonder why it wasn’t called Felix Grandet, but it is ultimately Eugénie’s story and that’s why I’m afraid I can’t talk about the book without talking about the ending, although I won’t give away the whole plot.

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Random Tuesday

On a walk through the woods, I passed my favourite tree

which is a beech growing in front of an oak

When you look up, you can see that the trunks have become completely entwined, quite spookily I think.

And underneath was this perfect pair of Magpie Inkcaps, first identified in 1785 by French mycologist Jean Baptiste François Pierre Bulliard. Although they’re not uncommon they are usually solitary, so I was lucky to see a pair.

‘One for Sorrow, Two for Joy’

Tension

Written in 1920, Tension is set in the Commercial and Technical College for the South-West of England and about the appointment of a new Lady Superintendent, Miss Marchrose. Mark Easter whose wife is in a ‘home for inebriates’ , also works at the college and lives with his two unruly children in a villa near Sir Julian, the chairman of the college and his wife Lady Edna Rossiter. Mark is a handsome, sociable, easy going sort and quickly befriends Miss Marchrose, but Lady Rossiter is sure that this is the same Miss Marchrose that some years ago, jilted her invalided cousin.

Mark Easter’s children are wonderfully real. Squabbling, crying and always sticky they interrupt and disturb without a thought and the book opens with the exasperation of Sir and Lady Rossiter as they try to manage the two urchins who burst in on their breakfast to declare that their aunt has written a book: ‘Why Ben! A Story of the Sexes.’ The scene is fun, farcical and full of humour but from this light beginning the tension grows until I wasn’t squirming (as the preface said I might) but tied in a tight knot of outrage at the gossip and bullying, incredulous to what was being said and aghast at what wasn’t.

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A Film For October: Vampyr

Based on Sheridan le Fanu’s short story collection In a Glass Darkly this 1932 horror flick was director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s first film with sound. Shot completely on location in France, a gorgeous washed out, soft focus gives the film a dreamlike quality that enhances the atmosphere and gives a wonderfully creepy quality.

Allan Gray is a dreamy wanderer who arrives at an inn and rents a room. While he sleeps an old man enters his locked room and leaves a package with a note saying ‘to be opened on my death’. Gray decides to go for a walk and takes the package with him. Shadows guide him towards a castle where he sees more shadows dancing on their own. He walks on to a manor house and looking through the window sees the old man who left the package. The old man is suddenly shot. The servants ask him into the house where Gisèle the old man’s daughter takes him to the library and tells him that her sister Léone is gravely ill. They see Léone walking outside and follow her where they find her unconscious on the ground with fresh bite wounds on her neck.

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Murder in the Mill-Race

Dr. Raymond Ferens is thrilled to move from his industrial practice to a picturesque village in the Devon countryside and with his wife Anne they set up home in the Dower House – a study for him, a kitchen for her. Lord and Lady Ridding live in the Manor House, old Dr. Brown is getting ready to leave his practice to Raymond, there’s the church, the post office, farms, and a children’s home that’s been run by Sister Monica for more than 30 years. A formidable warden she wears an old fashioned habit and seems to have a strange hold over the villagers.

And at first all seems idyllic. But. Set on a hill top on Exmoor, Milham in the Moor has cut itself off from neighbouring towns and villages; not trusting strangers or liking questions; so when Sister Monica’s body is found in the Mill-Race the villagers close in on themselves, agreeing only that she was a saint, she had been having dizzy spells and it was an accident. Chief Inspector Macdonald is called in from the Yard with his able deputy Detective Inspector Reeves.

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Vanity Fair

This has taken me so long to read that I can hardly remember a time before Vanity Fair, and while there were certainly some ups and downs, when I finished, it wasn’t with a feeling of relief but with huge satisfaction at having read a really brilliant book.

First published as a complete text in 1848, Thackeray tells the story of school friends Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley, their families and friends in the first half of the 19th century with London society, the Napoleonic wars and colonisation in India forming the backdrop. The scheming manipulative Becky is a perfect foil to the humble simplicity of Emmy. As they both negotiate marriage, in laws and motherhood they also negotiate the slippery pole of social success and acceptability.

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Classics Club Spin Revealed

was the number chosen and for me that means Honoré de Balzac’s Old Goriot or so I thought – because when I got to the book shelf it appeared that the copy I actually had was Eugénie Grandet! But I haven’t read anything by Balzac and know nothing about him so this, written a couple of years before Old Goriot, can easily take its place I think.

And it’s quite exciting, not the title I’ve been looking at for the last four years and a brand new author to explore. As usual a quick look on Wikipedia has made me feel that I’ve been living under a rock all my life and this first glimpse has revealed an abundance of future reading!

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The Garden Party

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading Katherine Mansfield, this group of 15 short stories written between 1920 and 1922 were so enjoyable; easy to read and insightful. Some of the stories were just a few pages, others ran to chapters but I think what linked them was their thoughts on age.. How the young view the old and how the old view the young but also how at any time we might find ourselves out of step with our age, unsure what’s expected of us or how we’re supposed to behave.

Katherine Mansfield’s view of old age is really quite scary and sad! In Miss Brill, the elderly lady puts on her fur coat and goes to listen to the band play in the park. All is well as she watches and muses on the people around her noticing how odd the old people look ‘as if they’d just come from dark little rooms or even – even cupboards! But then she hears a young couple describing her – is it possible that she is one of the elderly, looking so strange? Seeing herself from a different perspective, the callousness of the couple is so cruel, the effect on Miss Brill is heartbreakingly sad and the loneliness of old age is very real as she hurries back to the familiarity of her room.

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