One of the most fortunate purposes of literature is to bring like-minded people together and get them talking.
I quote the above from the book by Laurence Cossé, translated into English by Alison Anderson ( also translated : The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry).
A Novel Bookstore was one of my two most recent and delightful discoveries in the English section of my local library.
The sadly sparse shelves at first appear to reveal nothing of interest. Suddenly my eye is drawn to a title, The Last Train from Liguria is a second case in point. This coastal area from the Italian frontier beyond Menton in France is not only known but dearly loved by me. I lived for a short while in Bordighera where much of the book is set and cannot even begin to enumerate the times I have taken that delightful coastal train back to France. I was delighted to confirm my impression that nothing had really changed of its landscape, architecture or quiet ambiance since the years between the wars. Although the fatal rise of fascism and Mussolini in 1938 marred its history for a while the town survives today much as it was then.
Three main protagonists, two of them contemporaries, lead us through this beautifully written story of tragedy and love. I am convinced on the first page as Bella arrives in Bordighera for the first time.
‘ Bella, Bella,’ everything was Bella to the Italians she reflects. So completely opposite to her mundane life in Dublin. How these people embraced and savored all of life! Beauty is everything, seen in everything. Even a bride, not in herself beautiful, was Bella simply because she was a bride and all brides were beautiful. These words rang so true in my personal experience of Italy and the Italians I had observed and met while living and visiting there. It is was why I am never happier than when I am there.
I am not going to recount or review this book which traces back and forth between generations and only reveals its secret at the very end. I only point out that Annabella, the third protagonist, living in mid 1990’s Dublin and who’s relationship with the past slowly unravels, is the only jarring note for me. I found it impossible to understand the reasons for her slovenly behavior, attitudes, mores and language. Otherwise the book to me was without fault. It left unsaid the things that were beyond words. I would have loved it for that alone.
The Paths to the past have been long closed.
And what good is the past to me now?
From the forward poem by Anna Akhmatova.
The wealth of literary encouragement for those of us who love to write would alone justify reading A Novel Bookstore. However, this startlingly original and surprising novel is rich with characters and wonderfully drawn portraits of French life with a wealth of often amusing insights by a French writer for those of us who, even after years living here, are sometimes baffled by our adopted countrymen.
I am aware that it is not permitted to reproduce more than brief quotes due to copyright laws and therefore restrain myself to only one more below. I shall instead, keep and review my own notes from this book as I continue to struggle at this craft in the face of enormous odds against me in today publishing world. A world incidentally, so succinctly described by the voices of the two principal actors in the story.
Literature is a source of pleasure, it is one of the rare inexhaustible joys in life. Everything is there. That is why I never use the word fiction. Every subtlety in life is material for a book