June 23, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
At first glance, the comparisons of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. are obvious. Aside from the visual similarities (look at the book cover), both authors write fabulous, often absurd stories infused with a large degree of compassion. But, as translator Edward Gauvin succinctly puts it, Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud is not Kurt Vonnegut.
The stories in A Life on Paper are bold, fabulous tales filled with palpable tension, a wonderful introduction to a talented writer.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the collection:
"Beautiful prose featuring ingenuous protagonists and clever, unexpected forays into horror are the hallmarks of these mischievous stories...Translator Gauvin does a fine job of harnessing the nervous, thrilling feel of these tales."
Here, for a volume of selected stories, selected tracks:
"The Styx": Bruce Springsteen, "Hungry Heart"
In 1880, Jules Cotard first described the "rare neuropsychiatric disorder in which people hold a delusional belief that they are dead," a syndrome later to bear his name. The delusion complicates a story that first reads as a playfully sinister allegory during which, in true fantastical tradition, the exact nature of the narrator's condition is never quite settled. He is "dead"—so his doctor announces—yet he goes about the business of his funeral with alacrity and dispatch, as though it were merely one of the many practical arrangements that beleaguer our lives, like the paperwork for a mortgage. Yet we as readers are encouraged to take his death at face value, however mysterious a coin it's minted in, and the mythic markers are there: the obol, the crossing, the irrevocability. In lyrics that flow neatly into the story's final sentence as a tributary into the titular river, the Boss sings, "Like a river that don't know where it's going / I took a wrong turn and I just kept going."
"The Only Mortal": Boris Vian, "Le Déserteur"
Vian's celebrated anti-war anthem takes on a sardonic dimension when set to this tale of a soldier discovering his mortality. There's no deserting from this particular struggle, the common lot of life. "Someone must have made a mistake with his enlistment papers," begins the story, echoing the opening of The Trial by Franz Kafka.
"Sweet Street": Teresa Stratas, "Youkali Tango" (m. Kurt Weill – l. Roger Fernay)
Fernay's ode to an impossible paradise from the 1934 musical Marie Galante has become, as perhaps befits it, a cult standard: say, the "Big Rock Candy Mountain" of accordion tangos. Line after line, it seems to describe not only the universal longing for an unattainable haven, but the cabbie Moe's experience on Sweet Street, and nowhere more than in the following verse:
"Et la vie nous entraîne, Lassante quotidienne, Mais la pauvre âme humaine, Cherchant partout l'oubli—"
"Life drags us along, routine and wearying, but the poor human soul, seeking forgetfulness everywhere—"
though "oubli" can be translated not only as "forgetfulness" but as "oblivion": neatly reflecting Moe's two vastly different visits to that mysterious titular street not to be found on any city map.
"Delaunay the Broker": Angelo Badalamenti, "Theme from The City of Lost Children"
For this story, something foreboding yet delicate as a music box melody: Badalamenti's score has haunting sweep and great intimacy. Châteaureynaud has often thought Jeunet & Caro might be ideally suited adapt his work, especially L'Autre rive.
"The Gulf of the Years," "The Dolceola Player": Juliette Gréco, "Coin de Rue" (Charles Trenet)
Juliette Gréco, Left Bank darling, on whom it was said Sartre had a crush, was arguably Piaf's heir, incarnating a certain vision of French femininity in the 50s and 60s. She lends her smoky voice and the impeccable delectation of her phrasing to Trenet's ode to his childhood neighborhood (listen as, in the middle, she slows the song to a whisper and a standstill, evoking a lost love, age fifteen).
Both these stories feature protagonists returning to their home towns, but the past is a gulf—figurative in the first, literal in the second—yawning wide as the disappeared paradise of "Sweet Street," threatening to swallow the people we have since become. We must, each of us, decide alone whether or not to throw ourselves in.
"The Pavilion and the Linden": Guy Béart, "Bal chez Temporel" (l. André Hardellet)
Intimate, plainspoken, and suffused with an almost mystical nostalgia, the gently fabulist writings of André Hardellet—among Châteaureynaud's favorites—have drawn comparisons to Nerval and Nodier. He returns time and again to a single obsession: reclaiming the lost world of childhood, and happiness, which shimmers like a promise of redemptive meaning behind the scenes of this world, which are by comparison ephemeral. His words were set to music by popular singer Guy Béart (yes, actress Emmannuelle's father). They seem somehow pertinent to King Guita's struggle to recapture the past and his subsequent bewilderment.
Dans ce petit bal mal famé
C'en est assez pour que renaisse
Ce qu'alors nous avons aimé
Et pour que tu le reconnaisses
"In that seedy little dancehall
It's enough if you recall
What once we loved then
And which lives again..."
"Another Story": Antonín Dvořák, "Song to the Moon" from Rusalka
Châteaureynaud's sirens and mermaids are of an altogether fiercer, more animal ilk than the water maidens of Andersen and de la Motte Fouqué, but this aria's unearthly beauty, while not Wagnerian, retains some otherness and casual savagery in its soaring soprano passages.
"Écorcheville": Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo, "Ma ligne de chance" (Serge Rezvani)
Karina frolics among oceanside pines, followed by Belmondo, in Godard's Pierrot le fou, singing gaily about the petite fate line on her palm. Belmondo's rejoinder is to call it a bird-in-hand, "l'oiseau frivole de nos destins." Frivolous bird of our fate: what else to call the prophetic parrot featured in this tale who flies blithely off with Orne's future hanging in the balance? "D'un vol presque majestueux" ("an almost stately getaway"), Châteaureynaud informs us, the French "vol" drawing its two meanings ("theft" and "flight") into a succinct pun.
Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud & Edward Gauvin and A Life on Paper links:
Edward Gauvin's website
Edward Gauvin's blog
excerpt from the book ("Delaunay the Mortal")
execrpt from the book ("The Excursion")
excerpt from the book ("A Life on Paper")
excerpt from the book ("The Only Mortal")
excerpt from the book ("The Pavilion and the Lime Tree")
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists