When I created my account on Goodreads 7 years ago, I added classics I had read when I was studying French literature in uni, deciding on ratings depending on my – not very trustful – memories. It went like this : if I remembered a book fondly, I’d give it five stars, no matter how many years had passed since I’d read it. Not very accurate, unfortunately. Honestly? Sometimes I look at them and it annoys me so much because really, how can I be sure I’d like them now? Well. I simply cannot.
That’s why I’ve decided that this year, I’ll reread 10 classics I gave 5 stars to, and I’ll see if my opinion have changed. Am I a bit scared? Absolutely. So in an attempt to avoid procrastinating – my never-ending love, that – today I’m sharing those books with you – please do call me out if I never talk about those books again! *hides* As they’re well, French books, I’ll include the blurb in English and a link to their translated version on Goodreads.
So… Here are ten French classics I remember loving (but I might hate now 🙈) :
- Exercices de style by Raymond Queneau (1947) | Link to the translated version | Blurb (from Goodreads) : The plot of Exercises in Style is quite simple: a man gets into an argument with another passenger on a bus. However, this anecdote is told ninety-nine more times, each in a radically different style, as a sonnet, an opera, in slang, and with many more permutations. This virtuoso set of variations is a linguistic rust-remover, and a guide to literary forms.
- La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas (1845) | Link to the translated version | Blurb (from Amazon) : “Queen Margot” is set in Paris in August 1572 during the reign of Charles IX. The story is based on real characters and events. The novel’s protagonist is Marguerite de Valois, better known as Margot, daughter of the deceased Henry II and the infamous scheming Catholic power player Catherine de Medici. Catherine decides to make an overture of goodwill by offering up Margot in marriage to prominent Huguenot and King of Navarre, Henri de Bourbon, a marriage that was supposed to cement the hard-fought Peace of Saint-Germain. At the same time, Catherine schemes to bring about the notorious St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, assassinating many of the most wealthy and prominent Huguenots who were in the largely-Catholic city of Paris to escort the Protestant prince to his wedding…
- Aurélien by Louis Aragon (1947) | I… didn’t find any English version? I’m not sure there’s one, but I’ll update if I ever see one.
- Stello by Alfred de Vigny (1832) | Link to the translated version | Blurb (from Goodreads) [CW : suicide] : Stello (1832) marks the watershed in Alfred de Vigny’s development as a writer, from the Romantic lyricist to the philosophical poet, from the fabricator of historical romances to the novelist of ideas. In the characters of Stello and Doctor Noir, he externalizes the conflict in his own nature between the youthful idealist and the mature realist. Stello is the patient, sick with romantic sentiment, who must be cured by the acrid psychiatrist, Doctor Noir. In order to effect this cure, Doctor Noir undertakes to disillusion the young man by describing the deaths of three unfortunate poets, each of whom came to grief under a different political and social system. Each, like Stello, tended to ignore the nature of the real world, hoping to substitute for it an impossible ideal. Each was disappointed: Nicholas-Joseph-Laurent Gilbert and Thomas Chatterton both took their own lives; Andre Chenier was the victim of the Reign of Terror. From their stories, Stello may perhaps learn to free himself from the hope for assurances; then, in the pathos of his ignorance, he may begin to aspire to the peculiar dignity of the human being.”
- W ou le souvenir d’enfance by Georges Perec (1975) | Link to the translated version | Blurb (from Goodreads) : Written in alternating chapters, W or the Memory of Childhood, tells two parallel tales, in two parts. One is a story created in childhood and about childhood. The other story is about two people called Gaspard Winckler: one an eight-year-old deaf-mute lost in a shipwreck, the other a man despatched to search for him, who discovers W, an island state based on the rules of sport. As the two tales move in and out of focus, the disturbing truth about the island of W reveals itself. Perec combines fiction and autobiography in unprecedented ways, allowing no easy escape from these stories, or from history.
- Le Comte de Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844) | Link to the translated version | Blurb (from Goodreads) : Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantes is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and becomes determined not only to escape but to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. A huge popular success when it was first serialized in the 1840s, Dumas was inspired by a real-life case of wrongful imprisonment when writing his epic tale of suffering and retribution.
- Le spleen de Paris by Charles Baudelaire (1869) | Link to the translated version | Blurb (from Goodreads) : Set in a modern, urban Paris, the prose pieces in this volume constitute a further exploration of the terrain Baudelaire had covered in his verse masterpiece, The Flowers of Evil: the city and its squalor and inequalities, the pressures of time and mortality, and the liberation provided by the sensual delights of intoxication, art, and women. Published posthumously in 1869, Paris Spleen was a landmark publication in the development of the genre of prose poetry—a format which Baudelaire saw as particularly suited for expressing the feelings of uncertainty, flux, and freedom of his age—and one of the founding texts of literary modernism.
- Le misanthrope by Molière (1666) | Link to the translated version | Blurb (from Goodreads) : The Misanthrope is a comedy of manners in five acts and in verse. It is one of the best of Molière’s plays — and one of the greatest of all comedies — spotlighting the absurdities of social and literary pretension, focusing on a man who is quick to criticize the faults of others, yet remains blind to his own. This play satirizes the hypocrisies of French aristocratic society, but it also engages a more serious tone when pointing out the flaws, which all humans possess. The play differs from other farces at the time by employing dynamic characters like Alceste and Célimène as opposed to the traditionally flat characters used by most satirists to criticize problems in society. It also differs from most of Molière’s other works by focusing more on character development and nuances than on plot progression. The play, though not a commercial success in its time, survives as Molière’s best-known work today. Much of its universal appeal is due to common undercurrents of misanthropy across cultural borders.
- Fureur et mystère by René Char (1948) | Link to the translated version | Blurb (from Goodreads) : Rene Char (1907-1988) was one of France’s most respected 20th century poets. Part of the Surrealist group in the late 1920’s-1930’s, he gradually drifted away from the group. During WWII he joined the resistance and wrote his forceful prose poems describing what he saw and experienced. This large, bilingual anthology, includes all of his well known books Feuillets d’Hypnos and Fureur et Mystère as well as a sampling of other poems and prose poems. Insightful essays are provided by Sandra Bermann, Mary Ann Caws, and Nancy Kline.
- L’écume des jours by Boris Vian (1947) | Link to the translated version | Blurb (from Goodreads) : L’Ecume des jours is a jazz fueled Science Fiction story that is both romantic and nihilistic. Vian’s novel is an assortment of bittersweet romance, absurdity and the frailty of life. Foam of the Daze is a nimble-fingered masterpiece that is both witty and incredibly moving. It is a story of a wealthy young man Colin and the love of his life Chloe, who develops a water lily in her lung. The supporting cast includes Chick, an obsessive collector of noted philosopher Jean-Sol Partre’s books and stained pants, and Nicolas who is a combination of P.G. Wodehouse’s fictional butler Jeeves and the Green Hornet’s Kato. The soul of the book is about the nature of life disappearing and loving things intensely as if one was making love on a live grenade.