Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Zoladdiction Round-up

The Masterpiece

Cafe Guerbois, the model for Cafe Baudequin in The Masterpiece from  Wikipedia

I enjoyed the first third, or so, of the story. I was surprised that Claude and Christine's relationship seemed to be progressing so smoothly - I had envisioned more of a dramatic, drama-filled toing and froing and the involvement of a third party. I thought that Irma Becot would have a part to play in their relationship, so I was not surprised when, at last, she did make an appearance in the story, although, by that time Claude had descended so far down the path of creative mania, that it no longer seemed to matter, as he really had no use for real women other than as models for his painting.

The section of the story from Claude's obsession with painting the nude woman in the Ile de la Cite scene until the acceptance of one of his paintings at the Salon was incredibly difficult to read: Claude is tortured by his inability to express himself fully through the creation of a masterpiece, both Christine and Claude are unbearably mean to their child, "The kid's an idiot, if you ask me", and the lovers' relationship is completely obliterated by artistic obsession, "She had ceased to exist, since all he could find to adore in her now was his art, and nature, and life."

Towards the end of the novel when we revisit the original "gang" and hear how their youthful ambition has, for the most part, been dashed on the rocks of reality, I began to feel less stressed by the overwhelming feeling of impending disaster. Life goes on, groups of friends grow up, move on and find new ways of living. Of course, this made the dramatic end of the story very shocking.

Among the artistic angst and desperation there were a few episodes which came across as light-hearted and made me smile.

I was amused when Sandoz, or rather, the putative Zola, tells Claude about his literary plans, and I think this quotation serves as a good description for the Rougon-Macquart series.

"I'm going to take a family and study each member of it, one by one, where they come from, what becomes of them, how they react to one another. Humanity in miniature, therefore, the way humanity evolves, the way it behaves... I shall place my characters in some definite period that will provide the milieu and the prevailing circumstances and make the thing a sort of slice of history, if you see what I'm getting at... I shall make it a series of novels, say fifteen or twenty, each complete in itself and with its own particular setting, but all connected, a cycle of books that will at least provide a roof in my old age, if they don't prove too much for me in the meantime!"
I also found the character of Mathilde amusing, particularly at the end when she has Jory well and truly under her thumb.

Lastly, my favourite quotation, by far, is from a scene, early in the novel, at one of Sandoz's Thursday dinners when the talk turns to models, "Mahoudeau was furious because good bellies were a thing of the past; it was impossible, he said, to find a girl with a belly worth looking at." Down with washboard stomachs!

I can't say that I enjoyed this novel, but it is certainly a fascinating read if you are interested in: the creative process, French Impressionism or the groupe des Batignolles.

Final Summary

I had hoped to read more novels than I did. When I signed up to Zoladdiction, I chose to read only two novels as I knew I would be moving house and that any more would probably be too ambitious. Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that the location in my profile has now changed, as in the last month I have moved 400 miles southwards. It has been a challenge keeping up with my reading and posting my impressions of Zola's work, but I have really enjoyed this reading event and hope to take part in more events in the future.

Works Read

  • Germinal
  • The Masterpiece
  • Captain Burle (a short story)

Favourite Work Read

Without a doubt, Germinal. I can definitely see myself reading this novel again and again.

Favourite Characters

La Maheude in Germinal for her strength and resistance and Sandoz in The Masterpiece for his constancy and loyalty to friends and family. I didn't like the main, male character in either book; Etienne seemed foolish and naive but well-intentioned, and I don't have a positive word to say about the character of Claude.

Future Zola Reading Plans

I would like to read some more novels from the Rougon-Macquart series, particularly: La Bete Humaine and Pot Bouille. I also plan to read a novel outside of the series and think this will probably be Paris from Zola's Three Cities Trilogy.

Thanks Fanda and O for hosting this event.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Short Story Sunday - Emile Zola

Captain Burle - Emile Zola

Having read a collection of stories by Guy de Maupassant for last week's Short Story Sunday, I have to say that I don't think I would be able to tell the difference between a Zola story and a de Maupassant one, as regards plot. Of course, as I am reading translated works, I can't comment on the differences, if any, in use of language between the two authors. Like many of the stories I read last week, Captain Burle is a farcical tale which seems humorous at times but ultimately has a tragic ending.

Captain Burle, his aged mother and young son live together in straightened circumstances in a provincial garrison town. Captain Burle, who has given up active duty and now grows flabby in a desk job as quartermaster, is a disappointment to his martinet of a mother who harbours thoughts of martial glory and honour for her son. She is determined to raise her grandson in a strict manner filling his head with ideas of soldierly daring and courage so that he is ready for military school as soon as possible. Captain Burle's son is a delicate, soft child who despairs at the thought of military life and war.

One stormy evening Major Laguitte (who has a marvellous catchphrase of "thunder and lightning!" which brings to mind Captain Haddock and his "thundering typhoons!") hammers on the door of Captain Burle's apartment in a furious rage. Captain Burle is not at home (he spends his evenings carousing with Melanie at the Cafe de Paris) so Major Laguitte tells the Captain's mother that he has discovered that his subordinate has been embezzling garrison funds. The Major served under Captain Burle's father and as a friend of the family is keen to avoid scandal by covering up the fraud and remonstrating with the Captain forcing him to mend his ways. 

Where did the embezzled money go? Certainly not on Captain Burle's family. No, Captain Burle, who is considered an incorrigible philanderer (he is nicknamed Petticoat Burle by his men), spends his evenings flirting with Melanie, the owner of the local "bar", and spends his money on buying her affection. Major Laguitte marches over to the Cafe de Paris, hauls Captain Burle out of the bar and gives him a good talking to. It seems that the Major's intervention has reformed the Captain, as for the next few weeks he stays quietly at home and can be found snoring in bed at nine o'clock. 

Major Laguitte begins to relax and thinks that the problem has been solved, until, one day, when casting his eye over the accounts he notices irregularities in Captain Burle's accounting once again. He can't understand where Captain Burle has been spending the money as apart from his duties he never leaves his home. He also realises that even if he urges Captain Burle to mend his ways countless times, the Captain will always return to his habit of cheating.

The Major resorts to a drastic course of action, in order to put an end to Captain Burle and the constant threat that he will sully the memory of his late father and dishonour his mother and son. Even though he only has the use of one leg, he decides to challenge Captain Burle to a duel - if he kills the Captain the problem will be solved and if he himself dies then he will not have to witness the shame that the Captain's actions bring on his family. As the Major is the Captain's superior he cannot get permission to duel without first resigning his commission. The papers take a long time to come through, but at last the much anticipated day of the duel  arrives. 
"The majority believed that Laguitte would be run through the body in three seconds, for it was madness for a man to fight with a paralyzed leg which did not even allow him to stand upright. A few, however, shook their heads. Laguitte had never been a marvel of intellect, that was true; for the last twenty years, indeed, he had been held up as an example of stupidity, but there had been a time when he was known as the best fencer of the regiment, and although he had begun as a drummer he had won his epaulets as the commander of a battalion by the sanguine bravery of a man who is quite unconscious of danger."
The duel is fought and the Major is victorious. Shortly afterwards, Captain Burle's frail son, who desperately hoped not to attend the military academy, dies.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs

I was rather excited when I stumbled across this book whilst searching for titles to read for my French-themed, April. Paris and a secondhand bookshop, "That's going to be good!" I said to myself. Although I had heard about Shakespeare and Company, I have never visited the bookshop and, in fact, I have only been to Paris once, year ago on a school trip.

George Whitman, an American expat, started his English language bookshop in Paris in 1951. The original shop was called Le Mistral, but in 1964 George changed the name to Shakespeare and Company in honour of the famous store run by another American expat, Sylvia Beach, which had closed in 1941. In addition to selling books, George's bookshop had beds tucked between the bookshelves where writers and other literary folk could stay for free as long as they helped out in the shop and tried to adhere to George's rule of reading a book a day. He also provided food for his guests and visitors and a library which the residents could use.

Jeremy Mercer's memoir of his time at the bookshop (he arrived in January 2000), is part travel writing and part history of the shop and biography of its owner. After reading the first couple of chapters I didn't think I was going to like this book, but I decided to give it a chance and at least read a hundred pages. At first, I found it too sensationalist - the author (a former crime reporter) runs away to Paris after receiving a death threat from a shady acquaintance in his native Canada - the dialogue is stilted and cliched in places, particularly when he tries to give a voice to the English men he meets at Shakespeare and Company, for example, "Don't worry, old boy" and "Oh, hello, old boy. I don't know where my head is these days.", and I didn't particularly warm to some of the stories of the self-indulgent, student type characters resident at the bookshop. However, the book improves markedly at about the halfway mark and by the time I finished I decided that I actually liked this book a lot. By the end the author came across as sincere and unpretentious and the story of the bookshop and George Whitman's experiment of how to live a different, more equitable and humane, kind of life was really quite inspiring.
"There are few men I admire more than George. Though far from perfect and rife with idiosyncrasies  George, with all the hope and optimism of a child, still believes he can change the world and change the people he takes in at his store. In an age when it is so tempting to be cynical, this is enough to make him a hero in my eyes."
George Whitman died in December 2011 (you can read an obituary here); his bookshop continues under the ownership of his daughter who is called Sylvia Beach Whitman.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Zoladdiction - Week Three Thoughts

The Masterpiece

It is taking me longer to read The Masterpiece than Germinal. I am enjoying it, but it is not as fast paced as Germinal which had me on the edge of my seat and flipping through pages in anticipation. The relationship between Claude and Christine is not really that interesting for me, I haven't progressed that far into their story yet, but I am sure it is going to be filled with the unnecessary drama of young, angst ridden passion. The focus of the story for me is the ambition of the artists and the discussion of their desire to succeed in and for some, like Claude, revolutionise their chosen field.

When we first meet Claude he is stalking through the city at night, as is his custom, and on other walks his frustrated and confused inner thoughts seem to meander and turn as much as his unplanned rambles. Claude does not just stalk the streets alone; we often see him traversing the city with his friends and fellow artists. I love the constant walking that Claude and his friends spend so much time engaged in; the way Zola makes his characters frequently ramble around Paris helps to create a feeling of action and movement in the novel. Also, as Paris is so connected to the young men's professional lives - it is the visual stimulus of their working lives and the cultural capital from which they seek critical acclaim - we need to "see" the city to appreciate its presence - these lengthy rambles achieve this in a subtle way without feeling too much like a guide book (although, I have been using Google images to see the streets that Claude habitually passes on his rambles).
"They had just walked right across Paris, one of their favourite jaunts, although they had other favourites too; all along the riverside, for example, or over part of the fortifications, from the Porte Saint-Jacques, say, to Les Moulineaux; or perhaps out to Pere-Lachaise and back round the outer boulevards. For a whole day at a time they would roam the streets and squares, as long as their legs would carry them, as if they wanted to conquer one district after another by flinging their startling theories in the face of its houses. The pavements they tramped were their battlefield, the very soil of which produced an ecstasy which drugged their fatigue."
Claude walking along the Quai de Bourbon.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Lit & Phil

The Literary and Philosophical Society Library, or the Lit & Phil as it is commonly known, is a subscription library near Newcastle's Central Station. It is the largest library of its kind outside of London which boasts the illustrious London Library. Unlike the London Library, access to the Lit & Phil is truly public; yes, if you want to be able to borrow books you need to become a paying member, but if you would like to use the books  on the premises then you can walk in off the street, mount the grand staircase up to the first floor and the library entrance, spend a couple of hours reading and even enjoy a cup of tea or coffee.

One of the first aims of the Society, set up in 1793, was to establish a library. Initially, the creation of the collection relied on gifts and donations and the majority of the books dealt with scientific themes. As the collection grew the subjects held by the library increased to include travel writing, geography, history, biography, poetry, classics and architecture. A decision was taken very early on not to buy novels for the collection, but this decision was later overturned and the library now holds a large selection of literary and popular fiction.

Until 1811 the collection was catalogued by size of book into the following four categories: folios, octavos, quartos and duodecimos. In that year the library attempted cataloguing the collection according to subject matter. The library relocated to its current premises in 1825, and by that time the library held 8,000 volumes, by 1989 they had 130,000 volumes and today the library boasts a collection of 150,000. I was intrigued to learn that the Lit & Phil began using the Dewey Decimal Classification in 1887 (this seems very early and I am still trying to find out where Dewey was first used in the UK).

The enquiry desk in the main library, taken from the Upper Gallery.
When I visited, the library had many visitors, there were people borrowing and returning books, people quietly reading and carrying out research and many people who seemed to have come for a cup of coffee and a chat. Although the James Knott Reading Room was very quiet and a suitable place for serious study, the table and chairs near the refreshments' hatch in the main library were occupied by people who had obviously come for a good chat with their friends and fellow members. The atmosphere of the library as a whole was very relaxing and welcoming.

The James Knott Reading Room seen from the Upper Gallery.
The Library File does not have a head for heights, in fact, my knees tend to start wobbling on reaching the fourth rung of a ladder, so I was a bit nervous about investigating the Upper Gallery as to start with I could only find one access point, which was the knee-knocking steep spiral staircase.

I was not brave enough to try these stairs.

Thankfully, there are more conventional stairs in the main library which enabled me to visit the Upper Gallery. Once I was up there I realised just how small the wooden walkway was that runs around the edge of the room. However, there are so many fascinating books stored up there that I spent a long time browsing and held on to the bookshelves if I felt a bit wobbly. I had a good chuckle at a book entitled 101 Things for the Housewife to do from 1949 which was full of some pretty mind-numbing activities like cleaning pots and pans, to be fair, it did include some interesting crafty projects too.

The roof of the Main Library
Newcastle City Library keeps a record of the Society's laws, proceedings and membership lists from its earliest days. The Society was set up as an institution for its members to debate and discuss scientific theories and advancements and in the description of the aims of the Society I found a wonderful quotation used as a rallying call for debate and discussion,
"Knowledge like fire, is brought forth by collision."
The quotation is not referenced in the text. Does anyone know to whom this quotation is attributed?

The Lit & Phil continues to offer opportunities to learn, discuss and debate with their public events. In the near future they will feature: lectures about the solar system, the railways, architecture and folk music concerts and piano recitals.

If you are in the North East of England the Lit & Phil is certainly worth a visit.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Short Story Sunday - Guy de Maupassant

On Horseback and Other Stories - Guy de Maupassant

Published by Capuchin Classics in 2008, this collection contains nine stories which originally appeared between 1877 and 1891:

  • On Horseback
  • Madame Tellier
  • Mademoiselle Fifi
  •  That Pig of a Morin
  • The Horla
  • The Necklace
  • The Piece of String
  • Two Little Soldiers
  • The Christening

The stories chosen for the collection are generally quite short - the longest tale and the only one I didn't enjoy is The Horla at 28 pages -  they are a varied bunch: some simple and light-hearted, some cynical and depressing and although the stories are not moralising they make profound points about life and society which leave you pondering the events of the story afterwards.

My two favourite stories from the collection: the title story and The Necklace are very similar. Both stories are set in Paris and feature middle income families showing off in an attempt to elevate their social status; both stories end in disaster, with the characters in a worse situation financially than they were before.

Other themes developed in the collection are: the betrayal of a friend, nationalism in the form of mocking occupying soldiers, how to deal with supernatural forces, the loss of reputation and how one's youth and status can result in less severe repercussions for unacceptable behaviour.

As I am taking part in Zoladdiction this month, I was very excited to see one of his novels, L'Assommoir, mentioned in the final story, The Christening. The narrator of the tale, a ship's doctor, says that we may have read about the evil effects of alcohol in "that admirable book entitled L'Assommoir" but that he has seen even worse results of "the divine poison" during his years as a doctor. He relates the story of a family in Brittany who end up in the most distressing situation as a result of their hard drinking. This really was a shocking story and as it was the last in the collection it made a lasting impression.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Zoladdiction - Week Two Thoughts

Reflections on Germinal

I finished Germinal a couple of days ago and I am still reeling from the denouement. I don't really feel like starting another book at the moment, but as I am taking part in a challenge I shall press on!

The last one hundred pages, or so, found me on the edge of my seat with my mouth agape and a fair few tears springing to my eyes. I don't want to include any spoilers as, perhaps, someone who is planning to read Germinal will read this and feel cheated.

The parts of the novel which particularly captivated me were the references to the French Revolution: I noticed three (Cecile offering La Maheude's children brioche which instantly brought the famous fiction of Marie Antoinette saying, "Let them eat cake!" to mind; the striking miners' shouts of "bread, bread, we want bread"; and also the singing of the Marseillaise) although I am sure someone with more knowledge of that period would pick up many more references. I also really liked the development of the relationship between the children Lydie and Bebert (I don't think I shall ever forget their final scene) and I was drawn in by the pathetic lives and fates of all of the animals in the book.

After reading the book I had a look for a film version on the internet. I found the 1992 French production with Gerard Depardieu and Renaud on YouTube, although it has been dubbed into Spanish. Even though the film is long (two and a half hours), certain elements are not included which I felt changed the feel of the story - the miners seemed idealised as if the story had been given the Hollywood glow, for example, Jeanlin's character was not developed fully - nevertheless it is a very enjoyable film.

An Afternoon in London

Foyles on Charing Cross Road
I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours in London yesterday afternoon. I planned a varied itinerary of library visits and a trip to my favourite London bookshop to pick up Zola's The Masterpiece, which I reserved prior to my visit. Of course, just a couple of hours in a large, busy city is not really much time at all, and after an airless, itchy-sheet night in a hotel I didn't have the energy to carry out all my plans. I decided to focus on my bookshop trip and try to get a bit of reading done.

I haven't visited Foyles in about ten years, but it is still as well-stocked and fun to browse in as I remember. The store now houses one of my favourite specialist bookshops, the language bookshop - Grant and Cutler. I didn't realise until I looked at the Foyles website that they had moved from their home on Great Marlborough Street. Although, I used to love their cluttered, floor-to-ceiling shelves and the fact that the further you went in the darker it got like some kind of treasure cave, their new space on the first floor of Foyles is, perhaps, easier to browse. As I was just browsing for fun and not requiring a particular text or any assistance, I can't comment on how their service may have changed since the move to Foyles.

The cover art of some of the French editions of Zola's work stocked by Grant and Cutler
After collecting my new Zola book, I picked up a coffee and headed off to the British Museum. Yesterday was the first time this year that I actually felt warm walking around, so I sat outside the museum to drink my coffee and start The Masterpiece. Sitting, soaking up the warmth of the sun reflected off the Portland stone of the museum created a contrast between the dark, stormy night in Paris that begins Zola's novel. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get into another novel for a while, after Germinal, but The Masterpiece seems like it is going to be very interesting too and I am already intrigued by the personality of Claude Lantier.
The Masterpiece at the British Museum

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Short Story Sunday - Rene Bazin

Rene Bazin - What the Wind Replied and The Birds in the Letter-Box

To continue the April, French theme, I read two stories by Rene Bazin, this week. 

Rene Bazin (1853 - 1935) was a law professor at the Catholic University in Angers and a novelist of provincial life. He had a traditionalist outlook and his works show a love of nature and the simple, pastoral life. In his day, he was an influential member of the group of traditionalist, Catholic writers that also included: Maurice Barres, Georges Bernanos and Francois Mauriac. I was rather disturbed to find his works described as "obsolete" by the Encyclopaedia Britannica; the two stories I read both had simple and enduring themes which in no way renders them "obselete". 

What the Wind Replied is about a young boy and his mother. The beginning of the tale finds the family living in a house by the sea. As the boy grows up he becomes attached to the idea of a life at sea as his father before him had (his father was a sailor who died at sea). The boy's mother wants to protect her son from the dangers of the sea, so the family moves inland and she seeks to entertain him with new pursuits and a love of the forest, hoping that he will forget about his passion for the sea and his desire to live his life on the ocean waves. The boy pines for his first love and eventually falls ill. Despite the loving attentions of his mother and the professional care of a doctor, the health of the little boy does not improve. The mother comes to realise that she cannot protect her son from his desires and the dangers of the world; if she wants him to recover she needs to give him the thing he wants most - a return to the sea. 

In The Birds in the Letter-Box an aged, country priest lives out his life surrounded by his fecund kitchen garden and the numerous birds that steal his fruit. One summer, he discovers that a family of tits are nesting in his letter box, he doesn't think that the birds will cause a great deal of inconvenience as, like the rest of the village of St Philemon, the priest sends more letters that he receives. 
"The postman had little to do on his rounds but to eat soup at one house, to have a drink at another, and, once in a long while, to leave a letter for some conscript, or a bill for taxes at some distant farm."
However, just at this time the bishop in the chief town of the region meets with his assistants to discuss forthcoming appointments and promotions. He nominates the priest of St Philemon as the new priest of another parish in recognition of his years of virtuous service. The bishop sends a letter requesting a response to the offer as soon as possible. Of course, the priest at St Philemon does not receive this letter for weeks, as he refrains from checking the letter-box until the fledglings have flown the nest.

As soon as the priest receives the important missive he rushes off to the bishop's palace to explain the situation. He returns to his parish without a promotion, and, although he had never been ambitious, he says to his housekeeper, "Next year, Philomene, if the tomtit comes back, let me know. It is decidedly inconvenient."

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Zoladdiction - Week One Thoughts


The first novel I chose to read for Zoladdiction is Germinal, published in 1885. I decided to start with this book for two reasons: i) it comes chronologically before my other choice (only just, as The Masterpiece was Zola's next work published in 1886) and ii) we are currently in Germinal (21st March to 19th April, the seventh month of the French Republican Calendar) and I thought it would be fun to read the novel of the same name during this time.

I was attracted to Germinal by the themes of working life in a mining community, workers rights and political awakening. I haven't been disappointed. I have now reached the first chapter of part V and I have loved every page. Zola's writing is incredibly vivid and descriptive and it feels like he is reporting back after an assignment shadowing coal miners.

My favourite part is Etienne's first day down the mine when he finds work as a trammer and the best part of that scene for me is the description of Bataille, an old pit horse.
"He was Bataille, the oldest horse in the mine, a white horse who had spent ten years underground. For ten years he had lived in this hole, staying in the same corner of the stable, doing the same job, trotting up and down the dark haulage roads without ever going back up to see daylight. He was very fat, with a sleek coat and a benevolent air, and seemed to pass his time living the good life, protected from the misfortunes of the world above. Moreover, he had grown accustomed to the dark, and extremely clever. The passage he plied had finally become so familiar that he knew how to push open the ventilation doors with his head, and he remembered to stoop down to avoid bumping his head where the roof was too low. And he must have been able to count, for when he had done the regulation number of trips, he refused to start another, and insisted on being taken back to his manger. Now, with old age, his cat's eyes would sometimes cloud over with melancholy. Perhaps he had a vague vision, in the dim light of his dreams, of the mill where he was born, near Marchiennes, a mill set on the banks of the Scarpe, surrounded by broad meadows and swept by a constant breeze. There was something bright and burning in the air, a sort of huge lamp, but the creature could not recall it exactly. And he lowered his head, trembling on his aged legs in his futile attempts to remember what the sun was like."
We are introduced to Bataille as another horse is being lowered into the mine to begin his working life underground. Trompette, the new arrival, is scared stiff after his journey down the mine shaft and remains frozen in place. Bataille, who has just finished his shift, approaches to greet him, "And he suddenly let out a resounding whinny, whose happy music seemed muted with a sorrowful sigh. It was a welcoming shout, and a cry of pleasure at the arrival of a sudden whiff of the past, but also a sigh of pity for the latest prisoner, who would never be sent back alive."
Picture from Wikipedia entry on pit pony

I hope to finish reading Germinal this weekend but I suspect that it will not have a happy or pleasant ending.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Short Story Sunday - Honore de Balzac

Honore de Balzac - In the Desert

I am taking part in Zoladdiction this month and I have decided to make April the month of all things French. So, for this week's short story I read a marvellous tale by Honore de Balzac (another French classic writer that I had not previously read).

In the Desert or A Passion in the Desert as I also saw it translated, is a tale about a Provencal soldier in North Africa during Napoleon's French campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798 - 1801). The soldier is captured by North African soldiers and marched through the desert by his captors. One night, he manages to escape, but he is so desperate to get as far away as possible from the enemy that he pushes the horse he has stolen to exhaustion. The stolen horse collapses and dies and the soldier is left alone in the desert. After wandering for a while, lost in the sands, he comes across a small oasis with: water, date palms and a small cave for shelter. For a short while the soldier is somewhat relieved as he has been rescued from certain death from thirst and exposure, but soon he begins to almost go mad from the solitary situation in which he finds himself.

The soldier tries to make the best of the situation and attempts to improve his shelter by using palm leaves as a mat for sleeping; however, in the night he wakes up and realises that a large animal is in the cave with him. As dawn arrives the soldier sees that his fellow cave dweller is a fully grown, female panther.

The rest of the story details the relationship between the panther and the soldier and how slowly they begin to trust each other and eventually end up loving one another. Their "love story" ends through a misunderstanding: the panther suddenly bites the soldier's leg (probably rather gently as she does him no harm) and the soldier reacts instinctively plunging his dagger in her throat and killing her.

The soldier is rescued shortly after the panther's death and returns to France.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The Library User is King

I recently borrowed a book from the library which I had to request from the stacks. The book (Charles Lamb: Miscellaneous Essays), which was last borrowed decades ago, had a rather frightening label pasted in the front cover detailing the rules of library book borrowing.

How things have changed! Today I can borrow ten books (in other cities I have borrowed as many as 15 books at a time), no one tells me what genre of book I may, or may not check out and most libraries I use have self-service check out/in machines so, if I desired, I could borrow ten racy romances without anyone batting an eyelid.

Fenham Library

Fenham Library is a Grade II listed building that was built in 1938. Although it has been modernised, it was nice to still see some original features including the separate In and Out doors.

The library is made up of a large central room with the lending stock and enquiry desk, a separate children's library to the right of the entrance and a separate study area with PCs and plenty of study tables.

The library is earmarked for closure by Newcastle City Council.