BookThoughts: Alessandro Baricco – Mr Gwyn

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‘Jasper Gwyn diceva che tutti siamo qualche pagina di un libro, ma di un libro che nessuno ha mai scritto e che invano cerchiamo negli scaffali della nostra mente.’

Mr Gwyn, Alessandro Baricco, Feltrinelli, 2011

A beautifully written book, I devoured this in a day, favouring returning home to it over sitting in a bar with a cocktail and rather antisocially turning to read while out with some friends.

Baricco’s relatively short novel was gripping and intriguing. Set in London (although not translated from English, instead written directly in Italian), the plot follows protagonist Jasper Gywn after he gives up writing and sets about creating written portraits. I found it beautifully written, with a simple plot which was engaging and fluid – not the kind of book where you’re having to flip back and forth, trying to keep up with what’s happening.

Mr Gwyn is written in my current favourite style; through a series of short chapters. This adds to the ease of the plot and makes it really readable. The chapters often flowed into each other, without much distance in time between the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next, and occasionally I wondered whether a new chapter really was necessary. However, the layout of chapters, with a simple number denoting the start of the next, made for unobtrusive chaptering, and added to the ease of the flow of the plot.

BookThoughts: Pascale Gautier – Les vieilles

‘Penser à après-demain parce qu’on ne sait jamais de quoi demain sera fait.’

Les vielles, Pascale Gautier, Folio Gallimard, 2011
Winner of 2012 Prix Renaudot Poche

Beautifully and cleverly written in the form of many short chapters (45 chapters, 215 pages), this novel was gripping and I was always tempted to read just one more chapter, whipping out the book whenever I had a spare couple of minutes.

Gautier was very successful combining light humour with serious questioning about the nature of life and death. At times the book made me laugh out loud and at other points I was close to tears.

Seeing the world through the eyes of the pensioners makes you question the important things in life. The humorous setting of the town, Le Trou (even with a comic name – ‘The hole’) was amusing on the surface,  but there was a deeper sense of sadness and loneliness. Le Trou is presented as a town where the elderly came to spend their last days, a town deserted by the younger generations, a town where people waited for the ticking time bomb of death; their worlds became their individual fixations, whether running, the cat, the church.

The various family dynamics placed emphasis on the importance of family in old age, showing the basic human desire for company and presenting loneliness as the saddest and most difficult human emotion. There was a certain fixation on death, which I think is epitomised by young Kevin’s joke about work at a crematorium being good, reliable work. This fixation on death can also be seen through the number of widows in the town and the sudden occurrence of multiple suicides towards the end of the book. The panic surroudnign the impending apocalypse serves as a further way in which Gautier presents people’s attitude towards death. This again pointed towards the questioning about the nature of life: is death the only security/stability in life? Is there a certain comfort to be found in the certainty of death?

Les vieilles, Pascale Gautier, Folio Gallimard, 2011.