Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mama Dearest: Roberto Alajmo's A Mother's Heart

I’m going to try to write around the conceit at the center of contemporary Sicilian writer Roberto Alajmo’s 2003 novel Cuore di Madre - Un Cœur de mère in the French translation I read, or A Mother’s Heart as I’ll refer to it here. Even though I’m normally inclined to reveal spoilers for novels not yet translated into English, dammit, in this one so much is constructed around the central conflict, which holds such a limited universe of possible resolutions, that I feel I’d be giving too much away. For those of you nonetheless willing to stick around, I’ll try to keep your interest by adding that A Mother’s Heart is one of the funniest novels I’ve read in a long time, as black a comedy as black comedies come, one that probably could have been written nowhere but in Sicily. Its peculiar blend of laugh-out-loud humor with the appalling way a child gets treated in the story might not sit well, for example, with some sensitive American tastes. The novel also contains many specifically Sicilian resonances; in fact, Alajmo’s dark comedy takes aim at what might be Southern Italy’s most crucial social fulcrum: the relationship of a son with his mother. While such territory has been mined by other Sicilian writers, even for comic effect – Vitaliano Brancati comes to mind – Alajmo elevates (correction: descends) the mother/son relationship to serve as an elaborate and devastating metaphor for the status quo of modern Sicily.

One barely gets a whiff of the direction Alajmo’s story will take from its opening pages, which begin by dissecting the possible reasons one Cosimo Tumminia, proprietor of a bicycle repair shop in the dusty village of Calcara south of Palermo, has no clients. Perhaps Cosimo’s social isolation stems from a botched repair job, perhaps from innumerable small events that have accumulated into intractable negative gossip, maybe from a vengefulness born out of some old antipathy, its origins lost to time. Whatever the reason, the villagers keep their distance, and callow youths make rude gestures each time they pass Cosimo’s shop, although they do so “mechanically, like those things one does because one does, without demanding why one does them.”

Cosimo seems not to mind much, or even to notice. Passive, incurious, something of a big lug who lives alone in a house in the countryside, he has few interests. Having long ago failed in his few attempts with women, he keeps pornographic magazines under his bed and visits – albeit rarely – an aging prostitute on the edge of town. The “pillars on which Cosimo’s culture rests” consist almost entirely of the stories, jokes and puzzles included in each issue of Games and Crossword Puzzles Weekly, a habitual form of recreation in which he’s indulged for some twenty years. On occasion, he supplements this thrilling diversion by watching whatever happens to be on television or by listening to a radio show on which long-distance truckers call in to report on their locations.

The single other significant element in this vacuous life is Cosimo’s mother, whom he visits in town every day, largely for the purposes of being attentively reminded of his failings and supplied meals he can take home, which his mother prepares for him with relentless maternal insistence.  

But now another feature has come into Cosimo’s circumscribed world, a tremendous change he’s scarcely capable of acknowledging as a more than a blip in his routine. This obligation he’s unable to refuse, one foisted upon him by a handful of local Mafiosi who’ve seen in his social disconnection the qualities perfectly suited for a patsy in a criminal scheme of which the details – though not the hugely un-ignorable central fact of it – remain obscure to Cosimo. The role assigned to him, compromising everything in his quotidian existence, unexpectedly stretches from a promised “few days” to an indeterminate and increasingly untenable period, with no guarantee that those who’ve placed him in this situation will ever return to get him out of it.  

Much of the comedy in A Mother’s Heart stems from Cosimo’s bumbling inadequacy and incompetence in handling his new responsibility. Much of the rest - predictably - stems from his inability to keep his overbearing mother from getting involved. Though relationships between mothers and sons feature frequently in Italian literature, I can’t think of a work in which such a relationship has been so expertly milked for horrific comic effect. Alajmo is deft at creating little comic touches, for example, in using what passes on television as a repeated, humorous counterpoint to what’s happening in Cosimo’s life, or when he reveals the mother’s pride in a set of progressively-sized food containers into which she daily and dutifully shifts a progressively-shrinking amount of leftovers, or when he zooms in on her obsessiveness over the precise point at which a dish is ready to eat. I suspect that more than a few Sicilian sons may have found this book exceedingly discomfiting; even so, they probably still couldn’t wait to get home for mama’s cooking. Like Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano mysteries, Alajmo’s novel gleefully indulges in Sicilian food, as Cosimo’s mother prepares dish after dish: meatballs in tomato sauce; pasta with sardines, anchovies or tuna, with and without garlic; fried eggplant; and above all brociolone. I’ll let you look up a recipe for yourselves, but should you happen to have a Sicilian relation coming to dinner I’d advise care in choosing among the variations. Disputes over familial differences in preparing Sicilian specialties can turn deadly.

When Cosimo casually suggests that his mother’s brociolone tastes better the day after it’s been cooked, he missteps into a typically impossible exchange with her:

“Why? You didn’t find it good just now?”
“No, for pity’s sake, it’s very good.”
“What about it didn’t you like? Did the potatoes seem too undercooked?”
“No, never in your life!”
“Well, then why did you say you didn’t like it?”
“Who, me, what did I say?”
“That you didn’t like it. Just now, you said it.”
“But when?”
His mother placed the casserole on the table, a sign that she wanted her hands free in order to get to the bottom of things.
“You take me for an imbecile? Just now, you said it.”
“I said that when I ate it the next day it seemed better…”
“So, today’s…”
“What do they have to do with one another? I was speaking in general. Today’s will be even better tomorrow, but it’s already good now.”
“But that the dish would be better when reheated tomorrow you couldn’t yet know, so when you said that it was good, you’d perceived, in fact, that it wasn’t as good as usual. You don’t have to bother my head about it.”

If such exchanges characterize the mother/son relationship in matters so inconsequential, one can imagine their amplification when it comes to the serious circumstances into which Cosimo has fallen.

Alajmo hews closely and leisurely to details, painting a richly textured portrait of the situation. For example at the beginning, in describing the three hypotheses regarding Cosimo’s ostracism, the third-person narrator takes up an entire four pages, a pace so protracted as to test the reader’s patience. Similarly, a description of the contents of the Games and Crossword Puzzles Weekly stretches over multiple pages. But like the tortoise catching up with the hare, slow and steady wins the race, and Alajmo thus creates an almost giddy tension, such that when the problem reaches critical mass, the narrator’s insistence on unhurriedly relating granular details drags the reader through the full measure of the awfulness involved. This combines with the novel’s great black humor to push the reader into a deliriously appalled state. Rarely have I encountered a novel that uses its pacing so effectively to heighten an intended effect.

A Mother’s Heart would be enjoyable if it only aimed for laughs, but Alajmo’s humor pokes pointedly into the particular Sicilian disease of Mafia influence on daily life as well as into the universal ways ordinary people can inertly submit to domination by becoming trapped into routine, acquiescent, and by extension, complicit. One emerges from Alajmo’s clever novel with a tragic sense of his having pierced into the core of a state of things capable of starving off hope for future generations, one far too deeply and menacingly woven into the fabric of Sicilian life. It’ll take more than a mother’s heart to unravel it – more than this mother’s heart, anyway.

A huge thanks to JLS for having recommended Roberto Alajmo’s books. At the moment, only one of his works appears to be available in English, his delightful non-fiction “anti-travel guide” Palermo, worth reading even if only to get a flavor of Alajmo’s singular humor and great talent. 

Above: Photograph of a photograph by photographer Giovanni Ruggeri installed in a doorway in Catania, Sicily, 2014.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Two Serious Ladies

Jane Bowles, photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1951

Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.   
  - W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939

Though I’ve read Jane Bowles’ Two Serious Ladies several times, it remains to me the strangest of novels. I can never fully recall what happens within its entwined and peripatetic plots, and with each reading the book seems nearly as surprising and odd as the first time. Certain words and phrases culled from the text could describe the work itself: “gloriously unpredictable,” for example, or “a train ride into the blue.” The narrative’s almost child-like quality contrasts with its close, even dreadful atmosphere, a style suggestive of the running narrative a couple of precocious and not-so-innocent children might concoct while playing with dolls.

This disconnect appears on the first page, where a blithe description of the privileged childhood of one of Bowles’ “serious ladies,” Christina Goering, swerves dangerously in a single sentence: “Even then she wore the look of certain fanatics who think of themselves as leaders without once having gained the respect of a single human being.” At this discordant note, the reader may give a second thought to the character’s charged family name, and the uneasy distance only increases when, just afterwards, the child Goering orders her sister Sophie’s friend into muddy water in order to try to wash away the girl’s sins.

Describing the action of Two Serious Ladies poses a challenge to the reviewer. Awash in alcohol, the narrative also includes dreams, and the novel as a whole possesses a woozy, dream-like ambiance, or as Miss Goering says of one of her own perceptions, something “like a dream that is remembered long after it has been dreamed.” Indeed, many of the novel’s sparsely placed but arresting images arise as though having welled up from subconscious sources to stand like the puzzling objects in a Giorgio de Chirico painting: a fire engine glowing red in the night; a blue peacock mosaic on the floor of a depressing apartment building; a garden enclosed by barbed wire, beneath which a dog is trying to crawl; a woman with no arms or legs.

Divided into three parts, the narrative follows the adult Miss Goering as she invites to live with her a Miss Gamelon, the exotically-named cousin of Miss Goering’s childhood governess. At a party Miss Goering briefly encounters an old friend – Bowles’ other “serious” lady, Mrs. Copperfield, who admits her dread of an upcoming trip to Panama – then goes home with another party guest, Arnold, and meets Arnold’s indignant mother and spry, lively father. At home later, Miss Goering announces that she intends to leave her fancy house for “some more tawdry place” on a nearby island. Abandoning this story, the novel’s second part follows Mrs. Copperfield to Panama, where, as her husband goes off to explore the jungle, Mrs. Copperfield returns to the run-down hotel/brothel where she’s befriended a teenage prostitute, Pacifica, and the hotel’s proprietor, Mrs. Quill. The narrative returns in the third part to Miss Goering, Miss Gamelon, Arnold and Arnold’s father, now sharing Miss Goering’s “tawdry” new home, and introduces other characters Miss Goering encounters during nighttime excursions into the town across from the island. The novel culminates in a bar in which Miss Goering and Miss Copperfield meet again as though for the purpose of comparing their respective (mis)adventures.

Despite the novel’s lugubrious atmosphere – Truman Capote described Bowles’ settings as “every room an atrocity, every urban landscape a neon-dourness” - Two Serious Ladies repeatedly surprises the reader with flashes of sharp wit, humorous situational irony, evanescent moments of happiness or tranquility, and above all a deep quirkiness in its characters that is both memorable and anchored by a sense of moral force. Conventional, Bowles’ two serious ladies are not, and indeed they make a point of embracing non-conformity, as Miss Goering, who has been a typist for famous authors, asserts:

I think, though, that you can make friends more quickly with queer people. Or else you don’t make friends with them at all – one way or the other. Many of my authors were very queer. In that way I’ve had an advantage of association that most people don’t have. I know something about what I call real honest-to-God maniacs.

The novel is full of oddballs, most perched unsteadily on the dulled edge of some psychological longing or frustration. Paranoia, detachment, alienation, misunderstanding – these qualities of relation rub up against the instant and even fond attachments that coalesce and dissolve throughout the story. The men in Two Serious Ladies appear largely self-absorbed, ineffectual, even brutish, their characters and motivations revealed in withering clarity. Arnold is a milquetoast; Mr. Copperfield seeks out authentic travel “experiences” while dismissing his wife’s attachments to the local prostitutes. Toby, a client at the Hotel de Las Palmas who latches onto Mrs. Quill, proves an unscrupulous profiteer. One of Pacifica’s clients splits her lip – one of several episodes of violence in Two Serious Ladies. Andy, a man whom Christina Goering meets in a bar then moves in with briefly, is presumptuous and washed up. His successor in Miss Goering’s adventures, Ben, a gangster, makes no bones about seeing women as existing only to satisfy his every whim. Even the most appealing male character, Arnold’s father, admits to a tyrannical relationship with a wife he resents and even “knock[s]…around all day long.” But a few of these men display occasional moments of remorse or thoughtfulness, as when Arnold’s father pens a beseeching letter to his wife, or when Andy, when pressed for why he didn’t reveal a morbid sexual obsession to the girl he once intended to marry, replies that he “wanted the buildings to stay in place for her and…the stars to be over her head and not cockeyed.” 

Against most of Bowles’ characters, her two “serious ladies” stand out through a drive that impels them to confront their fears and an awareness of themselves as beings capable of choice and self-determination. “The idea,’ said Miss Goering, ‘is to change first of our own volition and according to our own inner promptings before they impose completely arbitrary changes on us.’” The women’s motivations too are presented starkly, albeit with qualifiers. Mrs. Copperfield’s “sole object in life,” the narrator tells us, “was to be happy, although people who had observed her behavior over a period of years would have been surprised to discover that this was all.” Miss Goering, intent on working out her “own little idea of salvation,” repeatedly responds to questions about her behavior by noting that it’s not for fun that she does what she does, but because “it is necessary.” Attainment of the ideals of both women is a near constant struggle involving dynamic tensions between autonomy and dependence, attraction and repulsion, domesticity and travel, safety and daring, insularity and expansiveness, peace and violence, tyranny and timidity. Dualities and binaries recur throughout Two Serious Ladies (including, obviously, in the title), as though Miss Goering and Mrs. Copperfield form a single dialectical unit representing characteristics and choices both opposed and complementary.

In their rejection of convention and embrace of asserting their own volition, and even as they sink to the lower depths, Bowles’ serious ladies display a questing, even moral quality. They are not eccentric simply to be eccentric. Christina in particular is determined to conquer her fears; her sojourns out of the house seem equal parts Homeric odyssey and Dantesque descent, as she sails, or rather, takes the ferry, across water - a thematic motif running throughout Two Serious Ladies. Repeatedly, Miss Goering plunges into the water, coercing others to join her or leaving them behind on an island, including Miss Gamelon, who admits to an insurmountable inability to cross a big body of water, a fear that has prevented her from fulfilling her dreams and which, one can surmise, excludes her from being “serious.” Mrs. Copperfield resists water and is terrified when her Pacifica offers to teach her how to swim, but submits nonetheless, her vulnerability poignantly revealed as she hangs on “hard to Pacifica’s thigh with the strength of years of sorrow and frustration in her hand.” 

But the moral dimension of these women seems unmoored from any conventional morality. Despite frequent allusions to religion, such as Mrs. Goering’s quest for sainthood and a reference to Mrs. Copperfield’s being of l’age du Christ, Bowles’ serious ladies follow a vague internal compass. “It is against my entire code,” proclaims Miss Goering in response to Arnold’s invitation to spend the night, “but then, I have never even begun to use my code, although I judge everything by it.” And when Miss Goering accuses Mrs. Copperfield of having gone to pieces, Mrs. Copperfield retorts, “I have gone to pieces, which is a thing I’ve wanted to do for years.” Whither that compass may lead them and whether it’s in the right direction or not seems nearly beside the point when a life choice is always of interest, but perhaps not of importance, as Miss Goering opines, simultaneously wondering if, though she feels nearer to sainthood, something inside “hidden from my sight is piling sin upon sin as fast as Mrs. Copperfield.”

Claire Messud’s introduction to a new edition of Two Serious Ladies, while focusing on the unconventionality of the novel and the characters, barely skirts the important context in which Bowles’ novel was born. Bowles composed Two Serious Ladies in the early 1940’s as fascism marched across Europe. Although aside from the resonant name “Goering” there is nothing manifest in Two Serious Ladies regarding the dire events unfolding in the world, anxiety about the war seems as subsumed into the narrative as the sea seems contained in an oyster. Messud also omits mention of the “February House” in Brooklyn Heights, the creative furnace in which Bowles lived with her husband Paul, Carson McCullers, W. H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, the burlesque and Broadway performer Gypsy Rose Lee, and the house’s founder, the charismatic editor George Davis, with an almost infinite parade of the most notable artists and writers of the time passing through, including many, like Klaus and Erika Mann and Salvador and Gala Dalí, fleeing the horrors of the Europe. W. H. Auden was particularly involved in inspiring and influencing Bowles’ work on Two Serious Ladies; the novel’s questions of choice and morality in a world in which humanity seems abandoned to its own devices and sinking into a terrible conformity echo those found in much of Auden’s most searching work of the time. Sherrell Tipton, in February House, a study of the community, notes both authors’ fascination with Franz Kafka, especially Kafka’s implicit questioning of original sin in a world in which God is non-existent - or arbitrary, indifferent, asleep.

Two Serious Ladies grapples with difficult questions and eschews easy answers. Its style is breathtakingly original. Its peculiar realism, which starkly presents life as a panoply of choices, a grasping in a world of violence and alienation but also of intrepidness and small kindnesses, is infused with a strangeness that pushes it towards a haunting surrealism. But above all, its mesmerizing, complex binary characters are what truly stand out in the novel. In one of the few instances in Two Serious Ladies in which Bowles actually employs the word “serious” (aside from in the title), Arnold complains of his “more and more…insupportable” life, wishing to switch to something “in the book line, or in the painting line,” noting that his family “doesn’t believe that such an occupation is serious.”  Arnold’s father instead dismisses his son as lacking the capacity to be an artist, which requires “a certain amount of brawn and pluck and character.” One can see in Bowles’ two serious ladies - eccentric, courageous, awful, frail, determined, perhaps even damned - no small amount of brawn and pluck and character, an unfiltered embrace of curiosity regarding the world around them, a struggle to create themselves anew, horrid warts and all, to wrest a bit of self-determination and a lot of originality from a darkening world. In delivering us her only novel, as singular and daring and discomfiting a work as one can find in any literature, Jane Bowles has displayed the same.

 Many thanks to the Dolce Bellezza blog for organizing this group read of Two Serious Ladies!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wrapping Up 2015

Unopened bottle of Mumm champagne, 
found and displayed by artist Jenny Odell
 at the Recology Artist-in-Residence program
 of the San Francisco City garbage dump. 

Seraillon’s fifth year of existence, 2015, has been something like a Christmas panettone: delicious Italian (mostly Neapolitan) ingredients, but with a few domestic and exotic fruits and a very, very few rancid walnuts thrown into the mix. For another year, I’ve been awestruck by the works I’ve read; each succeeding year-end wrap-up serves to underscore how the universe of literary marvels is ever-expanding, and how my sense of getting a grip on it all seems ever-receding.

Here are a few notes from this year of reading:

Best Work Consisting of 2,279 Sonnets

The year began with the joyful discovery of the Roman sonnets of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, who used dialect to create, in sonnet form, a raw, ribald and not infrequently moving portrait of the Eternal City. The enthusiasm and different approaches taken by Belli’s several translators - perhaps most notably Anthony Burgess in his literary novella ABBA ABBA - helped to ramp up my own enthusiasm. Belli is a poet to read and re-read.

Best Work in which All The Characters End Up Enclosed in a Pumpkin

Going back a bit further in time, Teofilo Folengo’s Baldo may well rank as my favorite book of the year, a hugely entertaining, bawdy and inventive tale that served as a chief inspiration for Rabelais but which offers up a free-wheeling innocence unmatched by its offspring.

Five Exceptional 20th Century Italian Novels (and a Note About Four 21st Century Italian Novels)

Raffaele La Capria’s The Mortal Wound, which inspired Paolo Sorrentino’s film La Grande Bellezza, beautifully captures the paralysis of an entire generation of Neapolitans.

Guido Morselli’s “alternate history” novel Divertimento 1889 I found charming, funny, and subtly disturbing.

J. Rudolfo Wilcock’s catalogue of mostly fictional artists and dreamers in The Temple of Iconoclasts stood out by virtue of its incredibly wry humor.

Ennio Flaiano’s riveting The Short Cut, exploring an episode during Fascist Italy’s misadventure in East Africa, ranked up there with the best of Graham Greene.

Finally, a late contender, Daniele del Giudice’s surprising Lines of Light counts among the most inventive contemporary novels I’ve read in a long time, an almost plotless story concerning two men, a novel writer and a particle physicist, briefly intersecting and diverging amid love’s lines, angles and rhymes in their approaches to the exploration of knowledge.

Before leaving off the Italians, I feel obliged here to say something about Elena Ferrante’s “Neapolitan Quartet,” which I chomped down in a gulp. I intend to write about these books in early 2016, after having written around them in 2015 by noting some of Ferrante’s obvious influences.

Best Travelogue/Anti-Clerical Parody for Showing Up Gustave Flaubert

José Maria Eça de Queiroz’s The Relic proved an unexpected and utterly charming, funny and irreverent novel, one so different from his The Maias that I have trouble deciding which, between these two, is my favorite among the several of Eça’s works that I’ve now read. But I can easily say that The Relic is among my favorite works read in 2015, a novel I’m already pushing on other readers unfamiliar with this terrific writer.

Best Modern Poetry Discovery

A terrific discovery in poetry this year, thanks to a kind friend who sent along a recently translated selection – The Perfect Hour - is Portuguese poet Sophia Mello de Breyner Andresen. Here’s a book I’ve kept on the night table for frequent reading of delicate poems which prove that sometimes a limited palette is all that’s needed to create marvelous poetry. It’s a short book one can read in an hour – a perfect hour.

Probably the Best Novel Ever Set Anywhere Near Bakersfield, California

I owe thanks to Jacqui of Jacquiwine’s Journal for turning me on to Dorothy Baker’s Cassandra at The Wedding, a comic psychological novel of two sisters whose complex relationship is tested by the impending marriage of one. Why this isn’t a better-known American classic I do not know. 

Best Second Visit with a Writer I’ve Wanted to Read Again

Thanks to another suggestion from Jacqui, I returned for a second time to Elizabeth Taylor, this time her novel Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont – delicate, funny, moving, among the most affecting works about aging that I can recall having read.

Best Discovery of a Writer I’d Resisted Reading Before

Arnold Bennett. I loved his Anna of the Five Towns, and quickly followed it with his delightful The Card.

Best Fulfillment of a Decades-Long Reading Project

Finally this year I succeeded in finishing a goal I started at age 17: reading all of Virginia Woolf’s novels. The Voyage Out, her first novel, was the only one remaining, and what surprises it provided! Perhaps reading everything else before reading this one was a good thing, for in The Voyage Out one sees the germs of almost everything else Woolf wrote, including the introduction of Clarissa Dalloway. The Voyage Out also possesses a liveliness and humor that seems somewhat diminished in Woolf’s later writing, and contains one of my favorite scenes from all of my reading this year, in which two of the characters, braving a storm at sea, sequester themselves in a cabin on the boat and drink champagne from a glass that's still holding a toothbrush.

Most Moving Short Novel about Approaching the End of Life

Little Songs in the Shade of Tamaara, by Egyptian writer Mohammed Afifi. A simple idea: a man catalogues everything in his garden. But through attentiveness and reminiscence he manages to recall and evaluate an entire life of tragedy and triumph as he approaches the end of it. This small, beautifully structured book resonated profoundly; would that any of us could express the feelings of facing life’s end with such courage, grace and beauty.

A Great Novel About the Sahara

New Waw is the second novel I’ve read by Taureg writer Ibrahim Al-Koni, who creates poetic gems through merging ethnography and a profound appreciation of the desert in exploring the lives of Taureg nomads.

A Bad But Entertaining Novel About The Sahara

Pierre Benoit’s L’Atlantide was a colossal success in France when it appeared in 1919. I read it in an English translation under the kitsch title Queen of Atlantis, one I found entirely appropriate to the B-film quality of this story of French explorers discovering a lost civilization in the furthest reaches of the desert (it’s Atlantis – surprise!). A hoot from start to finish.

Best Historical Fiction

This award must go to Jean-Noel Schifano’s Chroniques Napolitaines – beautifully written, filled with love affairs and violence stemming from the same addiction to passion that characterized baroque Naples.  

Best Short Story Collection That Involves the Paint on the Mona Lisa’s Canvas Suddenly Deciding to Fly Off and Explore the World

To be fair, I only read a handful of short story collections this year, but César Aira’s The Musical Brain, a long-anticipated translation of the Argentine novelist’s shorter works, ranked for me among the best of the books I’ve read by Aira, with one deliriously inventive story succeeding another. The New Directions hardcover edition also gets kudos for its terrific cover.

Two Novels I Intend to Re-Read Before Writing About Them

Long on my list of novels to be read, and now read at last for the first, but surely not the last time, is Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier. I flagged so many lines on so many pages that in the end I decided I’d just have to read it again.

Effi Briest, by Theodor Fontane. I am still haunted by the Chinese figure in Fontane’s novel, as well as by the quick eclipse of youth that occurs in its opening pages. Though I read Effi Briest early this year, it has rested in my head as perhaps the novel I am most eager to re-visit. 

Best Work I’m Still Reading, and Other Projects for 2016

I am thrilled to be halfway through a re-read of Don Quixote. This coming year I’ll likely still keep exploring Italian literature, but look forward to pursuing many other writers I’ve yet to discover as well as re-reading authors I want to revisit (perhaps especially Arnold Bennett and his The Old Wives’ Tale). One of the writers I intend to revisit, for the umpteenth time, is Jane Bowles and her novel Two Serious Ladies. Please see this announcement of a proposed group read with the Dolce Bellezza blog.

Finally, a huge thanks to all of you who have visited Seraillon this year and to all of you who have pointed the way to so many wonderful paths to explore in literature. I wish you a joyful and peaceful 2016 - wherever you might get your champagne.