Tag Archives: historical novel

Melissa Lenhardt, Sawbones

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This Western novel was inspired by the appreciation that the author’s father had for Larry McMurtry‘s Lonesome Dove. In the book, the main female character, a young doctor accused of committing murder in New York City, flees to the frontier to start a new life. The convoy she travels with through Texas is attacked by Indians and she is the lone survivor. One of the officers involved in her rescue is injured and she treats him, saving his life. They fall in love and they flee together when information about her real identity surfaces and she is threatened.

The writing is conventional and effective; the author is a good storyteller. The emotional dimensions of the book, though, remain superficial and could have been better exploited. We are told about emotions but the writing is not conducive to experimenting them vicariously, especially when it comes to the development of love and affection between the main character and the officer she saves. I found the first half of the book quite interesting but the second half felt more rushed.

The portrayal of characters and their relationships were rather stereotypical. There are some attempts at introducing nuances (such as when the young doctor gets to know the prostitutes who serves the frontier town) but most are one-sided stereotypes. Even accounting for the fact that the novel is set in the 19th century, it constricted how interactions and dialogues were handled in the novel.

Future works may show an evolution in a direction that might make them a more satisfying read for me.

I was given access to this book by the publisher through Net Galley.

Reference:

Lenhardt, Melissa. Sawbones. Redhook Books, 2016.

Other things:

http://www.melissalenhardt.com/

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Ildefonso Falcones, La reina descalza

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Set in the mid-18th century in Spain, this thick historical novel, about 740 pages, is currently a bestseller in Spain (at least in the paperback list of the fnac.es site). It is the third novel for Falcones, a Barcelona lawyer. One does wonder when he finds the time to research and write these sagas if he is still practicing as a lawyer… Actually he says he writes in the morning and still spends half the day in the office. He prefers to keep working to stay in touch with the real problems of real people.

There are four major characters than one follows throughout this novel:

1. Milagros Vega, a young gypsy from the Seville area, gets caught up in both personal troubles and historical events that shatter her family. In the mid-18th century, the king of Spain essentially outlawed being a gypsy, rounding up entire families, sending the men and boys over 7 into work camps and women to jails, all with horrendous living conditions from which many did not survive. By some turn of luck, Milagros escapes the deportations and later reunites with her father upon his liberation. Her mother remains imprisoned and her father marries Milagros to the son of a rival family. Milagros, who is a good singer and dancer, is exploited by her in-laws, who keep the proceeds of the many performances she gives. She is later approached to join a theater in Madrid and the little family moves there. Once in Madrid, Pedro, the husband, continues cheating on his wife and profiting from her talents, singing her up for private performances in the home of rich Madrid citizens. This eventually degenerates into sexual exploitation that I will not detail here.

2. Melchor Vega, Milagros’ grand-father, is an old wily tobacco smuggler who also escapes the round-up and deportation as he was in hiding in the mountain recovering from a stabbing wound received in a fight with a rival smuggler who had stolen some merchandise from him. He is very skillful with a knife.

3. Caridad is a young freed slave from Cuba, who was born in Africa and taken to Cuba as a young girl. She was freed when her master took ill on the ship from Cuba to Spain. She landed in Cadiz and did not know what to do. The ship’s chaplain recommended that the make her way to the Seville area, put her on a boat to that city and gave some directions to follow to find a monastery that might assist her. Once in the Seville area, she did not find the help she sought but is offered a place to sleep by Melchor. She later becomes friends with Milagros although this friendship was fraught with difficulties.

4. Fray Joaquín was a young dynamic priest who was known in the gypsy community near Seville. He was involved in the processing of smuggled tobacco and therefore was known to the other three characters already described. At some point, he disappears… but he reappears to save Milagros from her husband’s murderous intents.

Well, all of those characters do at some point disappear from each others’ lives… to reappear in sometimes unexpected circumstances.

Falcones can spin a good yarn, the story is well constructed, and there are lots of details of everyday life which I find quite interesting. The only downside for me is the amount of the sensationalist approach to describing sexual molestations, which might endear him to some readers but not me. While in the end that is not what I most remembered from his first two novels, I might hesitate getting into a fourth one.

While the point may be that the lives of women of the time was very different from ours, that they did not enjoy a status of equality with men, that their lives were not so highly valued, that they not protected by the law, there may have other, more elegant approaches to describing this state of affairs.

The book ends with an 8-page note from the author on the historical background for his story.

 

References

Falcones, Ildefonso,  La reina descalza, Vintage Español, Nueva York, 2013.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triana,_Seville

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Gypsy_Round-up

http://www.ildefonsofalcones.com/

 

Gioconda Belli – El pergamino de la seducción

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Gioconda Belli – El pergamino de la seducción

Première phrase du livre: Manuel dijo que me narraría la vida de Juana de Castilla y su locura de amor por su marido Felipe el Hermoso, si yo aceptaba ciertas condiciones. (p. 5)

La première phrase introduit donc dès le départ trois des personnages principaux du roman. La narratrice est Lucía, une jeune orpheline de 17 ans qui vit depuis l’âge de 13 ans dans un couvent en plein Madrid, à deux pas de la gare d’Atocha et du jardin botanique. Elle a été placée dans ce couvent par ses grands-parents suite au décès de ses parents dans un tragique accident d’avion. Manuel est un professeur d’histoire d’une quarantaine d’année qui rencontre Lucía par hasard (je crois qu’ils se sont rencontrés au musée El Prado qu’elle aime bien fréquenter). Manuel commence à lui parler de Jeanne de Castille (ou Jeanne La Folle), un personnage historique que le fascine. Au fil des conversations, Manuel lui parle d’elle et la convainc de venir chez lui, de revêtir un costume de style renaissance et de s’imprégner de l’histoire de Jeanne La Folle qu’il lui raconte par étape. Il veut se servir des perceptions et de l’intuition de Lucía pour mieux comprendre  la vie de Jeanne La Folle d’un point de vue subjective et non historico-objectif.

Le tout se passe dans les années 60 et on comprend bien que la société espagnole d’alors est très, très conservatrice et qu’on s’attend à un comportement irréprochable de la part d’une jeune couventine comme Lucía.

On peut se demander que fait un professeur célibataire de 40 ans avec une jeune fille de cette âge, surtout avec les scènes d’habillage répétées, bien évidemment précédées de scènes de déshabillage que l’auteure nous décrit. Lucía en vient assez rapidement aux rêveries amoureuses au sujet de Manuel…

Il y a donc plusieurs lignes narratives: (1) l’histoire de la relation entre Lucía et Manuel, (2) l’histoire de Jeanne La Folle, de sa relation avec son marie et les intrigues politiques auxquels ils sont mêlés, et (3) l’histoire des parents de Lucia, de son père qui trompe sa mère et dont le décès survient au moment d’une tentative de réconciliation.

Sans vouloir tout révéler du dénouement, Lucía tombe évidemment enceinte, ce qui mène à une une stratégie un peu échevelée pour la soustraire au risque d’un scandale au couvent et l’obsession de Manuel pour Jeanne la Folle l’amène à une découverte surprenante sur son passé, avec des conséquences tragiques tout-à-fait imprévues. Donc, plusieurs surprises vers la fin.

On croit retrouver certains thèmes déjà vu chez Gioconda Belli : un intérêt pour les origines historiques, la relation de la femme à son corps, les sources du pouvoir de la femme … Ça donne le goût de relire La mujer habitada.

 

Références :

Belli, Gioconda, El pergamino de la seducción, Seix Barral, 2005. Primera edición en libro electrónico: 2010.

Belli, Gioconda, La mujer habitada, Txalaparta, 1988.

 

À voir: http://www.museodelprado.es/coleccion/galeria-on-line/galeria-on-line/obra/dona-juana-la-loca/

http://www.giocondabelli.org/