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As Dr John falls into the story’s background and the focus shifts to M. Paul I start getting more and more confused: am I suppose to like him?!

(The Brussels Brontë Group with the British Ambassador to Belgium)

Maybe I’m being a bit unfair here (who knows what will happen in the next chapters?), but the word “bully” keps popping into my mind.  That scene at the Hotel Crécy, when Mr Paul “sibilates” those insults and just minutes afterwards speaks to Lucy “politely, and even deferentially” reminded me of the usual behavior of violent husbands.

By making M. Paul behave like this (the criticism of Lucy’s dress, the inflamed speech against the English) is Charlotte Brontë expecting us to think “what a passionate man! I wish someone was jealous like this over me”? Because I’m not feeling it, and am becoming increasingly concerned about Lucy’s interest in him.

She actually tells us the reason behind her fascination:

He [Dr John] has said, and you have heard him say it: “Lucy’s disadvantages spring from over-gravity in tastes and manner – want of colour in character and costume. ‘Such are your own and your friends’ impressions; and behold! There starts up a little man, differing diametrically from all these, roundly charging you with being too airy and cheery – too volatile and versatile – too flowery ad coloury.

I understand why Lucy might start to enjoy this new image of herself, but from where I’m standing, she really could have used a bit of colour to character and costume, or at least some… lighten-up.  So someone who sees her as too vivacious must be at the extreme of the specter. I think we all agree that Dr John is not the man for her, but can she really be happy with someone like M. Paul?

These chapters also made me wonder how much of Mr Heger (Charlotte’s Professor whom she fell in love with while living in his Pensionnate) is in M. Paul. Lucy seems to understand him really well and he also becomes her tutor. I even googled M. Heger to see if his anniversary was in March, but didn’t find the date.

I’m really curious about how I’ll feel about all of this by the end of the book.

Or a lighter note, I couldn’t help but smile at Lucy’s comment on the different ways to greet people:

[Fraulein Braun] though we thought we were very cordial with her: but we did not slap her on the shoulder, and if we consented to kiss her cheek, it was done quietly, and without any explosive smack.

Living in an extremely international city and in a country culturally divided into three, how to say hello is important. The Flemish part of Belgium gives three kisses on the cheek, the Walloon part gives 2, the French community gives 1 or 2 (haven’t figured out what the choice depends on), the Italian also 2 but they start on the right side of the face, the Russians and Balkan men kiss other men, and some other nationalities don’t kiss at all.

So as you can imagine,  at a normal party of the Brussels international community, some diplomacy is required!  At Joanna’s wedding last Saturday, for instance, 16 nationalities were represented in a group of about 50 people 🙂

Brussels Grand Place – Charlotte and Emily have surely been here

AHA! So there’s the possibility that Dr John is not the hero of our story after all. I have to confess I was a bit confused with Lucy’s future voice, which hints he’s not her Prince Charming:

Dr. John, you pained me afterwards: forgiven be every ill–freely forgiven–for the sake of that one dear remembered good!

But it’s also at about this point that “past” Lucy starts finding cracks in the glowing image she’s create around Graham. There was for instance, the light-hearted way he judged Vashti’s performance (so different from the impact on Lucy), and how he acted during the episode of the lost letter:

Graham in mirthful mood must not be humoured too far. Just now there was a new sort of smile playing about his lips–very sweet, but it grieved me somehow–a new sort of light sparkling in his eyes: not hostile, but not reassuring.

And if during those two occasions Lucy seems only to become sad and disappointed, we also see he can out-right annoy her:

“Happiness is the cure–a cheerful mind the preventive: cultivate both.”

No mockery in this world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to _cultivate_ happiness. What does such advice mean? Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure.

I also get easily annoyed with this self-help babble. Someone should print t-shirts saying “Happiness is not a potato.” – how cool would that be? I would buy one!

Apparently, Dr John is not the intellectual equal (who treats her like an equal) that Lucy needs. This has become more evident with the return of Polly. I’m still to decided what I find more annoying: Polly as child giving herself adult airs or Polly the adult acting like a child. Is she Bronte’s not-so-veiled sting at the infantilization of women?

Still, Lucy has proven to be an unreliable narrator before, so maybe I’ll have to swallow my words soon. Maybe these “disagreements” are just a sweet way that Lucy Breton has of saying to her husband “Do you remember how silly you were, you old dear?” But I hope not. I’d rather have a story in which Lucy grows to know more about who she is and what she wants than one in which Dr. John suddenly realizes he’s been blind all along.

Yes, it’s that time of the week again!

The most notable thing about these chapters is how quiet they were. While in the earlier ones I underlined many paragraphs and made several notes with lots of exclamation marks, in this section I only had five. Just as Lucy breathed deeply, paused and relaxed, I had a ‘soft’ reading experience and found little to make my blood boil, for good or evil. This alignment of states of mind between character and reader is proof of great workmanship on Bronte’s part, don’t you think?

It was good to see Lucy enjoy herself, but I suspect  it only happened because she found herself among people of her class and nationality. We were even treated to a mild ugly duckling/make-over scene, which is probably my favorite plot-gimmick ever (I should post a list of Top 10 Favorite Ugly Duckling Moments in Literature soon).

And talking about favorites, my favorite scene happened when Lucy saw herself and her group in the mirror without realizing it –  it would look great in a movie:

Thus for the first, and perhaps only time in my life, I enjoyed the “giftie” of seeing myself as others see me. No need to dwel of the results.

Why the use of the word “giftie”? Seems off-key somehow.

I also found interesting the part about the gallery and the Cleopatra. It’s clear that Bronte wanted us to compare the attitudes of the two men in Lucy’s life towards an open display of sexuality. Dr John was all coolness, while M. Paul was his frantic self, ready to cover the modest eyes of any woman in the vicinity. Another not so veiled comparison between Catholics and Protestants – or Continentals and English?

Once again Bronte was not kind to the poor Labassecouriens, especially the women. They all seem to be bulky, “barrel-shaped” and artificial, and can never be trusted – “You never find her [Ginevra] lying, as these foreigners will often lie.” I’m glad that at least the Queen seemed to have pleased!

One last note: I would like to see some more character development around Dr. John. I like him, but I don’t see him as a romantic hero. He actually doesn’t create any strong feelings in me, especially now that he stopped orbiting around Ginevra, and I don’t want to slap him upside the head all the time.

When is Polly coming back?!

(SPOILERS for these chapters)

Well, I wasn’t expecting that! The most surprising thing wasn’t that Dr. John was Graham, but that Lucy knew for several chapter and didn’t tell us, her dear trusting readers. It makes me smile over the several comments about her powers of observation (including mine), only to see her reveals herself as an unreliable narrator. I’ll need to pay more attention to what she says (and how she says it) it the future.

(Someone from the Brussels Bronte Group once told me that the Church which inspired the place where Lucy almost turned Catholic was the Notre Dame du Sablon (photo) – can anyone confirm?)

Looking back at her motives, I thinking I’d also not tell Dr. John who I was if he failed to recognize me. This is actually one of the only two moments in these chapters where I could understand Lucy, the other being her sarcastic ode to de Hamal (he he he!).

Ever since the chapter in London I’ve been moving further and further away from Lucy. I just don’t get her and it frustrates me a little, because many bloggers I follow loved the book exactly because they recognized themselves in Lucy. Oh well!

For instance, here’s something I couldn’t understand: during school months Lucy’s always craving for solitude and as soon as she has it, she’s more depressed than ever! She even goes mentally and physically ill (but not enough to fall into the hands of those cunning Catholics, hey?). And what sin did she confess that so much impressed her confessor?

Another: she’s a strong, resilient, self-reliable woman, so why did she let herself be locked in an attic full of rats to better memorize a play?

AND YET! And yet she can laugh!

How I laughed when I reached the schoolroom. I knew now she had certainly seen Dr. John in the garden.

But alas not for long… two sentence afterwards:

Yet as the laugh died, a kind of wrath smote me, and then bitterness followed: it was the rock struck, and Meriban’s waters gushing out.

The thing is, as I feel less empathic towards Lucy, I become more curious to see what the Bronte has in stall for her. I’m fascinated by Lucy’s depthness, repression and slightly psychotic mind, and I don’t mind at all that she also became an unreliable narrator – it add more layers to the story!

Brussels Park Royal, the inspiration for the Park Lucy crossed with Dr. John on arriving at Villette

O Lucy Snow, we were getting along so well… these new six chapters made me wish you had continued behind your mystery veil.

I really like the “London” chapter because the exhilaration of being a stranger in a strange town, with an uncertain future in front of you, is one I can recognize. I admired her strength in keeping her “consciousness of anxiety” at bay and allow herself to enjoy the step she’s taken:

I went up Cornhill; I mixed with the life passing along; I dared the perils of crossings. To do this, and do it utterly alone, gave me, perhaps an irrational, but a real pleasure.

I was much less sympathetic once she arrived in Labassecour and Villette or even as soon as she was abroad the vessel out of England – I believe she has yet to say something completely nice about someone she meets, although she seems kinder to English gentlemen… As an expat, this is a type of attitude that makes me cringe: that of other expats or tourist who constantly compare their host country to their home country, which usually comes up as a better place, full of better people. Lucy is like that. She’s been a little bundle of negativity ever since leaving London, which in my view makes her look ungenerous and slightly ungrateful.

A bluff little personage this maitresse was – Labassecourienne from top to toe; and how she did slaughter the speech of Albion (Really Lucy! You’re in a French-speaking country, have you noticed? Let’s see you speak it a bit, shall we?)

Madame’s visitations for shortcoming might be slow, but they were sure. All this very un-English: truly I was in a foreign land. (It this a compliment veiled as a criticisms or a criticism veiled as a compliment?)

(…) she would talk to me (…) about England and Englishwomen, and the reasons for what she was pleased to term their superior intelligence, and more real and reliable probity. Very good sense she often showed; very sound opinions she often broached (…)

Where an English girl of not more than average capacity and docility would quietly take a theme and bind herself to the task of comprehension and mastery, a Labassecourienne would laugh in your face, and throw it back to you with the phrase, – “Dieu, que c’est difficile! Je n’en veux pas. Cella m’ennule trop.”

I’m sure I’m more affected by this attitude because I know Charlotte based it on her own experiences in Brussels. After more than five years living here, the city has become more home than anywhere else, and I feel very protective of it.

Lucy’s attitude towards Mrs Beck, made me “enjoy” the Madame more. Her character and the eccentric way in which she rules her business were superbly written (as really all the book so far). I especially liked the scene where she wants Lucy to go from nanny to a teacher and Lucy is crying with fear:

“Will you,” she said, “go backward or forward?” indicating with her hand, first, the small door of communication with the dwelling-house, and then the great double portals of the classes or schoolrooms.

“En avant.” I said.

Brava, Madame!

Maybe my sight is now clouded by prejudice, but didn’t you feel that Lucy’s observations of Dr John were bordering on the “stalkerish”? She was rude when she was caught staring at him and then ignored his question, and she also does her bit of spying, when she realises the maid has upset him…

Still think the writing is beautiful and gripping, but for now, the heroine has fallen in my humble consideration.

So this is it, I’m finally reading Villette by Charlotte Brontë. It’s happening because of the timely Villette Read-Along organized by Wallace over at Unputdownables.

I’ve been curious about this one for a while now, ever since moving to Brussels actually, because this city inspired the fictional one which gave the name to the novel . Emily and Charlotte lived here for a while and that’s why there’s a Brussels Bronte Group, of which I’m a proud member. It seems that several of the references to places in Villette are clearly connected to real places in Brussels, so I’m really looking forward to this!

The Pensionnat Héger in Quartier Isabelle, where the sisters lived, has long been destroyed, but the Group placed a plaque in the only piece of original street still visible above ground (there’s another part in the catacombs of a local museum). This was done without asking the Brussels municipality, so shhhh, it’s just between you and me, ok?

Whenever friends come to visit I always pass by while giving my usually city tour, but usually my enthusiasm is way above theirs… “Brontë who?! Whatevs!”

A piece of rue d’Isabelle in the Belvue Museum:

A small piece of Quartier Isabelle still remains. See the plaque between the doors? Tinny blue spec?

The plaque. You can read here all about the Secret Mission to put it there! Notice the reference to Villette:

This seems to be the time for the book blogging community to make its plans for 2011. It will be the first year ever that I’ll make any sort of reading plans, so to be ready I’ve made a calendar in my Moleskine Passions Book Journal (my precioussss). Like this I’ll be able to keep monthly track of read-alongs and bookclub books. On the page before the calendar I’ve listed the books I know I must read but without a fixed date: anything Challenge-related, the ones Joanna chose for me and joint reads I’ll do with some Bookcrossing friends.

By my accounts, these planned readings will be around 1/3 of all 2011 books. It’ll be sort of a personal experiment, because until now I’m been pretty random in my choices.

I’m also planning to limit my Challenges to three and make them overlap as much as possible. Apart from “One, Two, Theme”, I’ve signed up to the Steampunk Challenge (for which I have no plan, as no specific number of books are needed)  and recently I’ve also signed up for the 2011 Graphic Novels Challenge.

Belgium has a great tradition of graphic novels. Tintin, the Smurfs and Lucky Luke were all born in this small country, and I doubt there’s any city in the world has as many dedicated comics shops as Brussels. Ever since I’ve moved here I’ve been meaning to read more graphic novels, but it’s only now, because of the enthusiasm of so many bloggers out there, that I’ve decided to make it an objective for the upcoming year.

I’ll focus on the Franco-Belgian school and when possible I’ll read them in the original language, which  hopefully will improve my French. This is my initial reading list:

(Question: where are all the Franco-Belgian women graphic novel artists?)

Continue reading Les Cités Obscures (written by Benoît Peeters and illustrated by François Schuiten). In the imaginary world of the Cities of the Fantastic, humans live in independent city-states and each developed a distinct civilization, though all are in some way focused on architectural styles. Visually, Schuiten seems to illustrate just for me 🙂 I’m especially looking forward to reading Brüsel, which is about the way some modern towns have developed (and are developing). He wrote it having in mind the concept of Brusselization, which according to Wikipedia “is a term used by urban planners to describe anarchic commercial property development in a historic city” and originates from what happened here during the 50s and 60s.

Djinn (written by Jean Dufaux and illustrated by Ana Mirallès) is an adult adventure-thriller. The first four volumes make up the “Ottoman Cycle” (perfect for my Istanbul theme!) while the following five are the “Africa Cycle”. An “Indies Cycle” is in the works.

Continue reading  A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O’Neill), as I’ve only read the first and have the two following books in the TBR (Volume II and the Black Dossier). I’II include them in the Steampunk Challenge. According to Moore, the concept behind the series was initially a “Justice League of Victorian England” but quickly grew into an opportunity to merge all works of fiction into one world.

Le Chat du Rabbin or The Rabbi’s Cat (written and illustrated by Joann Sfar), is a story set in Algeria in the 30s. An old rabbi’s gaunt and bony cat eats a parrot and discovers he can talk. The cat follows the rabbi’s daughter everywhere, so fearing bad influences, the rabbi decides to teach the Torah to the cat. How great does that sound?

Continue reading Fables (written by Bill Willingham, illustrator depends on volume). I’m half-way through the second volume – Animal Farm.

Harzach (written and illustrated by Moebius) caught my eye at the bookshop. The stories follow Harzach, a silent warrior who rides a flying-dinosaur-like creature through a strange, desolate landscape. I though it was a recent release, but it turns out that “these stories had an enormous impact on the French comics industry”. When I was studying art back in the day, Moebius was a favorite among graphic-art lovers.

Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec or The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Dry-White (written and illustrated by Jacques Tardi) are about a Parisian novelist-come-reporter who in the years before and after World War I investigates the mystical world of crime. There’s a movie too!

Fable of Venice (written and illustrated by Hugo Pratt) was bought on location earlier this year. It will be my first Pratt – looking forward to it!

Asterix chez les Belges or Asterix in Belgium (written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo). Now that I’ve lived here for a while I’ll really appreciate the inside jokes. I can already picture the jokes about beer and chocolates 🙂

So this is the plan. Any interesting suggestions? Have you read any of the above?

Today I have the honor to be on Lesswammes’ “Book Bloggers Abroad” weekly feature.

Drop by her blog for some thoughts on living, blogging and book-shopping in Brussels… and a photo of my living room 😀

Thank you once again for having me, leeswammes!

As a rule, the first couple of weeks of November are extremely busy in Brussels. This year we had five events in three days, the culmination of weeks of hard work, but in the end, all extremely rewarding. The downside is having no time at all for blogging. It was the first time I spent so many days away from the blogosphere since I started, and I’m afraid I had to hit the “mark all as read” on my Google Reader, so please let me know if I missed anything important.

At the end of The Crazy Period, and as a well deserved reward, we did a road trip to visit some friends in lovely Zaragoza, where the sun was shinning and the tapas were to die for. Andre’s own pictures:

(Zaragoza sunset)

(it’s things like these tapas that make us realize just how
southern Europeans we are, although sometimes we forget…)

I still managed to get through five books (mostly audiobooks) and would like to do a longer review of three of them, but meanwhile, and to get me up to speed, I’ll just quickly go through the others.

Court Duel (The Crown and Court Duel, Book 2) by Sherwood Smith

I decided not to go for a long review of this one because honestly, I don’t really have much to say about it. I read the first in the series during the Trans-Siberian and wasn’t very impressed. While that book was all about adventures and battles, this one is a fantasy of manners. Our heroine Melaria, after overthrowing the Evil King and a period of self-education, agrees to spend some time in court and has to deal with the expected gossip, politics and general backstabbing.

It kept me interested enough (as all ugly-duckling stories do), and the romance had a good pace, but in the end, it was just too YA. This is a recurrent problem with some of this year’s books: a bit too predictable, a bit too formulaic, a bit too… cute.

The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories by Agatha Christie

Audiobook heard on the way from Zaragoza and which kept us sane during the traffic jams around Paris. It’s a set of 9 stories, read by different people, including the man himself – David Suchet – and Hugh Frasier (Captain Hastings). I’ve read “And Then There Were None” and “Endless Night”, but these were my first Poirot and Miss Marple. I was enchanted. Now I really understand Christie’s power as a story-teller. Even in a very short story, such as for instance, Yellow Iris, she’s able to create the right atmosphere and play with the pace so masterfully, that she has us wrapper around her finger in a matter of minutes.

In particular I liked “Problem at Pollensa Bay” because it was the first time I came across Parker Pyne (have you ever heard of him?). After some Googleing I find out that not only he seems to be inspired by Mycroft Holmes (a secondary character I was always curious about), but that he once employed Miss Lemon. So you see, he must be someone worth knowing.

He’s the type of men who makes people comfortable and has an instinctive way of solving problems – any type of problems. In “Problem at Pollensa Bay” be helps a mother and her son see eye-to-eye on the subject of his bride, and in “The Regatta Mystery” he solves the theft of a diamond during regatta festivities at Dartmouth harbor.

Someone at Goodreads commented that Parker Pyke is the most emotional of Agatha Christie’s detectives, since he prefers matters of the heart to pure puzzles. I definitely want to know more about him now.

What are you favorite Agatha Christie’s? Any recommendations?

Quotes by Mr. Pyne:

I have had a long experience in the compilation of statistics. From that experience I can assure you that in 87% of cases dishonesty does not pay.

Unhappiness can be classified under five main heads–no more, I assure you. Once you know the cause of a malady, the remedy should not be impossible.

One of the highlights of literary life in Brussels is the annual Book Festival. A huge warehouse full of new books at mouth-watering prices. Most of the books are in Dutch, but there’s still a great selection in English.

I’ve been dreaming about it for weeks and finally spent 2 zen hours there this weekend, until my trolley was full to the brim. The final loot: 28 book at an average of 2 Euros each. Here they are, my new precioussss… I’m particular proud of the beautiful edition of Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories.

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