Men by Marie Darrieussecq

imageI’d just read Heart of Darkness when I saw this book about a white french actress (Solange) who falls for  charismatic black Hollywood actor, Kouhouesso. Kouhouesso wants to move into directing and has a very ambitious project – a movie of Heart of Darkness to be filmed actually in the Congo.

Solange follows him to Africa, saying no to other roles offered to her in the hope of playing the female lead in the film but mainly because she’s pretty obsessed with him.

This is billed as a “witty examination of romance, movie-making and clichés about race relations.” And it’s written by an award winning writer known for being an intellectual, supporting left-wing politicians and having a thing or two to say feminism (both that she is one and that she couldn’t be further from being one!) I felt like I should be onto a winner with this.

But alas and woe is me and all those sad damsel-in-distress expressions, I was let-down! Deserted! Callously abandoned! Much like the actress in this book.

To be honest this left me deeply uncomfortable and as if the stain of it’s liberal racism was all over me. Because this book is racist. I’m sure it doesn’t mean to be, but it is. To begin with I can’t imagine an intelligent, well-connected black actor wanting to remake Heart of Darkness – a book that really doesn’t have any black characters. The only one with any dialogue in it says about 3 servile sentences and ends up dead pretty quickly. Considering that black actors and directors are still hugely under-represented in Hollywood it’s no surprise that any that are there are getting busy making amazing films like 12 Years A Slave.

Then there’s the female character. Well to be honest I’m not entirely sure I can even call her a character. She has a backstory at least – a son left with her parents many years ago so she can pursue her hollywood dream. But even though this dream was strong enough for her to abandon her child it isn’t strong enough to stop her dropping it instantly to moon around after a man she’s pretty sure doesn’t love her …! Her attempts to manage her first ‘real’ interracial relationship show just how racist middle-class France still is, the things she worries about are about as bizarre and objectifying as you can get. Though to give credit where it is due the book does highlight a couple of micro-aggressions so strongly that almost anyone could see how appalling they are.

The plot isn’t awful, just not good enough.

1 Bite

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Klop by Peter Day

imageKlop Ustinov (Father of film star and raconteur Peter Ustinov), was Britain’s most ingenious secret agent. A real life spy with more lovers than James Bond. Like 007 he was a man who appreciated fine food and wine but he was no licensed to kill action hero. His battlegrounds were the social salons of Europe and with his talent to entertain, beguile and amuse he bluffed his way into the confidence of everyone from Soviet commissars to the head of the Gestapo.

The author Peter Day has forty years experience in journalism including over a decade as a senior reporter and news-desk executive for the Mail on Sunday. Since turning freelance he has specialised in archive research, breaking exclusive stories on politics, royalty, military history and espionage.

With the combination of a fabulous and previously untold story, plus Peter Days incredible diligence in his archival research this should been an amazing read. It wasn’t I struggled on as best I could against the turgid prose, but this was a battle I was destined to lose. A double disappointment for me a military history is my favourite subject.

To be fair, it was a difficult story to tell, as Klop Ustinov knew everyone that was anyone in pre- world war II Europe. Peter Day mentions them all in his narrative (There are 1080 names in the index and only three hundred pages in the book). You only have to do the math to realise that this means there are an average 3.8 new characters introduced on each page. Thanks to Day’s obsessive research he tries to give a potted biography of the two hundred or so main characters. It would have been more fun reading the telephone directory or a pre-war copy of Who’s Who.

To compound the problem, the story lacked any coherence, by that I mean that after a paragraph or two about Klop, a new character would be introduced, complete with potted biography. This meant that the story of Klop had reached say 1936 and Peter Day is describing events involving the new character that happened in 1938 or 1942. The chaotic format and endless new characters made this a bewildering and ultimately unreadable book.

To see how a Biography of a spy should be written I recommend Ben MacIntyre “Agent Zig Zag”

Message to Biteback Publishing you need a ruthless editor and I’m available.

One bite from me and thats for the diligent research.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.