Monday, April 20, 2009

Pierre Magnan's country life, Part II

(Juan Gris, Portrait of Picasso, 1912 Oil on canvas 36 3/4 x 29 1/4 in. The Art Institute of Chicago)

If this painting seems to you an odd choice to illustrate a comment about a crime novel of rural French life, you may be open to the appeal of Pierre Magnan's The Murdered House.

The book is more somber than Magnan's Death in the Truffle Wood, but it shares with that novel a careful study of mysteries and motives amid lives that move more slowly than those most of us are used to and probably would appear calm to those of us on the outside.

I'll have more to say later, perhaps about Magnan's unsurpassed handling of that crime-fiction staple, the long-ago act whose consequences unfold years later. For now, this:

"Then, as soon as Séraphin put his foot to the ground, the stranger who had been following the shepherds' retreat suddenly turned round, and Séraphin realized immediately why they had fled in disarray. He was a geule cassée: one of those men who had survived the war, but with a dreadfully disfigured face; one of those faces no one would raise a hand to, for fear that all those who had died in the war would rise in a body at such sacrilege.

"`Yes,' the man said, `there's a painter who does this now ... called Juan Gris. I could be a model for him.'

"When he laughed — and he laughed often — it was an unbearable sight."
I like that passage for its mix of compassion and horror, with no attempt to downplay or overstate either. But mostly I like the intrusion of an advanced, urban-based twentieth-century artist on a story of slow-burning rural life. Magnan's book is a reminder that the last century was more complicated than technology-minded potted histories give it credit for.

(Here's a chance to look inside a few of Magnan's books. Here's his Web site, in French.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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8 Comments:

Blogger The Clandestine Samurai said...

Hey, how come there's never links to your post in the title?

A careful study of motives would suggest something more psychological than anything, I'd guess.

April 21, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I've never done title links before. Never thought about it really, but if the public wants it, I'll try it now. Thanks.

April 21, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

You know, you're really starting to bother me with your frequent postings about excellent books. See, here's the problem: You mention a good book, then I add that title to my list of "books-to-read," the list gets bigger and more intimidating, and I realize that I have too little time to catch up on my reading. I suppose I have but one solution: I need to retire from the university, I need to let the students fend for themselves, and I need to spend the rest of my days focusing on that damned list. So, Peter Rozovsky, thanks a lot! (Postscript: Keep it up! I love it! :-)

April 21, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's the highest praise you can offer. If I can bring just a bit of indecision, waffling and frustration into someone's life, I have done my job.

Thanks for the link to my neighbor and ex-colleague Frank Wilson on your blog, by the way. I may post a link to that interesting article of his.

April 21, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

Darn. You've seen through my character flaws without having met me: Yes, I'm an indecisive, frustrated waffler, and--even with all of that--life is good (at least most of the time, but it is about to get questionable with final exams and essays that need to be graded)!

By the way, I've begun working my way through Dashiell Hammett's early works (i.e., his short stories from Black Mask), so I hope to make some blog postings about him soon. I'm also rediscovering some other golden oldies from the pulps that I plan on featuring on my blog. So, as they used to say on the old DuMont Network, which I'm sure you do not remember, "Stay Tuned!"

April 21, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I do not remember the old DuMont Network, but I surely do know the phrase "stay tuned." Keep me posted about your Hammett posts.

I am familiar with the problem of wanting to read more than one reasonably can. It's satiety and gluttony at the same time.

April 21, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

FYI . . . I've posted a link and recommendation for your blog at "Novels, Short Stories, and More," and I've listed it among my regularly visited blogs.

By the way, I'll give you even money odds that Frank Wilson remembers the DuMont network.

April 21, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks and thanks. Frank's energy and relatively youthful appearance belie his age, so he may well remember the network. I can only sigh wistfully for days when networks had names rather than initials.

April 21, 2009  

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