The devil upon two sticks

I read a very old and intriguing novel, The devil upon two sticks, by French author Lesage.

Even if this book is written more than 300 years ago, it has a very familiar feeling, outlook, and many of the things presented are still applicable today.

The wrap of the story is the myth of the limp devil, one of the devils in ancient tales which is responsible for lust. Named Asmodee, after the demon Asmodeus, he is freed by a young man, Don Cleophas, and takes his liberator unto a journey of a night and a day around the city of Madrid, observing the life and actions of the people in the city.

In this way, we are actually presented with plenty of short stories, the life of many people in this town, at the time of the writing, in 1707. We can see how the people used to live, what was important for them, how they treated matters of life, death, marriage, inheritance, money, and so on.

Actually the novel is a comprehensive moral fresco of the 18th century. We see certain patterns that are definitive for this era: the morality of women, which is of utmost importance, even widowed or divorced women, have a high standard of apparent morality, for which men get to duels, killing and insults, but the real morality behind them, is almost completely missing: women commit adultery, spend their nights in secret with different men, without any remorse. The only thing that matters is the image outcome in society.

Thus as a picture of a society, we see people wanting to become rich overnight, people wanting to steal, to find a suitable betrothed, and moral and class rules are opposing them at every turn.

One story that was central in the novel is the story of a man trying to fool a young girl into becoming his lover, with promises of marriage, all with a twist involving her brother, her father, in the end with a happy ending, where the treacherous man really is sorry for his actions and offers to marry the girl. I have a feeling that this probably never (or almost never) happened in real life of the 18th century.

Another interesting story is the story of a murderer who falls in love for a widow, only to get caught by pirates, sold as a slave and freed together with his lover, to be with her at the sight of their best friend committing suicide, only to fall off his horse and dying in the end.

The Devil upon two sticks is a funny interesting novel, presenting short stories of people’s lives more than three centuries ago, with aspects that are still very applicable today, and some that have changed and evolved. It is an interesting imagination exercise for people today, to try to understand how people used to think, many years ago.

The Marble Faun

I took some time to read an older novel this time, The Marble Faun, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Interesting novel, presenting a deep psychological subject, but the shape of it is in the 19th century’s fashion, without a strong objective observation, and with strong emotional implications from the author.

We have four characters, each with a different story, each being biased by the author in a specific way. All of them live initially in Rome, the city of arts, around 1850, young, and in love with arts. We see very well the life in the 19th century, what was important for people, and how they spent their time, and how they did interact at that moment in time.

We start with Miriam, an immigrant in Rome, coming from a land far away, she is mysterious, with a somehow dark secret that nobody knows. Even though she is young, she looks to be the most mature character, and also her beauty is highly praised by the subjective comments of the author. Miriam is followed by a strange character, believed to be her art model, but this is really unclear for everyone.

We have Hilda, another immigrant in Rome, who is not catholic, rather protestant, in a world where religion plays a very big role. In here we can see clear observations from Hawthorne against the catholic church, and I can say that personally I was positively impressed, that in the 19th century, an American author has such kind of hidden attacks. The author again subjectively emphasizes that Hilda is an innocent virgin young girl, with no experience of the world, focused on restoration of the work arts of the great masters.

Donatello is the sole survivor of a long line of counts in Italy, the Monte-Beni, and he is again a very young man, with no life experience, and he is the Marble Faun, as his friends all declare that he really looks like a Faun, a mythical character that was present in many art forms like paintings and sculptures from the ancient times.

Kenyon is an American , a sculptor, the only one with a very balanced mind and soul, but is deeply troubled and has a crush on Hilda. He tries to find enlightenment through love and sculpture.

The four friends live in a dream and fantasy world, Donatello, young and fierceful, falls for Miriam, and is willing to do everything for her. Everything falls apart in the moment of the sin, where Donatello pushes over the cliff the man known as Miriam’s model, Miriam’s catharsis, killing him, but only when Miriam’s look pushes him to do it. So they are united in guilt, in sin, thing that breaks them completely, especially Donatello.

Donatello, young, passionate, find the sin of the murder too strong for him, and in contrast with his initial declarations, that he would do anything for Miriam, finds himself in the impossibility to even see her anymore. Full of remorse and guilt, he retires at his castle in Italy’s mountains.

Hilda unwillingly assists the crime scene, and is completely shattered by the view. She denies her friendship with Miriam, and isolates with an unbearable burden on her heart and shoulders.

In the end, we can see that the four friends start to be more mature, and find some kind of balance in their lives. Donatello finds a way to repay for his sins, trying to punish himself for the rest of his life, by confessing his crime. He manages to get back together with Miriam, to be united with her in their sin.

Hilda understands that being a friend does not mean to deny Miriam, but a true friend is there when she’s needed. She finds a relief of her burden by confessing it to a priest.

We are also invited to understand a very important thing, that only trough sin, a man can understand what is the value of life, the value of sin, the value of redemption, and to understand what it means to make mistakes, and to grow.

A classic novel, presenting the idea of the sin, in a specific way, The Marble Faun is an interesting book, with deep implications, which could be rewritten in a more objective and strong way, but by keeping it’s original design and color, it has it’s own value.


I had time for another Joseph Conrad read, after The rover . This time a short story, named Falk.

Being a short story, we do not have many characters, and the story is focused on one, namely Falk. Everything is depicted through the eyes of another character, a boat captain, who is in the far east, trying to work with commerce, by delivering goods.

In this harbor , he gets friendly with another captain and his family, a German, who is also in the same business. They spend evenings on his boat, drinking, playing, chatting and other things people used to do in the 19th century. The German captain has a very nice and interesting young niece, and our character looks at her with at least curiosity.

We also have Falk, who at start is a very silent and distant man. He is the captain of a tractor boat, the only option that everyone in the harbor has to be hauled out of the harbor, as the sandy and windy entrance is very dangerous for anyone without a strong engine to attempt.

Everything turns bad when our main character is left stranded as Falk skips his turn in being hauled out of the harbor, and instead takes out the German ship.

Our first person story teller begins to investigate what is happening, and his only way out is to convince Falk to haul him out. Eventually he understands that Falk left him out on the bay because he considers him a rival towards the German’s niece, which Falk has a crush on.

Even if he had slight interest in the girl, his business is far more important, and he can’t risk being stranded in the harbor indefinitely. He has to convince Falk that he has no interest in the girl, and more than that, to help him to convince her uncle to allow Falk to get more close to the girl.

We also find out Falk’s greatest secret, the reason why he is so strange and he thinks that he has no hope in life. He was lost at sea for months, on a boat, with a small crew, with no food, no water, which made him do horrible things, including cannibalism, but , he survived. The news of this from Falk’s history was not taken good by the German, who casts him out.

The main character finds somehow a way to convince the German that his sins are not so bad, and they were done just out of pure survival instinct, without any intention, as a sole measure to survive. And overall, it would be a good catch for the niece.

In the end, Falk manages to get close to the girl, who also seems interested in him.

Falk is a short story, which focuses on one character, who has a big secret that is revealed, and we can see how this event affects his life further, and how it unfolds from other people’s perspective.

A maggot

I read the novel A maggot, by John Fowles.

Even if it starts like an old 18th century novel, A maggot slowly slides towards a very risky and keen type of writing, presenting facts from either an agnostic observer, or from newspaper slips, or from judge – trial interview with key witness, people, from the presented events.

As usual , Fowles is very attracted to supernatural and unexplained events, by which he wants to transmit certain messages, and to leave the reader thinking about the meaning and the symbolism behind it.

We have a certain event in time, the strange travels of a group of people, who spend a few days crossing through the western England, with one apparent purpose, but with many hidden ones. We can also see the result, one dead man and many missing.

From a third person perspective we can only see one day and one evening, and we learn from the rest of the trip from testimonies by the involved people, starting from the most insignificant people, up to the final testimony of Rebecca Hockner, the main character, a woman who worked in a brothel, was hired for some unknown purposes , and ends up in ‘enlightenment’, being recruited by a Christian protestant sect, and being impregnated in the whole process. Rebecca is due to give birth to Ann Lee, the founder of the Shakers religious sect.

Fowles imagines with such high abundance of details, a kind of supernatural experience that happens to Rebecca during her travel, in which she claims to experience future, past, and heaven in the same time, to meet her God and the image of the God Mother, which completely changes her. Initially being a brothel worker, full of sins, unable to conceive, she believes she was absoluted, turned into a saint, a kind of Virgin Mary, being impregnated by a handicapped servant who performed suicide. She finds every reason to live in poverty and turn to the bible and wait for the second coming of Christ, which is the main reason of belief for her religious sect.

She finds a bunch of nice people, even her equivalent of Joseph, who accepts her as a saint she claims to be, and her unborn bastard child, to take them into his family.

Fowles imagines a modern 18th century conception of Jesus, in a fantasy way, full of details, with plenty of in depth century depictions, in a very interesting novel. He also manages to be very neutral in this book, and does not raise fingers, nor accuse the way of life of religious sects, leaving the author to draw the conclusions related to the fantasy in the mind of the believers.

The hunger games: Mockingjay

I finally completed my read of The hunger games trilogy, with the last volume, titled Mockingjay. Although I quite feel that the series was reaching a stale point, I managed to continue to see what the author can invent for a third book.

The previous two volumes review is here and here.

Ever since the beginning, the darker theme of this book is revealed. I don’t know if for everyone, the author managed to change the book paradigm from a simple teenage good-evil eternal battle to a more psychological and deep novel, but for me it didn’t quite succeed. I can see the attempts, but the success is a bit far.

What I mean by this, is that our hero, Katniss, is no longer eager to do all the ‘good’ deeds against the all-evil capitol and president Snow, and this time she weights in all her actions much better. We can see inner struggle, the fight for freedom, which is merely an illusion, and we can see that every action and act has a consequence, rather than categorizing each based on the good or evil label.

We are presented with District 13, the initial potential savior, which eventually turns more and more into a second version of the Capitol. I have a feeling that District 13 was the capitol initially in the first wars, and the author wants to tell us that history had a reason, and it’s repeating itself.

We see a devastated Katniss, full of anger, pain and remorse. We see much more bleak and death compared to the other books. I feel the other books were a hero novel, this time, Mockingjay is a novel of pain. Pain on all fronts, inflicted, self-inflicted, unavoidable. I would even call it an encyclopedia of pain.

We see pain on Peeta, who is completely rewritten, into something new, from a simple initial character, driven by a kind heart and pure love for Katniss, turned into a confused mind, an ill body, and a relic of a spine complete man.

We see another president, Coin, the president of 13th, who is willing to do anything to keep power and get more power. Including turning into Snow, and doing again the main one thing which brought down the Capitol: the Hunger games, with the children of their enemy as the main protagonists.

The author emphasizes again on the remote control: hurting people we care about to keep us in control. The whole Hunger Games idea, the idea behind hijacking Peeta, torturing the close ones, the loved ones. To urge everyone to comply to their desires.

We see death and despair, and the end is again bleak. The author kills off several characters, including Prim, Katniss’ sister, Finnick, but keeps Peeta, or the new version of himself.

Katniss is no longer the young girl we met. She turns into a relic of pain, but we still have hope in the end, that humanity can thrive, and happiness and joy maybe still exists somewhere.

In the end, the author tries to shift the trilogy paradigm, from teenage hero book to a psychological novel, but, up to you to understand if she managed it or not.

The Mandarins

I managed to read The Mandarins, by Simone de Beauvoir. I have been trying to gather all I could get from her, especially after already reading Memoirs of a dutiful daugther and She came to stay . More impressions are still pending on some older reads.

The Mandarins is definitely the most complete and the most challenging of her works that I tried so far. It is a complete fresque of the French post-war society, including reminiscence of the Resistance, occupation and what had happened during the Second World War.

We have plenty of characters, and situations, and the main themes revolve around love, friendship, politics, and of course, again, the human condition. As always, Beauvoir’s characters try to find a solution, try to cope with what is happening, but the existentialist issue always arises, the moral question, and the consequences of choices.

On the politics side, we have Henri Perron, one main character, who is a writer, somewhat politician , a former Resistance member, who wants to live his life to the fullest, while leaving a mark on everything. He is tied up by his former lover, Paula, whom he cheats at any possible occasion, and he wants to break free, travel the world, and speak freely with his magazine paper. He manages the L’Espoir, a post-war weekly publication, which he desperately tries to keep politics-free, but very difficult to attain.

We have Robert Dubreuilh, an older teacher and writer, who wants to get involved with politics, manages to start his own political party, but he is attacked from all sides by everyone else: communist leftists want him to merge with them, while capitalist rightists want him dissolved. His party has no success, and he realizes the nothingness of the human individual, and the very limited power, or none at all, that a single man can change anything in the world.

Anne Dubreuilh is the character most connected with Simone de Beauvoir herself, and we see the story from her perspective as well. She was a young student, marrying Dubreuilh, raising a very strange child, Nadine, and finding herself trapped in a marriage and in a shadow of a man that cannot make her happy. On the love side of the book, we see an ongoing affair between Anne and a long-distance lover, an American writer, who is just as weird as she is, and the love they find completely shakes off their existence, only to be destroyed by the distance, and by the complete different worlds in which both of them live. The pain and the sorrow of this lost love is one of most strongly depicted emotions in the book.

We also have Nadine, Anne’s daughter, a stranded child, a young woman, willing to break any rules and any kind of moral line, just for the sake of it, a late-age teenager, that is very difficult to live with. She manages to get all interesting men to spend time with her, only by bribing them into her bed. In the end, she tries a trick to get Henri to marry her, by getting pregnant against her will.

On the love side, Paula, Henri’s former lover, is the perfect model of the madwoman that falls in love and sacrifices everything for it. She loses her youth, her life, and gets committed to a mental institute, all because she could not accept that Henri dumped her and did not love her anymore.

We have a plethora of secondary characters: people from the resistance, working at other magazines: Vincent, Lambert, Sezenac, Lauchame, etc. They all model the French intellectuals of the 40’s. We see revenge on collaborators, investigations on Resistance, we see a France post-war, the hunger for the automobiles, the hunger for new clothing, for fun , adventure, music, and other many things, which were forbidden during the long war years.

Even if the existentialism in this novel is not as strong as in other books, The Mandarins presents a whole and complete world, which made me understand many aspects about the involvement of western Europe in post-war years, the beginning of the cold war, and how the economy and the pleasantries of the mid-century 20 evolved.

A very strong read, The Mandarins is the most complete and detailed picture drawn by Simone de Beauvoir through all my reads on her so far.

The rover

I read The rover, by Joseph Conrad.

The rover starts slowly, constructing a very interesting story, with very few characters, but full of emotion; and ends up in a complete thrill, with strong plot twists and lots of action.

The author takes time to build his characters, and allows us to move through the inner thoughts of every single one, in a multi perspective narrative, such that we get a complete inner understanding of their reasoning and feelings. Even in third person, we get into everything his characters were, are, and wish to be.

We have Peyrol, the main character, an old sailor, who wants to live peacefully in his last days, but is not allowed by the strong boiling blood of his French people, who are just coming out of French Revolution and starting the Napoleonic age.

Peyrol was at sea for a long time, and tries to hide the fact that he is not revolutionary, the movement which brought death to everything and everyone who opposed it, the famous French guillotine being the end of the road for so many anti-revolutionary.

Peyrol reaches a camp full of dark stories, Escampobar, where a young woman Arlette lives, a woman who saw the horrors of the revolution in her youth, being possibly mentally disordered by the tragic events which she witnessed. She is the actual heir apparent to the farm, as she is taken into custody by her only relative, aunt Catherine, unmarried and without children, and by Scevola, a dark man, full of revolutionary ideas, who is waiting for Arlette to come of age so he can wed her without appearing unchivalrous.

Everything changes when a young lieutenant, Real, arrives at Escampobar, initially without a big purpose, but things become clear once an English sloop starts watching the whole gulf near Toulon where Escampobar is located.

Being at war with the English, the French are trying to seize power in the area, and are trying to foul the English into abandoning the gulf, for them to move troops freely. Peyrol feels the danger and after capturing an English spy who was sniffing around his little boat, finds out Real’s real mission: to place false communication to Englishmen.

Arlette comes to life when she realizes that Real, whom meanwhile has become her secret crush, the object of her desire, is about to do a secret and dangerous mission in the area. Both of them realize that they have fallen in love with each other, but everything stands in their path.

The only one willing to help them is Peyrol, who uses circumstances to fool Scevola into capture, being locked down by the English spy, and to move his little boat in front the English sloop, such that the secret documents fall into the right hands of the enemy, where they are supposed to.

Peyrol changes his mind and sacrifices himself, also taking Scevola with him and his servant, such that Real and Arlette have a chance to be together.

Joseph Conrad has created a happy ending for us, in which Real and Arlette marry and live a happy life afterwards, only to remember the sacrifice that Peyrol ultimately made for them.

We see a Romeo and Juliet story with a happy ending this time, and we can salute the majestic story telling qualities of Joseph Conrad, who creates great characters for us. A little of the story looks rushed, like the falling in love of Real, sudden and complete, but otherwise, Arlette, Charlotte, her aunt and Peyrol are very well written.

A good novel, and another perspective on the French Revolution, which is highly praised today, but my feeling towards it, considering this perspective, is very much similar to the Russian Revolution.

Gone girl

This winter I happened to read Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.

We can see a story of a couple, married, during their life as a couple, from several perspectives: Nick, the husband, in present time, when his wife disappears, Amy as Diary Amy, his wife, in a sweet and fake diary that presents her life from meeting Nick up to present moment, and Real Amy, the Amy that disappeared, with her real thoughts and insights.

The story starts with Amy’s disappearance, and slowly we discover what kind of people they both are. Nick is the general type of man, enjoying his life, in solitude or together with someone, not too talkative, not too eager to share his feelings or to understand women and his wife.

Diary Amy starts by presenting herself as the exact type of woman that men always dreamed of: a woman that is self-sufficient, does not need special attention, can handle herself, eager to please her man, without trying to control anyone or to blame or to enforce or change her husband. She calls herself the ‘Cool Girl’, the dream of every man, which she can be if she wants to, but not indefinitely.

Amy’s disappearance turns into a detective story, the police and the people in the town start to find clues and to consider what has happened with Amy. Nick starts to follow the treasure hunt clues that Amy has always prepared for their anniversary, and following those we discover several facts: Nick was having an affair with a very young woman, cheating on Amy for more than a year. Amy was being very distant and cold, and their marriage was falling apart. They lost their jobs, moved from New York City to a small village in Missouri, next to Nick’s parents. Amy’s parents lost all their money and were performing very bad in their business.

Nick is seen by everyone, police, people, in-laws, as the one responsible for Amy’s disappearance/death.

Nick starts to uncover the reality behind Amy’s act: Amy is the villain here, she manipulates everyone, fakes evidence, plans very thoroughly to frame her husband for murder. She does everything in her power to make the police think she is dead and Nick killed her. She even hurts herself such that the police finds her blood in their house.

Nick manages to make Amy believe that he is really sorry and that he was punished enough for his sins, through television interviews, which he was sure that Amy was watching.

Amy is attacked and loses all her money, which makes her show herself to an ex boyfriend, who takes her into his home, caring for her. She deceives the ex boyfriend, Desi, seduces him , hurts herself, kills him and frames him for kidnapping, rape, and returns to Nick.

Nick finds himself in a very awkward position, he knows what is going on, but he cannot prove anything, and the police believes Amy, as all evidence is showing exactly what she wants to show.

Amy wants the perfect husband, and she is willing to do anything to obtain that. She is willing to forgive Nick for everything that she thinks he did bad in her marriage, and to have him as a puppy husband, exactly what she always opposed about women holding leashes on men: dancing monkeys.

Nick just wants to escape this life, to get rid of Amy, as she is very dangerous and he is always scared about what she is capable of.

Amy decides to impregnate herself with Nick’s previously saved sperm bank, such that she will have permanent and total control over him, by having full control of his son, the son that Nick always dreamed of.

The novel is dark, shows the depth of human psyche, of what people are capable of, to achieve revenge, to achieve power, to control and to feel strong. Amy is the total absolute psycho type, brilliant, but very dark and willing to sacrifice anything to achieve what she wants.

Nick is a more regular type of man, but having his weaknesses, is exploited totally by Amy, in becoming whatever she decides him to be.

Gone girl is a good novel, showing a few interesting aspects about life: our desire and expectation from our life partner, how to obtain happiness, and if this happiness can be truly achieved, or it’s only the thing in our mind that makes us happy, and the things we create about our life partner, and the shape we deal to the couple relationship, and the most significant other.

Do androids dream of electric sheep ?

I had another great read from Phillip K. Dick, after reading A scanner, darkly, some time ago.

This time, the author creates a post-apocalyptic world in which humanity has destroyed most animal life, and replaced them with electric/artificial ones. Most of humanity has emigrated on Mars or different areas of space, after Earth has been devastated by nuclear waste.

One big issue that the people left are facing is the infiltration among them with androids. They act human, feel human and are very hard to distinguish from real humans. Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter, a person who hunts down androids to ‘retire’ them. It looks like androids are not allowed to roam freely, because their lack of empathy, they are considered dangerous. To find and test a human from an android, Rick uses a special scale of empathy measurement.

The novel centers around Rick’s hunt of 6 escaped androids, that injured one of his fellow bounty hunters. During this adventure, he meets one android, Rachel, who is a new model, one that is even closer to human kind. He starts to develop feelings for androids, especially for Rachel, whom he finds attractive in a strange way.

We are presented with both point of views, of androids and humans, and this whole metaphor looks a lot like a finger pointing to slavery. I found in androids actual humans that were exploited, harassed and victims of racism. Perhaps Philip K. Dick wanted to emphasize exactly this point.

I can also see the point of view of the androids, who find humans unpredictable and unreliable. However, we are also presented with the limitations: they refuse to fight too much for their life and easily accept their ‘retirement’ fate. The survival instinct is much stronger in sentient life.

We are presented with various ‘future concepts’ that are very scary in some manners, like the special ’emotions device’, ‘mercerism’, in which every human can connect to a device and share emotions with other people. Recorded emotions are played over and over depending on what the people ‘dial’. Because of this, connections with real life become severed and people interact less and less with each other.

We are presented with the concept of ‘chickenhead’, people who did not meet the required IQ level for emigration to Mars, the low level of the society, who has been pushed away and disregarded. Isidore, who is a ‘chickenhead’, helps the androids, until he realizes that they have no empathy whatsoever, once they mutilated a spider, the only other living being that he ever found on the desolated planet.

Deckard manages to kill the androids, only to be able to buy a real goat, which is killed in revenge by Rachel. The mirage of a living being a living animal, is something that maybe we do not appreciate at all during our life.

Again, Philip K. Dick creates a perfect balance of fiction, reality, and possible future, with subtle connections to our reality, to point out things which can make us think and reconsider our actions.

Do androids dream of electric sheep ? is a great novel, highly appreciated.

Too much happiness

I read Too much happiness, a short story collection by Alice Munro.

The book comprises of about a dozen short stories, in which the author presents different aspects of life, and how people cope with dark situations, and the crude reality of the world, not without hope though.

The title is given by the last story, which also gives the book title, in which we see the life of Sofia Kovalevskaya, a Russian writer and mathematician during the 19th century. Sofia’s life is torn from love, marriage, and aversion towards female scientists, and in similar ways reminds me of Anna Karenina. We see the horror of the 19th century incurable diseases, which are now piece of cake, but end prematurely Sofia’s life at just 41. It’s the only story that ends with death. The other stories, which I will comment next, have a small glimpse of hope.

We see in one story a man who kills his own children, but still hopes for redemption from his wife and mother of his children. The shocking truth sometimes is too much to accept, and the awful desire of wanting to relive things makes people forget the reality.

Another story is about a woman who lost her husband, and in the shock of the event, almost falls victim to a wanted murderer, but somehow manages to escape and finds new hope in what life has left her.

In a story, a woman tells her childhood drama that she managed to forget for 50 years, about she and a friend murdering another child, a handicapped child, which only wanted to be friends with them, but always rejected by the community.

Another story is about a woman who finds herself dumped by her husband because of a maid which helped in their home, but manages to find a new life, and realizing that she was teacher to the daughter of the woman who took her place in her husband’s life.

Another story is about a dying man, sick of leukemia, who is nearly abused by a woman who has strange interests in him, but the girl in the house saves him and his dying marriage by not allowing his family and the succubus to intervene in his life.

A story is about a child who evolves into a completely different man, forgetting his family, abandoning and never wanting to see his parents again, going into a life of poverty and slum, only wanting his inheritance from his old mother for his own purpose in life.

The short stories are full of emotion, and present a single thing, in a good way, but all of them are pretty dark and depressing. The feeling when you finish this book is that life is worth living, but have to be careful what do you live for, and to enjoy every moment.