Tuesday, May 28, 2013

La Vie en Rosé and The God Interviews

I'm terribly slow off the mark here, by about seven years in the one case, and at least as many months in the other; I really do want to have a bit of a shout about something that many of you probably know all about and have on your bookshelves already.

I've known about Natalie d'Arbeloff and seen her around for quite as long as I've been blogging, but somehow or other we didn't get properly acquainted and start visiting until the last year or so, possibly through Clive's Artlog and the on-line exhibitions there.  Though this is somewhat of an oversight, I find it very heartening that I'm still making new friends and discoveries after all this time, including those who have been around even longer than I have. Natalie, for those who don't know, and there must be a one or two if not many, is an extraordinarily talented person in an extraordinary number of areas. She's proud to call herself a blogger (as the name of her alter-ego 'Blaugustine' would affirm), but she was an artist and illustrator of renown long before that, is a rare humorist and clearly has a remarkable and unusual hinterland.

I ordered her La Vie en Rosé not long after it came out late last year, but only got around to reading it fairly recently. It was initially sparked, in 2009, by a kind of bloggers' game of Consequences, whereby one person wrote 250 words, another followed on, etc.  I'm afraid at the time I found this exercise rather impenetrable and hard to follow, and suspected it was more fun for those engaged in it than for other readers, so in fact finding that Natalie had followed up the words:

we gulp what is here and ours and nobody's and nothing's...

with

... George said, handing her his glass of rosé.

That's how he talked. She couldn't understand him half the time but he was a poet and she had learned not to ask for explanations

I was instantly gratified.

I'm rather wary of books and stories written by, for or about English and English-speaking people living in France; fiction or non-fiction, comic or earnest, the 'expat' genre spawned by Peter Mayle and Joanne Harris makes me squirm quite a bit, but in the setting of La Vie en Rosé, though it's not exactly recognisable, I feel she's nailed it, not least because she satirises and subverts the conventions of that genre.  I straight away liked, felt drawn into and wanted to believe in the world she creates.  The humour is sharp and quick but also light and kind.  Natalie, is, I believe, at once very clever and very kind, which is still quite a rare combination.  It's funny and charming and wry and moving, and just a joy throughout.

In the story, the two main characters, a most oddly assorted pair, are drawn together, almost inadvertently, by a shared imaginative endeavour.  They encounter reversals and obstructions, with many a comedy of errors and hilarious episode, they move on and diverge, largely revert to their old selves and patterns, but are momentarily if not momentously lifted out of themselves, touched by one another and by something larger, changed and strengthened.  It's only a little book but a delightful one, not glib or over- romantic, but  thoroughly satisfying.

The characters are also drawn with a light but loving touch,


and they are similarly drawn in actual pictures too! The book is illustrated throughout in beautiful grayscale.  No stranger to the problems and costs of colour publishing, Natalie has gone for Blurb's small format, low cost black-and-white books, and her drawings are just perfect for it.  It's a brilliant choice and makes print on demand a viable and affordable option for authors and readers alike.  You can order it directly from Blurb here, and I strongly urge you to do so.

Incidentally, in reading it I learned about the celebrated Facteur Cheval, of whom I had previously been shamefully ignorant.  Shortly after, I opened our Almanach de Facteur, that indispensible volume, and found a mention of him and his Palais idéal among other notable French postmen!



Then, consequently, I finally read and was bowled over by The God Interviews.  There is so much to say about this, and much has already been said by more eloquent reviewers than I here, so please, I know many of you know, own and love this book already, but if you don't, now's the time to do so, so follow those links.   It's not only wise and clever and inspired, it's also magically, beautifully and consistently realised, with myriad tiny,understated witty details that make it worth going back to again and again, though a first reading is quickly accomplished.  One of my favourite moments in it are when Blaugustine and God are looking at the 'Super Spiritual Sale' in the bookshop window, with 'All the Answers for the Price of One!', and titles such as My Chats with God by Daphne Dolphin, My lunch with Goddess by Lavinia Starsign, Proof that there is No God by Professor I.N. Fallible, and God is dead, she told me so, by Hippekool Dood.  Another is when Blaugustine admits to her own experiential conviction of God's existence (not in so many words) but laments to God: 'But I can't prove it to anyone else', to which God simply replies 'So?'

So thank you Natalie, and I'm sorry it's taken me seven years to get there!

19 comments:

Bruce Taylor, a.k.a. Catalyst said...

This definitely sounds like someone to pursue. Thanks for the tip,Lucy.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Lucy, I'm speechless and stunned by this wonderful appraisal. I don't know how to thank you - you're not late, you're right on time! I can't think of a better boost to my spirits or a better encouragement to keep on. I don't have the means, skill, contacts or time to do any proper PR for the books and as a consequence, they vanish into a kind of limbo. But your magical words have resurrected them and now I'm expecting them to do that thing called going viral!

Roderick Robinson said...

Just back from Hay where I was exposed, inter alia, to AC Grayling, Prof. David Dennett, and a former doctor, now neurosurgeon and philosophy specialist Tallis (first name forgotten; no relation to the composer of that ilk). This after several years of exposure to Richard Dawkins and Prof. Steve Jones. All atheists.

These men helped confirm me in a policy I arrived at in reaction to some of Tom's posts. That I should avoid responding to posts which incorporate the capital G - tough on Germaine Greer but then some minor figures must expect to suffer. Not that this matters in your case, you are well supported, but it goes some way to explain that my occasional absence from Box Elder in future could well be attributable to something other than churlishness. I realise that this statement is, in itself, ridiculously self-aggrandising, but I felt I had to make it just this once and that's that on the subject. In fact, now you know, why not delete this.

Dick said...

Natalie is the renaissance woman of the blogosphere. We've been in each others orbits, digital and real-space, for 10 years and I have never lost my sense of astonishment at the breadth and depth of her creative range. She's a true original and I'm delighted that she's providing a graphic interpretation of my translation of French iconoclastic poet Blaise Cendrars' epic 'Trans-Siberien' saga.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Wow, I'm blushing so much I'm going to turn into a carrot. Hang on a second while I paste all this praise into my Book of Moi et Moi et encore Moi!

Roderick, just to insert my two cents RE the G-word: if there is a Deity (just supposing) wouldn't you prefer it to have a sense of humour? If so, you might enjoy my cartoon on Richard Dawkins:
http://www.nataliedarbeloff.com/god_dawkins.html

Ellena said...

Just finished clicking 'place order'.
Mother's Day gift to myself. Can't wait to start turning pages.

Roderick Robinson said...

Natalie: You're drawing me in and I'm trying to stay out. What's more you're using an irresistible form of bait - rolled balls of wit. As well as a fantastically complex blogonym which I envy more than envy itself. I could have gone a long way with that name; you've no idea what a struggle Robinson has been.

Let me offer a rejoinder which should offend no one. Believers have pointed out that there are material as well as spiritual benefits in espousing the G-form: choose the right side of the argument and you get to associate yourself with the Mass in B Minor, Salisbury Cathedral, and the Song of Solomon. As well as - the idea has suddenly come to me - Air on a G-String, proving that the G-form doesn't preclude musical trivia.

But it's not all one-way. Readers who buy more than five copies of The God Delusion get a photograph of Dawkins' library and I have to say it matches anything the away team bring with them. Sun-lit at one end, an elegant spiral staircase half-way along, a floor surfaced with home-cooked sapele. It appeared briefly on one of his TV programmes and I recognised it had a biblical precedent: being taken up into a high place, accorded a generous gesture and being told that - some day...

Lucy said...

Talk amongst yourselves, I'll get back when I can...

Bruce - always good to find an exciting new blog contact isn't it, thanks for the shout out at yours.

Natalie - no more than deserved, I'm a bit hesitant about doing book write-ups as a rule, and never feel I have much new or helpful to say, so I'm glad you're happy about it.

RR - whatever. I wouldn't have assumed churlishness anyway. But come now, you can't complain about your blogonym, it's not as though you didn't try out more than one...

Dick - absolutely. Looking forward to your collaboration.

Ellena - hooray! I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Lucy said...

Natalie - would that a plug here could lead to going viral (though I'd have thought you'd had enough of viral by now...), but Bruce and Ellena are interested anyway!

Isabelle said...

Just dipped into Nathalie's blog for the moment - very interesting indeed.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

It's not polite to hog your comments box, Lucy, but I just have to say thanks again, and thanks too to your readers who have come to visit my blog and may even be ordering my books!

And Roderick, I'll take you on for a battle of wits, with or without the G-word, anytime! As for the Dawkish Professor, yes he's a very clever self-promoter but....a photo of his library as a prize for buying more than 5 God Delusions?? You cannot be serious!

marly said...

Yes, I like Natalie's work... Another one of those people one "knows" in a sort of distant way, reading and looking now and then. I like the way the internet is so full, like our so-called real life, so that one has close friends and acquaintances and all sorts of levels of knowledge. And sometimes one gets to know some of them better than before...

Roderick Robinson said...

Natalie: And you'd win - the name alone would be your armed ambassador and my piping Northern voice would simply die away. If proof were needed you were right again: I wasn't serious. Sapele is wood.

I was going to visit your blog but now I daren't. I am being treated for an attack of acute blogo-terror.

Lucy: I'll transfer the rental fees in the usual way.

Lucy said...

Thanks again, hi Isabelle, glad you looked in on Natalie.

Natalie - don't worry, I like it when people chat here, and I'm not the most conscientious comment replier, though I'm never sure people are coming back and tracking anyway - you and RR are very reliable like that, which I appreciate! I find I quite like Dawkins when I watch him, he often seems to me to end up more amiable and accommodating than he means to be. I liked the bit in one programme when he was reading his hate-mail and fell about laughing when one e-mailer said 'I hope you get run over by a church van'. I've never read much by him, because really I think I'd prefer to read him in his original function as an evolutionary biologist rather than as self-appointed atheist-in-chief, and I don't really have the head for that I'm afraid. I think the photo of the library might be one of RR's not infrequent (and very enjoyable) flights of fancy, but I'm not sure!

Marly - yep, it's good isn't it, and though it's a bit quieter than it used to be, it's still fertile ground. Thanks for your faithful attendance over the years too!

Lucy said...

Oops , Robbie, you slipped in there! As above, I like it when people chat here.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Lucy, okay, then I'll butt in here again. I've tried liking Dawkins but I'm afraid he grates like chalk on blackboard. Not for his atheism, which many of my best friends share, but for his fundamentalist approach to it - it so ressembles the religious fundamentalism that he (rightly) opposes. Give him a robe and a sceptre and I can imagine him as leader of an atheist inquisition! He may be an expert scientist but he seems ignorant about certain things
which cannot be measured and about those people who have the intelligence, humility and daring to explore that uncharted territory.

Roderick, well I visited your blog and I'll be back. So come on over, I'll even give you a cup of virtual coffee - sugar or no sugar?

zephyr said...

thank you for introducing me/us to Natalie! I shall visit, now...and i'm very intrigued and interested, in both blog and books.

Tom said...

Natalie: It was precisely his atheistic fundamentalism that led me to say in an earlier post that his form of atheism and fundamentalist religion are just two sides of the same coin.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Tom,I remember your post. Every time I've heard Prof.Dawkins speak I've been struck by that exact parallel. But he doesn't seem to be aware of it.