Remember this?   It’s seems that almost everyone was feeling a little shy because only Jackie from Farmlanebooks dared to go where no other blogger dared.  For that, Jackie, thanks and because you obviously enjoyed the first extract more than the second, I shall send the book to you as a gift – just as soon as you send me your address details!  No doubt you want to know what you’ve won …….a novella by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte – not some postmodern impostor, but the Napoleon Bonaparte.

Written before Napoleon became the (in)famous dictator, Clisson and Eugenie is, in fact, a short story based on his own amatory experiences. So much becomes clear in the foreword and the various appendices which have been added in to explain a) the genesis of the story and b) the piecing (sp?) together of the”definitive” version from various fragments around the world. I found it all quite fascinating. The story itself  is told as a simple linear narrative. It’s of its time in the sense that it belongs to the romantic period of the late 18th – early 19th century. It’s also obvious that Napoleon was acquainted with Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther. But I’m saying no more – beyond the fact that I found this a most enjoyable first reading from independent publisher Gallic Press – I don’t want to give the game away to Jackie and I want her to decide for herself whether it is the work of a “literary genius”.

The second extract came from a novella which initially read like an extract from my junior school Janet and John books. (Anyone remember these?) Dearie me, I thought, there’s simple and there’s insulting. It was only after about 30 pages when I began to consider the complexity of the message behind the words. So a 7-year old child could read the words, but could they understand? Hopefully not – that would be a depressing thought although I suspect that a 7-year old child living in Romania during Ceaucescu’s “reign”, may well have. There’s your clue – the second extract came from 2009 Nobel Laureate Herta Müller’s The Passport.

For pages 1-30 I was, as you can see, totally underwhelmed. Pages 30-50 the repeated motifs and metaphors began to invade my consciousness; the owl being my favourite. I was at the half-way point by this time but still found it bland and colourless. So I put it down. A week later, because I was not in the mood to be beaten by a 96-page novella, a funny thing happened. The text was suddenly infused with colour. Red and green and white and … there was a tension developing that ensured the pages turned faster in the second half. Obviously there was a style working that I don’t (yet) have words to describe. Suffice to say the second half redeemed the novella somewhat in my eyes – though I’m not sure I’d put Müller in the same league as other German nobel laureates Mann and Grass. Still I’m curious enough now to try something else – perhaps even in the German. After all, Müller uses the language of  a 7-year old.

Clisson and Eugenie – Napoleon Bonaparte stars3
The Passport – Herta Müller stars2 1/2

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