Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.
Today’s guest is Guy Savage from His Futile Preoccupations….
Guy, who is British but lives in America, has a terrific blog jam-packed with wonderful reviews, mainly of classics — Russian, French and English from the 19th century — crime and noir fiction.
“Books have always been a consolation and an escape for me,” he states on his About page. “I can remember learning to read, and I still feel a thrill when I disappear into a new book and realise that I’m engaged in reading something wonderful, something I’ll always remember. I cannot imagine a life without books.”
Without further ado, here’s Guy’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections:
There are so many books I could slot into this category, but I’m going to choose one I think about a great deal. It just happens to be written by one of my favourite authors — Balzac.
Cousin Bette is a tale of a spinster who’s the poor relation of the wealthy Parisian Hulot family. This novel is a great favourite for Balzac’s approach to the complications and murky depths of human behaviour. It illustrates the timelessness of human behaviour, and how easy it is to destroy a human being if you are ready to exploit their weaknesses.
Balzac understood human nature so well, and here he is at the top of his game as he explores the complicated emotions that swirl inside Bette’s head. Since the Hulots are her benefactors, it’s assumed that she is grateful to them, but instead she nurses hate and secretly swears to destroy them all. Just how she does this is the substance of this superb novel. The key to the destruction of the Hulots is found in their personal weaknesses, so Bette doesn’t really have to ‘do’ a lot to lead the family into destruction. She’s there at key moments and she helps arrange key incidents, but basically the Hulots open the door to their destruction.
One of the things that intrigues me so much about this novel (it’s one of my favourite Balzac novels, by the way) is the way in which all the kindnesses directed towards Bette are taken by her as insulting and degrading. As readers, it’s fairly easy for us to see that, logically, without the Hulots she’d be in dire circumstances, but at the same time, it’s also easy for the nasty side in each of us (come on, admit it’s there) to understand exactly how Bette feels with each cast-off, with each paltry acknowledgment, and with each assumption that a hideous suitor is ‘good’ enough for her.
She isn’t an equal and she knows that she never will be. She may have food and clothing, but none of this is free, and in return she is supposed to be devoted to making the lives of the Hulots smoother. She despises Baroness Hulot and realises that if fate had turned one way instead of another, she could have been a baroness instead of the poor relation who’s expected to be happy with the crumbs from everyone else’s table.
“Envy remained like a germ plague which may come to life and devastate a city if the fatal bale of wool in which it lies hidden is ever opened.”
There are many books (and films) which served as signposts at various points in my life, but I’m narrowing it down to one. In 2004, I read an article in the newspaper announcing the 2nd Annual Noir City Film Festival organised by the Film Noir Foundation. I read the lineup and rued the fact that I was unable to go. I was busy chafing against my lot in life when I said, “damn it, I’ll have my own festival.”
I didn’t know much about film noir at the time, and like most people, I was familiar with some of the more ubiquitous titles in the genre (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, etc). So reading that Eddie Muller was the person responsible for putting the film festival together, I ordered a copy of his marvellous book Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir — along with a selection of a number of the films to be shown at the film festival.
The book is incredible. Muller has a fresh, lively and evocative style that meshes perfectly with the subject matter, and I recommend the book to anyone who wants to get jump-started with noir. Well, after reading the book (and drooling over the fabulous photos) the result was that I fell in love with noir, and gradually — well, to be honest, not so gradually — it consumed and obsessed me. Noir is described by some experts as a genre; others say it’s a style, and while I’m not arguing with either of those positions, for me: noir is a state of mind.
When I read Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, everything slotted into place: the way I felt about life, man’s struggle in society, and the immutability of human behaviour. It was as if noir had been there all this time hiding in some dark, forgotten corner…waiting for me to discover its dark, bleak nihilistic core. Since 2004, there’s been no looking back, and the love affair with noir continues.
In 2007, I became a fairly regular contributor to the Film Noir of the Week blog, and in 2010, I began contributing to the Film Noir Foundation’s e-newsletter, The Sentinel.
This was an easy choice. While I’m putting this under the selection “A book that deserves a wider audience”, by its subject matter, the book, unfortunately narrows itself. This is a beautiful, poignant, graphic, gut-wrenching and tragic tale of a young man named Hugo (14 when the book begins), who slides into a sordid life of prostitution, pornography and drugs. The drugs begin as fun but inevitably become the seemingly protective yet ultimately self-destructive sheath with which Hugo deals with his vulnerability.
Hugo becomes mired in an ugly life before he has the maturity to understand his actions, and then by the time he does mature, he is irrevocably damaged. Hugo has no moral compass, no barriers, no reason to put on the brakes, and if you read the book, you commit to Hugo’s journey to hell.
This is an immensely powerful book — and at its conclusion, I felt traumatized by its sheer, raw emotional power. Dark & bleak, this harrowing tale was the only novel written by journalist Oscar Moore, who died of AIDS in 1996 at age 36. If Oscar Moore had lived, he would have been a major contributor to British fiction, and this incredible novel stands as a testament to the loss of his tremendous talent:
“It wasn’t that he felt guilty. Hugo had never noticed a conscience. If he had one, it was rarely awake. The flicker in his eye in the mirror in the lift wasn’t an accusation. It was a signal. A flash. A half-smile. Tentative, to himself. He couldn’t indulge it because then he’d laugh, and the laugh wouldn’t come, or cry, and no tears would happen. He just stared back as if he’d never seen himself before. He just stared at himself and, with a slight intake of breath, stepped out of the lift, down the beige carpet corridors and knocked on another painted door with three gilt numbers.”
Thanks, Guy, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!
I’m particularly intrigued by the Balzac and the Moore.
What do you think of Guy’s choices? Have you read any of these books?