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Posts tagged ‘Novel’

Remembrance of things current (No.2): À la table de Mme Verdurin

Marcel Proust continues to ensnare me with the mellifluous poetry of his prose. Having struggled through the first 50 pages of his epic first novel, Swann’s Way, I found that what had at first been like an exercise in chipping away at solid ice had become the easier removal of slushy semi-melted layers, before the watery manifestation of his literary masterpiece washed over me without any effort on my part. I am now what could be termed Prousted, so easily accustomed to bathing languidly in my daily dose of Proust’s world that it has become less an escape from reality as a natural reacquaintance with a perfected present, from whose elegant embrace I depart unwittingly whenever I happen to put down the book.

Happily, when the time comes to place to one side the irresistible pages of In Search of Lost Time, my departure from Proust’s reality is rarely complete, for now the work is inspiring my artwork too. Just before Christmas, I introduced La Madeleine de Proust, the first instalment of my Remembrance of things current series of paintings. I have now completed the second: À la table de Madame Verdurin.


Remembrance of times current (No.2): À la table de Madame Verdurin (2017 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Anyone who has read Proust will know Madame Verdurin as the monarchical matriarch of her own exclusive, carefully selected carve out of Parisian society. Gathering together those people who she considered to be sufficiently witty to contribute to what she termed her collection of The Faithful, this little congregation importantly included Odette de Crécy who was later to become the infamous Mme Swann, wife of one of the book’s major protagonists, Charles Swann. The gatherings which Proust describes, ruled over by Mme Verdurin and her obedient husband, and playing host to the witticisms of guests, musical recitals, and even its own in-house artist, make for some of the most enjoyable passages of Swann’s Way. Providing an enthralling insight into the self-imposed societal norms practised by those who are not quite high society but form their own exclusive club in lieu of the better connections to which they secretly aspire, the Verdurin salon says so much of the social climbing and inter-class backbiting which was rife in Paris in the belle epoch.

Importantly for the novel, the house of Mme Verdurin provids the backdrop for Swann’s first encounters with Odette, and the frictions which thereafter developed when the couple dared to live a life beyond the congregation of The Faithful. In my painting, I have tried to capture the friction between Swann and Mme Verdurin in the two figures which dominate the bottom half of the piece. There, Mme Verdurin’s hairstyle is almost halo-like in her self-imposed status as a kind of deity in her home, while the red bar above her head is like the sentencing hat worn by a judge who makes severe judgement on the society around her. Above and below, the chandelier and the black and white floor represent the decorative embellishments which ensured that visitors to the Verdurin household were fully aware of their burgeoning social status, but the black and white also represents the keys of the piano which played out Vinteuil’s musical refrain which was to underpin the force of Swann’s passion for Odette. Yet for all this pomp and ostentation, the table of Madame Verdurin, around which the diners sit, is notably empty. Vacuous and without depth, like the true nature of the party’s rather frivolous conversation.

Now I am on the third novel of Proust, and with 4 still to go, I know that my collection of paintings will grow accordingly.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at

Daily Norm Book Club: The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolaño

In the murky world of Roberto Bolaño, the sadly deceased Mexican author, many of whose masterpieces are only now, posthumously, seeing the light of day, a new storm is brewing. In the noncommittally named Costa Brava seaside resort of “Z”, the catalogue of shady locals, from El Quemado to the elusive German hotelier, Frau Else introduced to us in Bolaño’s recently published The Third Reich, is expanded further, as a second “Z”-based novel, The Skating Rink, delves into the layers of denigration, frustration and prejudice subsisting, never far from reach, beneath the soft sands of this beachside society in post civil-war Spain.

The novel is a short, punchy exploration of a Spain pressing forwards but continuing to struggle against Catalan discrimination, a flagging economy post summer-season (sound familiar?) and the progressive rise of a bureaucratically managed insular society. These frustrations are played out by the few principal characters around whom the story circulates. There is Nuria Marti, the beautiful ice skater, previously an Olympian skater representing Spain, but recently thrown off the national team because of her Catalan heritage. Obsessed with her is Enric Rosquelles, a pompous civil servant, who, in a desperate attempt to capture the attention and then the affection of this starlet skater, abuses his power and embezzles pesetas by the thousand to build Nuria her very own skating rink in the grounds of a deserted seaside villa.

Nuria’s affections are elsewhere however, in part with a local entrepreneur, Remo Moran – the poor boy done good – who has become owner of the hotel which formed the backdrop of The Third Reach, and who is now sleeping with the skater. He would love there to be more than sex between them, but he cannot crack the icy glaze which so often falls over Nuria, protecting her from the prying attentions of those who get too close. Working for Remo is Gaspar Heredia, a solitary, beleaguered romantic and old friend of Remo from their native Mexico. He too is in love, with an equally elusive, silent and cold societal outcast, Caridad, who has found the ice rink and lives amongst the ruins of the villa beyond. That is until tragedy strikes and all concerned are forced to abandon the ice rink which has sealed their fate forever.

We know there will be a murder. We’re told at the start, and in short captivating chapters, the three narrators, Enric, Remo and Gaspar, successively take the story gradually closer and closer to the murder which was forewarned, circling progressively nearer to the tragic event, like a skater encircles an ice rink before arabesquing into a pirouetted climax at its bloody cold centre. In this way, Bolaño’s brilliant structure ensnares the audience and drags them into the tale, captivating like a dancing routine, enriching the reader with a tale told on ice.

Yet within a speedy narrative hoisting in the reader with its intrigue and drama, the sombre mood, typical of Bolaño’s work, prevails, as surreal and disquieting descriptions create a deeper profile of his often troubled characters: the toilet cleaners who agonise after the faeces sculptor whose daily offerings torment them, the old singer, who moves from bar to bar in a pitiful attempt to busk for drink-money, the poet, taken to insomnia and dizzily distracted by his love for a girl who won’t even speak to him. It is these characters who make the story, who create a mood which is as distant from the sunshine and sangria costa setting as a seagull from the Sahara. This is the same unsettling irony which characterised The Third Reach – holiday makers playing war games, away from the sun, in the darkness of a hotel bedroom, a paddleboat seller, who builds a home on dry land from boats, and whose skin is burnt by fire, yet exposed all day to the continuing damage of the sun, and the tourists who were drunk with joy, and then distressed when one disappeared forever. These dark undertones are what makes Bolaño’s summer time so enticing; a hot Spanish resort with an ice-cold undertone, a wintery chill traversed by the pointed blade of a skater’s boots, the razor sharp kitchen knife carried in the waistband of a silent night-walker, the inscrutable personality of the leading skating star. 

This is my third Bolaño read and I’m eager to read more. Bolaño gives us crime, but not crime fiction, he gives us Mediterranean sun, with none of its warmth. He gives us speechless characters, full of detail. In other words, his books are atypical, original and inescapably captivating. I’m off to buy the next one…