Elizabeth's Cozy Book Corner 2021

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Elizabeth's Cozy Book Corner 2021

Jul 16, 2021, 1:27 am

Oh hello! So glad you could join me in my cozy book corner. Please, pull up a chair next to the fire. Yes, that's it. Would you like some hot cocoa? There, now you can get all warmed up––you're dripping wet! How's the work been going this week? I see, well, that's certainly something. And the family? Mm-hm, just like them isn't it? Oh don't mind old Pepper there, he loves a good scratch behind the ears. How have I been doing, you ask? Well…

Jul 16, 2021, 1:34 am

I Finished The Blue Flowers
extensive spoilers to follow

This one was loopy. Two men live parallel lives. Joachim, Duke of Auge, is a tempestuous nobleman living in the thirteenth century, skeptical of the king and scornful of the clergy. Cidrolin, meanwhile, is a gentle soul in twentieth-century France, whose main concern is painting over the derisive graffiti that daily appears on the fence in front of his house-boat. The Duke and Cidrolin become aware of one another through their dreams: every night when the Duke falls asleep, he dreams of Cidrolin and his barge, while Cidrolin, upon stretching out on his lounge chair for his customary siesta, dreams each afternoon of the Duke. In addition to this peculiar arrangement, every so often when Cidrolin dreams of the Duke, the Duke has moved forward in time by 175 years. And, oh yeah, the Duke also owns two talking horses.

I picked up this book after reading a few pages of its dreamy, surrealist “joco-serious” style, which I liked instantly. Even though I read it in translation, sentence-to-sentence it was just strange and funny enough to keep me entertained throughout. The Duke is a stubborn boor who spends most of his time tromping around the countryside and being a general nuisance to everyone, particularly his long-suffering chaplain, who he eventually tricks by (spoiler alert) faking the cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira, in order to provide (falsified) evidence that there were humans who lived before Adam. Cidrolin, meanwhile, is more concerned with his three daughters and their husbands, who all seem rather dismissive of him, though of course his greatest care is to make sure his fence is in pristine shape.

Apart from all the jocularity, though, I’m not sure I really understood this book. An afterward at the end assures us — multiple times — that it can be read “at a number of different levels,” including “readings which evoke questions about history and the unconscious, origins and ends, time and space, the subject and language, and literary codes and their decoding.”

I’m not sure it really does. The synopsis might suggest that it’ll grapple with such highfalutin themes, but the book itself never sustains enough momentum to cover much of anything.

Despite the intriguing premise, nothing much really happens in this book. Even when the Duke finally catches up to Cidrolin’s time and the two meet in person (and their dreams of one another cease), it doesn’t really seem of great moment. Everyone continues laying around, not doing much of anything. Cidrolin stays on his barge. The Duke goes sightseeing in the city. Generally a book that has little going on in terms of external action will instead provide a rich psychological portrait of some kind, or maybe some philosophical musings. This book imitates the style of those sorts of stories and keeps seeming to promise something along those lines, but nothing ever materializes.

If I had to describe this mish-mash of random conversations and slapdash happenings as anything in particular, I’d say its a work of nihilism. The climax of the story — if it can really be called that — is when the graffiti artist is finally caught. It turns out the perpetrator was (spoilers again) Cidrolin himself. The reader realizes that Cidrolin’s great resistance against the forces of chaos — the painting of the fence — undertaken with great devotion from page one, has been meaningless. And Cidrolin, of course, has known this all along. The story has been so ambling up to this moment that all events that make gestures towards meaning in the few pages that remain (a murderer is justly punished; the Duke sails away on the barge, also known as “the Ark,” during a big storm) seem to evaporate in the air. The narrative even seems to poke fun at those who try too hard to derive meaning from nothing, as embodied in a pompous character who is perennially congratulating himself for always thinking. In the grand tradition of half-wits everywhere, it is the direct result of this supposed thinking that he seems not to really understand anything at all.

It’s true The Blue Flowers occasionally takes a stab at perhaps giving the reader something of substance, but all of these attempts seem at best superficial and artificially tacked on. I started having much more fun once I cottoned on that this isn’t a story so much as an excuse to parade that signature joco-serious style around like a peacock’s feathers. Once I caught onto this, it was fun enough watching the Duke argue with his talking horse or Cidrolin directing tourists to the “camping camp for campers” without needing to create more between the lines. Let’s all put on our berets and just say “the meaning of it was its very meaninglessness all along!”

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book. It was fun as I was reading it and I enjoyed the wordplay, especially at the beginning. But I can’t deny that I didn’t understand soon enough that there was nothing more coming than a fun language exercise — borne of a mind as witty and sharp as to produce some really top-notch nonsense, I kept hoping for something more in this story. It seems others have had the same thought and have attempted to insert depth where there isn’t any. Sometimes a story about a duke arguing with a horse is just a story about a duke arguing with a horse. 3/5.

Jul 16, 2021, 10:20 am

Welcome to the group! The Blue Flowers sounds like not my cup of tea; but talking horses might be. lol

Jul 16, 2021, 2:24 pm

>3 lesmel: Thank you! It's a book that was part of my attempt to broaden my reading horizons –– very different from my usual fare too, though I did enjoy it. And who doesn't love a good talking horse? :)

Jul 18, 2021, 9:04 pm

Wow, that book sounds like quite a trip!