16 October 2007

Irene Nemirovsky - Le Bal

Nemirovsky was a highly popular French novelist in the 1930s, and several films were made from her works - two from Le Bal, one in French and one in German. Her current revival is due to the recent discovery and publication of an unfinished novel, Suite Francaise, which detailed life under the German occupation she was suffering, prior to her arrest and deportation, and death in a camp.

Nemirovsky drew on her personal experiences for her works, and her early life was highly eventful. Her father was an important banker in the Tsar's court, which informed David Golder, and the family had to escape from Russia after the revolution, which is the basis for the second story in this volume, Snow in Autumn.

The first story, Le Bal, was stimulated by Nemirovsky's fractious relationship with her mother, which is hinted at in David Golder too. A young girl, feeling ignored by her social-climbing mother, sabotages a ball to be held at her home by not posting the invitations. As the evening develops, and it becomes evident that no guests are going to arrive, the mother's distress is the daughter's victory.

It's evident that this is a young girl's fantasy, no doubt Nemirovsky's dream as she grew up distant from her mother. It's similar to Maupassant, a clear influence, in its tone and structure, but he would have told the story in 10 pages, whereas she uses 50. I found that a bit too long, but I suppose the wait for the inevitable denouement matched the tension of the girl's anticipation.

The second story, of an aged servant following her masters from revolutionary Russia, is better, a contemplation of devotion and ageing.


3 October 2007

Mike Atherton - Gambling

Mike Atherton's book purports to be an overview of gambling as a social phenomenon, covering the history of it and the current state of gambling in the UK. It's a huge subject, and it's beyond the former England cricket captain, but he seems to have had fun researching it.

Atherton has a degree from Cambridge, but didn't do much with his intellect for a couple of decades while playing cricket professionally. He now commentates and writes columns, at which he's competent, but he's not a writer. His style is sloppy and casual, and his opinions often not well-considered. On one page early on he refers both to 'proles' and 'liberal elite', which made me check that he wasn't a Mail writer (Telegraph actually)

There wasn't a lot in this book I didn't already know - he covers the South Sea Bubble, and John Law's escapades in Paris, which is widening his brief a bit, but surprisingly doesn't mention Casanova, who ran lotteries and became rich from them. His favourite betting scene is plainly the track, and he gets most involved when writing about horseracing and the decline of the online bookie, whereas poker leaves him bewildered and a bit sheepish.

Some of the colour pieces are amusing - Atherton can be as affable on the page as on screen, although also as irritating. As a populist guide to gambling this is fine, but Atherton was aiming for more than that.