June 10, 2022
Dear Frenchly Readers,
Last night I published Andrea Meyer’s lush and lusciously written review of the new film adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s 19th century novel, Lost Illusions.
This morning, I went to my bookshelf and pulled down the two books by Balzac that I own, both French editions. Flipping through the pages of Le Père Goriot, I see my notes all the way through and what hits me is not memories of the story, or even the writing, but “My God, I read all that French and had things to say about it for that many pages?” I then found my old copy of Illusions Perdues. And I was dismayed to see that I had made assiduous and intelligent seeming notes through the introduction until I dog-eared the 23rd page and, apparently, never went back.
Lucky for me, the movie sounds so beautiful, so writerly, so masterfully done, that it presque counts, I’d say. I say “almost” because no movie is ever what the book will be. We have some rules in our house: No movie, ever, of Charlotte’s Web. Or for that matter, The Call of the Wild, the Narnia Books, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Swallows and Amazons, Anne of Green Gables, Watership Down, The One and Only Ivan. Though my older son and I watched the Harry Potter movies after reading the series, my husband will not, and my younger son claims he doesn’t want to. In fact, he wrote a little poem at school this spring that went like this: “In a Book/a land of storees tackeing/plase in my hed.”
Back to our main guy, Balzac: He was born in the auspicious year of 1799 and lived only 51 years. He was a meaty sort of fellow, with long sideburns, dark hair, a soul patch and head full of ideas and ideals about what it means to be a human being. Supposedly, he drank 50 cups of coffee a day. And Balzac is considered the pioneer of the modern novel. His magnum opus, indeed, was his novel, essay and story sequence of 91 finished works and 46 unfinished works –all written during the period of 1829-48 and all depicting the period of post-Napoleonic Restoration in France. Amazingly enough, these works share enough through lines that he had recurring themes, characters and concerns about how money changes people, what it means to be noble, to be a part of society, and so on. Ok—so not sure if you caught that, but that’s 137 works. In 19 years. Incroyable! In short, he’s the French Dickens, only even more prolific, which seems crazy. (And his work likely inspired the actual Dickens, who came along a few years later.)
So, here’s a pass: If you, like me, never made it through the three novel cycle in French that makes up Lost Illusions, you still can. (I’m now going to bring mine along to France this summer, because when in France…why not see what new or old French brambles I can stumble through?) In the meantime, I venture to guess that you won’t be any the worse off from watching this truly breathtaking and beautiful movie. In fact, my hunch is that Balzac might not fault you if he still could.
Cook, watch & read ce weekend (Cuisinier, Regarder et Lire):
Read: If you haven’t had a chance to get your special discounted copy yet (CODE: SPRING30) of the anthology, Breaking Bread, with over 100 New England writers (including myself; I wrote about making a croque monsieur for my kids during quarantine) writing about food and hunger, you should order your copy. My friend Selina says it was the best gift—I gave her a copy as a thank you for loyally reading my own novel this year three solid times (Harper Books, 2023). In it, you will read from Kate Christensen, who writes our Bouffe column, about the perfect PB&J; from Debra Spark, who also writes for us, about finding a Kinder Egg for her son; about poached (in both senses) turtle seasoned with Lipton onion soup; lies and English muffins; staff meals in a restaurant by Kate Russo; also her dad, Rick Russo, on pasta fah-zool soup; green bean casserole that reminds a man of his dead brother, and the list goes on—it’s a truly remarkable collection, one I can’t put down. I am reading it every night at bedtime.
Also we have this article about a new book called French All Around Us on our website this week and a guide for planning and executing your perfect French apéro, that 5th meal you’ve never heard of but exists in La France!
I have not forgotten our book club. Just…French authors are hard to pin down. That’s an essay for another time. But these guys are mysterious….
Watch: Ok, you’re all going to put on masks and go see Lost Illusions on the big screen this weekend, right? In our house, we do what Andrea Meyer tells us to do. You should, too.
Other than that, I also have this fun review by one of my favorite writers, Peter Nichols (who wrote our infamously edgy and fantastic essay on a “Clitoris Stroking Cult in Paris” for Valentine’s Day weekend and a less explosive review of that amazing TV series Around the World in 80 Days, based on the book by Jules Verne), of a new show on Brit Box called Murder in Provence. An all-English cast, playing French people, but making no real pretense that they are, in fact, French…sounds delightful! Check it out.
Dan picked up The French Dispatch for us at the library today. We never got to se it! Can’t wait.
Cook: So just after I wrote you all last week about strawberry cheesecake bars, guess what I found at my farmer’s market the very next morning? The earliest, plumpest, most luscious strawberries. This weekend I am going early (tomorrow) to score as many as I can because I am making this French cake called a fraisier. It’s essentially sponge, whipped cream and fresh fraises. Will you join me? Enjoy!
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