06. July 2010 · Comments Off on Alix’s Journal by Alix Cleo Roubaud · Categories: French Literature · Tags: , ,

Alix Cleo Roubaud was born in 1952. A talented photographer not well known during her lifetime, Alix was what one could call a tortured soul. She was often depressed, suicidal, and an abuser of prescription drugs and alcohol. She died of a pulmonary embolism at age 31 having also suffered from severe asthma. This may sound like the setup to a French art film, but in fact it is a very true story.  Alix left behind not only her brilliant photography work, but her journals as well. The recently translated Alix’s Journal gives an English speaking audience a very personal look at the life and death of this talented artist.

In her will, Alix left the journals to her husband, revered writer Jacques Roubaud. He was not allowed to read the journals until after her passing. But he knew they were written with the intent of publication after her death, which  she seemed to understand would most likely come all too soon.

Alix Cleo Roubaud’s style of writing is at first complicated, difficult to decipher. But it only takes a couple of pages to latch onto her dreamlike flow, her own unique usage of punctuation, and the depth of her soul and intelligence.

And no doubt Alix’s intelligence was part of what haunted her. Reflected in her photography which is also shared in this book, her depression left her somewhat of a hermit, finding little solace except through the numbing effects of alcohol, cigarettes, and pills. Within the book, Alix’s photography shows her alone, occasionally with her husband, but always indoors – usually an apartment, a bedroom, a simple hotel room. Lonely settings all, but what shows through time and again as a true support through her loneliness was her love for her husband, who she often wrote to directly in her journal, as if she fully understood he’d read her words when she no longer was.

Alix’s Journal was originally written in a mixture of French and English, her two native tngues, having grown up speaking both interchangeably. In this publication by Dalkey Archive Press, Alix’s words are translated into English by Jan Steyn. A beautifully melancholy work, Alex’s Journal ends as only fiction is expected to do, but as only true life can manage.

“One day, a man of average height stood on a station platform holding a very heavy bag.  That man was me, but it was not my bag.”

When a book starts thusly, one can only imagine what is to follow.  Although I could anticipate the possibilities, I at least knew the ride with Christian Oster would be nothing short of entertaining brilliance.  And I was right.

In the Train, translated from the original French by Adriana Hunter, tells in first person how one man named Frank, in his eccentric attempts to find a woman, meets a likely prospect at a train station.  Finding unusual and sometimes embarrassing ways to stay in her presence, the resulting 148 pages form a book that you don’t want to read in public.  Unless you enjoy laughing out loud in the dentist’s office waiting room, that is.

At the center of Oster’s latest translated bit of genius is yet another quirky and socially inept individual you’ll wish you knew in person.  So seemingly out of touch with social convention is this story’s hero that if Woody Allen were to meet the man, he’d probably comment, “Nice, but a little neurotic.”

One thing I appreciate in Oster’s writing is his ability to convey to the reader what others think of the narrator – even when the narrator is totally clueless as to how others perceive him.  And Oster can keep his audience cringing with embarrassment over Frank’s behavior while simultaneously laughing and hoping for more of the same.  

But In the Train isn’t a laugh-a-minute, fluffy entertainment piece.  This story can be viewed through many windows.  For instance, our train traveling individual finds himself in situations where all he can do is suppose things.  He supposes how others view him, he supposes what’s going on in their minds, he supposes one thing after another – correctly  or incorrectly as the reader is left guessing.  As his assumptions shift, grow, get tossed and reformed, it’s as if the story – and the reader’s assumptions – morph constantly from one possibility to another.  And isn’t that how our lives indeed go?  As we choose how to perceive situations, even the people around us, don’t we write and rewrite our own realities?  And will the man of average height who took the train to chase the girl write his own reality, and eventually win her over, despite his lack of social graces?  One need only read the book to find out.

Want to win your own copy of the book I couldn’t put down and finished mere hours after receiving it (woe is me – when’s the next Oster?)  I have an extra copy to give away, fresh from Object Press.

Multiple Options for Multiple Entries:

1.) Just tell me about a preconceived notion you once held but was shattered.  Or perhaps you were right all along.  (***You may enter once a day, but please list a new item you like each time.) Remember, leave an interesting comment. If I cannot contact the winner, you might be chosen instead based on your comment.

2.) Blog about, Twitter, and/or Subscribe! Get an extra entry for each of these activities.  This time just leave a separate comment for each (only one time for each extra activity completed), giving me a link to your blog post, your Twitter name, and/or a note saying you’re a subscriber. (Subscribe in the upper right !  

(Psst!  My Twitter name is dkMommy.)

Feel free to do all five to gather multiple entries to win! You have until midnight EST on Monday, April 19, 2010, to enter.


Narrated by an unnamed man, The Unforeseen gives us a good look at a most uncommon human. The man, who suffers from a perpetual cold, finds himself alone in a strange city. At the mercy of strangers from beginning to end, he starts going by the name “Serge”. Although he often blurts out an embarrassing detail or two about his current situation, he never really tells anyone about himself, despite the fact he’s been given every opportunity.

You see, this newfound “Serge” has no social skills. Zip. Zero. Zilch. And since every situation he finds himself in is a very social atmosphere, the reader is left dangling between sympathy and outright laughter. Our stiff and obsessive narrator never seems to see himself as lacking social skills – in fact, he appears to think he’s the sort that goes the extra mile in politeness and decorum. But social graces he has none. The reader can only guess at what are the true reactions of those he meets along his journey, as “Serge” seems a little confused as to what people are actually thinking.

The Unforeseen was originally written by Christian Oster in French, published first in 2006 as L’imprevu. Oster has published 12 novels in all, including My Big Apartment, winning him the Prix Médicis in 1999. He currently resides in Paris.

The novel was translated by Adriana Hunter who managed to keep the prose fluid, and the style is consistent throughout. The subtleties of the narrator’s ability to make others slightly uncomfortable were no doubt tricky to translate, yet they remain humorously intact.

If you would like to win a copy of The Unforeseen and perhaps brush up on how to embarrass yourself in public, I have a copy to give one winner. Enter before midnight, April 29, 2008.

3 Ways to Enter:

1.) Leave a comment telling me what interests you about the book. (Something more than “sounds good” is kindly suggested.) If you’d like, you can instead tell me something you did that embarrassed you in public, but this is just to make things more interesting, and besides I’m nosy.

2.) Subscribers are automatically entered into this and all future giveaways. Just enter your email address in the little white box on the upper part of the right hand column. (Please make sure to verify your Feedburner subscription by responding to the email they send you. If you don’t receive it, check your junk mail.)

3.) Blog about this giveaway on your blog with a link back.

Do all three, and you’ve got three entries to win!


All us booky types talk and blog about traveling by book all the time. We’d like to read around the world, see faraway islands, climb Mount Everest, dive to the bottom of the sea and fight giant squids. But I’ve never once said, “Gee, I wonder what it would be like to live on the freeway for a month?” Not until I heard about Autonauts of the Cosmoroute. When I learned that once upon a 1982, a favorite writer of mine, Cortazar, and his wife, Dulop, set sail for the Paris Marseilles freeway, I had to read it.

Let me tell you a little about me and Cortazar. Although Julio passed away in 1984, I didn’t meet him until the late ’90s. My husband brought me the novel Hopscotch, Cortazar’s first book back when he was a young Argentinian with a strange sense of humor. (The strange sense of humor stuck around, by the way.) I wasn’t sure I was up to reading this book. You start out on page one okay, but then you’re bouncing all over. Page 82, page 12, back to 83. But I loved it. And I got hooked onYerba Mate tea, the drink of Argentinians everywhere. I still can’t get up in the morning without one.

Cut to present. Autonauts of the Cosmoroute is an unusual and playful experiment by Cortazar and Dunlop, whereas they hop into their red VW van named Fafner and drive from rest area to rest area along the stretch of expressway between Paris and Marseilles. Two stops a day, staying overnight in the second, about 10 – 20 minutes of driving daily. Turns out they had a lot to discover about the freeway and themselves, in the process making their readers laugh a whole lot. Loaded with snapshots of their travels and their beloved Fafner the VW , the book is wonderfully entertaining. Much of the book is written as if they are embarking on a great adventure to find a new world, even listing their meals and which direction Fafner faces. And speaking of Fafner, he is a major character of the book. I loved that van so much I considered naming my own red car Fafner, but I think it would upset him. He’s been Fenry Honda for too many years now.

So if you’re looking for a unique and humorous book to read that flies faster than a Fafner, Autonauts of the Cosmoroute is well worth the time. You may just start getting the urge to hit the open freeway yourself; visit a few rest areas, eat goat cheese and pommes frites, and sit under a tree in a gaudy French lawn chair watching the traffic go by.

It’s published by Archipelago Books who is responsible for bringing it to us in English.