Midsummer Book Dispatch


The Illustrators: Tove Jansson, authored by Paul Gravett, is part of the Thames & Hudson illustrator series with Quentin Blake as consultant. “A creative force, drawing and writing naturally from infancy with her parents’ complete encouragement, the grown-up Jansson was to become a painter, illustrator, cartoonist, stage designer and muralist, as well as an author of memoir, fiction, children’s books and plays. The marvel was that she shone at them all.” The book captures the spark behind Jansson’s creativity and offers a very welcome present-day appreciation of her art and work that can become an inspiration for new generations. But most of all it reacquaints us with the Moomins books that still have the power to fascinate children and adults alike. “Largely what creates the spells of these Moominland books is that by no trace of explanation or apology does the author mar the dreamlike possibility of her world.”


Alice nel paese delle meraviglieAlice nel paese delle meraviglie, by Lewis Caroll. What made me buy this Italian version of Alice in Wonderland this summer from a little bookshop in Siena is that it is illustrated by Salvador Dalí. It’s a collector’s book, for anyone who loves illustration, books, art, and to keep the marvel of life and of dreaming alive.


My Friend Maigret, by Georges Simenon, a Penguin Clothbound Classic. I started to read Simenon only after I had seen dozens of films adapted from his novels. Akira Kurosawa paid homage to Simenon with his Stray Dog, Bertrand Tavernier’s The Clockmaker (L’horloger de Saint-Paul) is an expertly crafted adaption of a Simenon novel, and Jean Gabin played France’s most celebrated home-grown detective character Jules Maigret multiple times. But the film that finally prompted me to read his works was Claude Chabrol’s Betty, starring Marie Trintignant and Stéphane Audran. Chabrol has a strong stamp of individuality on his films. Hitchcockian and thriller impulses, shrewd humour, bourgeois mores… these are cinematic phrases that Chabrol prefers. But through the character of Betty, closely inspired by Georges Simenon’s novel by the same name, the filmmaker throws the audience into the unknown. “I remember two long conversations with George Simenon that went on into the night,” Claude Chabrol recalled in the production notes that appeared during the theatrical release of Betty. “For Simenon, it was not our intelligence that proved the superiority of the ‘human animal’ (he loved this term). At this time – this was in the sixties – he was more fascinated with man’s survival instinct, a topic which greatly inspired him. It was during this time that he wrote Betty. […] In many of Simenon’s novels, the central mystery, and the one that is never completely resolved, is the human spirit. This is consistent with his creation of Betty, the character and the novel: a human being to be explored, yet whose secrets could not be full known or understood.”


Babette’s Feast, by Karen Blixen, another Penguin Clothbound Classic and which gathers Babette’s Feast as well as other four short stories of the author. And again I watched the film, directed by Gabriel Axel, before reading the short story, but fortunately it was beautifully served by the moving picture. And I was actually glad I watched the film first, because I loved reading the book with the image of Stéphane Audran as Babette, a Parisian chef displaced by the 1830s Communard uprising who comes to live in a frugal Christian community on Denmark’s Jutland coast, where she works as a maid and cook to two elderly and she also cooks for the elderly in the village, all of whom are unaware of her culinary past.


Claudia Cardinale: L’indomitable (The Indomitable), published by Cinecittà. A never-before-seen portrait of Claudia Cardinale, as retold by multiple voices that reveal the true Claudia, her indomitability that, like a common thread, can be traced throughout her entire life, at times stitched inside her tailored outfits, at others as explosive as Angelica’s laughter in The Leopard. Luchino Visconti envisioned the path Cladia’s story would take when he described her as “a splendid tabby cat that for the time being scratches at the cushions in the living room (…) but that one of these days we will realise is a tiger (…).” And Giorgio Armani perfectly captures her aura: “Claudia is undeniably indomitable. There could not be a better adjective to describe her. Her indomitability is the fruit of a tender pride, of an assertive, kind personality, discreet and gentle, completely independent while never aggressive. Claudia does not impose herself on others, but she will not allow the environment or the situations to take over. She leaves a strong impression that is hard to put into words: it is an absolute and intangible feeling. When Claudia enters a room, one is immediately drawn to the energy she radiates. But unlike other stars, she does not try to draw attention, and yet her presence is invariably felt: her deep eyes, her disarming smile, and a beauty that consists of layers of experiences and cultures. She perfectly embodies my ideal: elegance is not about getting noticed, but about being remembered.”


Closer: Marie Trintignant in Claude Chabrol’s “Betty”

The poetic power of illustration: Interview with William Grill

Bring back a sample of dirt: Costuming “Once upon a Time in the West”

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