Mstation Book Reviews
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Sat, 29 Sep 2007

Pardon My French

Charles Timoney, Pardon My French, Penguin

This could be interesting for anyone with a general interest in France. It's about language, and in a series of sections to do with different aspects of life, Timoney points out words and colloqialisms that you won't have learnt at school.

The language comes in the context of the society in that rather than a list of words, we get amusing anecdotes. If you are actually using the book to learn something, this is a very good method for getting the information to stick the first time through.

We'll give you a couple of examples: The word "genial" (with an acute accent over the "e") is generally what you think it might be. Applied to a person, it is very complimentary and better than nice. It's wider use, especially among younger people, is to use for lots of things -people, music, events! Thus you have an all-purpose adjective. Genial!

"Merde" is widely known as "shit" but is slightly different in that it is in wider daily use at more elevated levels - if someone says it on TV, there won't be a zillion phone calls of complaint. Another use of the word relates to a similar situation to other places, where it's considered bad luck to wish someone good luck - like going on stage, a sporting event, or whatever. So instead of saying "Break a leg", you'd say "Merde!" or "Je te dis Merde ... pour Samedi" - I say to (familiar) you ... Merde for Saturday! Quite good, that one.

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Raymond Chandler

Having got through a few Hiaasen books during the summer, we followed up with a few more of Raymond Chandler. While comparisons might be odious, it is a little inevitable that they might be made in such circumstances and in comparison to Chandler, Hiaasen seems cartoonish and rather lacking in plot originality after a few reads... or rather, we have a lot of the same plot - evil politicians and developers seek to massacre yet more of Florida and are fittingly exterminated in gross ways by somewhat eccentric forces. The cartoonishness is, of course, one of the likable things about the books.

Raymond Chandler is a different kettle of fish altogether. Born in the US, educated in England (Dulwich College), he came third in the Civil Service exam, worked at the Admiralty for a year, wrote poetry, went back to the US, served in WWI with Canadian forces, and then ended up in LA. After some problems with alcohol (which continued) he took up writing crime novels and his first was The Big Sleep, which like many of his books, was made into a film.

Dashiell Hammett was said to be the inspiration for his writing style but Chandler added quite a lot of his own to the so-called hardboiled style. There is poetry in his loving descriptions of LA in the 30's and 40's and his main hero, Philip Marlowe, is a likable laconic who pursues truth whatever the cost, and has frequent doomed romances while pouring hmself endless drinks.

The plots are also suitably and enjoyably devious. All of this adds up to some pleasant reading. If you happen to be from LA and are somewhere else, Chandler will make you homesick for the place and for another time. The fact that these books have migrated from the Crime sections of bookshops to the Literature section says something about the regard he's currently held in.

Vintage Books publish a nice range of Raymond Chandler in better than average quality paperback form. We liked best The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.

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