15 July 2011


I have just realised with horror (mainly due to that sodding place called 'the office') that I have only managed four posts for Paris in July so far! What better day than Bastille Day (as you can see I actually began to write this post yesterday and still didn't manage it!) to make a mini-vow to improve my performance on the Frenchie front and review my latest read; Carmen by the brilliant ProspeMérimée, who wrote some of the best short stories/novellas I have ever read. (La Vénus d'Ille is superbly spine-tingling). 

Now, I know that this is, essentially, a teeerrribly Spanish story. The quintessential Spanish tale of blood, love and passion. However, Mérimée was born and bred in Paris and I want to extend my personal Paris in July to include France and French writers in general.

This novella was one of the few I read cover to cover during that heady-first year of university when it popped up on one of the reading lists for my French Literature course and, out of 30+ fairly bright students, not one of us realised that this fabulous story is a book first and foremost and inspired Bizet's world-famous opera. It is a real, true classic and I think how quickly I could whip through it in the original French really betrays how perfect Mérimée's writing is; no fluff, just purely fantastic storytelling.

We begin and end this tale with the author himself, as he recounts his travels across the wild, hot plains of Andalusia and his meeting with the mysterious fugitive Don José and his lover, Carmen. The book is split into four sections, with us travelling back in time in the third section to explore the birth and death of this passionate relationship, the story that Bizet wisely chose to focus on in his opera. 

Carmen makes this story come alive. She is a sassy, smart and terribly naughty woman (naughty may be quite an understatement I suppose) who drags Don José into the outer fringes of society, partially through his decision to mix with her and her band of gitanos and partially through the trouble he lands himself in as he is driven mad by his love for this exotic, intoxicating woman. It is so so important to sympathise with the main characters of the books you are reading (something I'm failing to do with my current read, but more of that later...) and I both sympathised with poor José and wanted to be Carmen. This timeless character, who has been the inspiration for countless dramatisations of this tale weaves her spell both over her lover and over the reader. This is a wonderful portrait of this part of the world and the people who, if you ignore the Irish pubs and tacky shops of the Costa del Sol, still do inhabit it and I loved it, even more so the second time around. Top marks Mérimée.


  1. I forgot all about Bastille Day (and so did everyone at work). We were going to have a foodie celebration but I guess everyone's on diet right now!

  2. What a fantastic post...you made me want to read this book immediately! :) (And how funny that we both posted about opera this week!)

  3. Hi Ellie

    I didn't forget puuurely because I had some rude French woman tell me the other day that she 'of course' wouldn't be at work on the 15th because it was Bastille Day the day before!...aaah to live with the French work ethic. As for diet. Sod it. I'd rather take a French approach on that front as well!

  4. Her Highness Her Royal Orangeness..

    Eeee you do make me blush. And yes you should definitely read this right away.

    While i'm here does anyone know how I can respond directly to each comment or do I have to just comment myself. I'm rubbish at this.

  5. I just reviewed Balzac's Vendetta that is so pale compared to Mérimée's Mateo Falcone. Mérimée has written some incredible short stories. I liked Carmen a lot as well. Your post puts me in the mood to read it again.

  6. Hi Caroline

    I've just got back from Sevilla where I able to indulge in the Carmen-esque even further...isn't it a wonderful book? You must read La Vénus d'Ille if you love Mérimée.

    Will hopefully be able to post some pics of Sevilla and Carmen's tobacco factory tomorrow.