July is for Us
So, after way too much work that continued to be way too much work, I’ve kind of given up on June calming down more than a little bit. I’m aware that I may be setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it’s hard to pull myself out of work days that extend far into the night and then don’t even stop for weekends. I’m worn out, my lovely spouse is worn out, and even the cats are getting a bit cranky.
But out of all of this we have decided that July is going to be quiet — because we’re going to basically force it to be in several key ways. No trips longer than day trips. No overscheduling ourselves. No more new clients. As a freelancer, it can be very hard to refuse work. This is especially true, because there wasn’t a lot of work for so long. However, now the business has grown and refusing work is a reality I’m going to have to face.
Because we really need some sleep and it shouldn’t take us a week to return some emails.
Louis Guilloux’s Blood Dark (Sang Noir) is intimidating from the get-go due to length alone. The book is over five hundred pages and details events that occur in the course of a single day in France in the year 1917. It’s bold to write a very long book that spends so long on a relatively short period of time, but Guilloux manages to craft prose that moves quickly and succinctly. The pace keeps the novel moving and the complexity keeps the reader reading.
The plot centers around a man who would be a brilliant philosopher but is instead trapped in a teaching job in a small town. He hates the war and the carnage its causing all around him. Cripure — as his students and colleagues refer to him — has a very bleak view of humanity as a pit of cruelty, apathy, and barbarism. It is his dark thoughts that keep him grounded in reality and sustain him through illness and longing after a wife that is long gone. However, the moment he starts to think that humans might actually have some humanity, he begins to fall apart and eventually it leads to his ultimate destruction.
If you haven’t guessed already, this is a very dark book. But it is darkness that is written for a decided purpose and a specific statement. Humanity has the capacity for great evil, but it also has the capacity for great good.
The Passage of Time
In a novel that occurs in single day, it can be ironically difficult to mark time and to create atmosphere. There are often limits to setting to consider, as well as how to convey the sense of hours passing without it seeming chaotic or creating too much stress in the reader experience. Guilloux is a master of atmosphere and space. He chooses to be vague with time and to show it passing, rather than telling it to the reader who can note it in the passing school day, meals, and its relation to the events being detailed.
More importantly, this vagueness creates the feeling of all not being right with the world. A sense of apocalypse almost. A surreal, unsettling landscape where the threat of violence and destruction loom nearby. In art, this feeling is present when looking the paintings of Grigorio de Chirico — or photographs of the first month of the stay-at-home order in 2020.
There are times when Blood Dark doesn’t seem to proceed linearly, and it does take some investment to get the most out of the book. But it’s best not to overthink it, either. Just get lost in the atmosphere and the images and feelings that Guilloux is using words to paint.
A Cast of Characters
Don’t be fooled, the novel isn’t just about Cripure. The cast of characters is one of the largest I’ve seen and includes many people in the town including young men about to go to war, soldiers who have been to war and are never going back, teachers, students, families, the boarding house keeper, the boarders, local politicians, and the list goes on. Having a large cast can be unwieldy, and while Guilloux is fairly good at handling so many components and characters, there are a few things that slip through the cracks.
There were definitely a few times that I expected a storyline to be picked up again when it wasn’t, and there are some individual fates that are left up to the reader’s imagination. The ending was quite taught, but not all of the pieces that Guilloux spent so much time painstakingly developing seemed to fit into it. While I would never say that Blood Dark needed to be shorter, I will say that there were places when I thought it would have benefited from some more focus and some streamlining.
The Future is Apparently Shag Carpeting
I know that the Beach Party movies are ridiculous, campy, and feature some amazingly bad writing, but there’s something about catchy music and wafer-thin plots that can be very amusing. Not to mention soothing in times of stress. I’m less sold on Barbarella. Yes, I know that it’s a legendary film. But really, there’s so much shag carpeting.