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Seven Houses in France Hardcover – 3 Nov 2011


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (3 Nov. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846554470
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846554476
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 2.4 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 958,474 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Seven Houses in France is an enjoyable, somewhat frightening novel by one of Europe's best novelists... Atxaga is still the master of a complex story, told with deceptive simplicity." (Michael Eaude Independent)

"With his sixth novel, Basque writer Atxaga puts us squarely in Heart of Darkness territory, although his is a more blackly absurd version of the world than that of Joseph Conrad. Unsettling, often unpleasant, but undeniably compelling." (Amber Pearson Daily Mail)

"Bizarrely funny and beautifully crafted...His gift for interesting, unusual syntax, his wonderful pacing and surprising, vibrant language give one the feeling of being in safe hands." (Mira Mattar Times Literary Supplement)

"Atxaga tackles the excesses of colonialism with an assured touch; his humour is dark, the silenced voices of the natives are pointed, and his evocation of how reality becomes distorted when men are trapped in suffocating tedium is fascinatingly rigorous." (Metro)

"A dark comedy about the vanity of human desires which deftly balances compassion and cynicism" (Adrian Turpin Financial Times)

Book Description

Longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2012. A dark tale of human ambition by the European master A.S. Byatt has termed 'A brilliantly inventive writer'

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on 4 Sept. 2012
Format: Hardcover
When young Chrysostome Liege arrives by boat to begin his service in the Belgian Force Publique for King Leopold II in the Congo, he is clearly an innocent - a shy, religious, and humorless young man thrust into circumstances which challenge everything he, and the reader, consider "civilized." It is 1903, and the Congo is King Leopold's private fiefdom since he is the sole shareholder of a "non-governmental organization" which makes no pretense of benevolence. From the beginning, the King has used the Congo for his own purposes, forcing an unwilling native population to supply huge amounts of ivory, mahogany, minerals, and rubber which would benefit only him.

For the soldiers in Leopold's Force Publique, especially those assigned to remote areas like Yangambi, where Chrysostome will be working, a familiar social milieu does not exist. The soldiers obey the obvious protocols of the military, but there are only seventeen Belgian officers at the garrison, and with no active rebellion by native groups to keep them occupied, at the moment, they have far too much time on their hands. Might makes right here, and once they have performed their assigned duties, they enter a world which truly becomes a "jungle"--drinking, gambling, pursuing women, shooting animals for fun, and even, in some cases, smuggling ivory and mahogany back to Europe, where the profits will allow one wife to own "seven houses in France" in seven years.

When the King plans a visit, bringing a famous dancer from Philadelphia, whom he plans to make Queen of the Congo, all garrison activity is organized to promote this. Henry Morton Stanley will accompany the King and will attend the coronation of the new Queen beside Stanley Falls.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 13 April 2012
Format: Hardcover
The book opens with a rather dour new officer arriving by boat on his first posting abroad. The officer, Chrysostome, doesn't attempt to fit in with his fellow officers and they, in turn, despise his puritan upbringing, not only is he blatantly religious to a fundamental degree, but he refuses the usual soldierly fun of gambling, getting drunk and raping the native womenfolk . They also fear him. This man could shoot the eyebrows of a mosquito at five hundred paces.

The setting for this novel is the garrison of Yagambi, on the banks of the River Congo and the year is 1903. The senior officer is Captain Lalande Biran, who would prefer to be back in Paris frequenting the lounges of the Literati with his wife (more of her later), & releasing the odd book of poetry than commanding eighteen white officers of the Force Publique and the Askaris - native soldiers recruited to help quell the other natives who have the audacity to rebel intermittently.

Time goes really slow here, with very little to do beyond overseeing the slaves as they work, producing rubber and mahogany and keeping the natives in order. So time is spent drinking, gambling & consorting/raping the natives, there are dangers even here as STD's* seems to be everywhere, although most of the officers are not particularly worried. Except the Captain, he is so terrified of catching syphilis, that he has an officer pick & test girls for their virginity & then keep them caged until he's ready.

Captain Lalande Biran's wife, Christine, is a stunner and the reason he is out here.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso' on 6 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback
That title - hmm. Can 'houses in France' in the Basque country equate with castles in Spain? Of course it was Atxaga who first put Euskadi on the (literary) map. This late work of his is my first. It's a parable of vanity, an historical novel of all things - which I never, ever read - that has something of the oracular, thinned-down nature of a comic strip, a Bayeux tapestry, if you can picture a quasi-comic Bayeux tapestry (but I suppose it kind of is), an anti-Conrad, a comic opera-like take on colonial life (much more effective than the grimly realist approach) with just a hint of languor. 'Mahogany was a benign wood.' And the translation - ah, the translation! - is a thing of wonder - limpid, fabular, pich-perfect; even the character of the poet convinces. 'If he could finish one poem, he could finish twenty.' The first slip - almost the only one - occurs on page 53. 'The screeches of those vile monkeys was the worst thing about Yangambi'; it should be screechING. A typo creeps into the Baudelaire ('the Master'), two pages on. The comma in the middle sentence of page 56 is superfluous. And that's it. Unfortunately in the last hundred pages it all descends into the purest melodrama, including three - count them! - three black mambo snakes, but that's plot for you
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Cornhill on 15 Sept. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Atxaga's novel set in King Leopold's Congo Free State has the simplicity of a fable, recounting the friendships and deadly rivalry of a small group of white men in a remote military post. The characters are caricatures and Atxaga's running jokes (Donatien's numerous siblings, the pretentious poet) become boring. There is not enough of the context of the Congo state's genocidal brutality to render the Belgians' isolation and complicity, and so the relations with natives are not believable. There are some annoying anachronisms that further break the spell - the men need not have been anxious about a visit by Henry Morton Stanley in late 1904 as in reality he had died that May; I don't know why the men received orders from Leopoldville when in fact Boma was the capital for another twenty years (into the time of the Belgian Congo colony). The writing style makes for an easy read, but not a convincing or involving tale.
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