Sunday, April 12, 2015

Incorrigible Optimists

Anyone that knows me will have no problems imagining me sat at a cafe, drinking a long black coffee (Americano for my non Aussie readers) and reading a book. While the coffee is always long black, the book could be anything. I almost always read fiction, but occasionally I'll read about history, or very occasionally, chess! Even the vast amount of novels I read can be about almost anything, and I usually have 2 or 3 books on the go at a given time. I find I can switch between novels depending on my mood, much like someone watching TV and switching channels until they find something they want to watch.

For example, I have recently finished a fantasy novel by Australian author Garth Nix. Clariel is a prequel to a series he wrote years ago which I really enjoyed. This new novel was no less enjoyable, in my opinion. While I was reading this, I was also reading an historical fiction novel set in Tudor times called Sovereign by C. J. Samson. Again, this is part of a series of books bringing mystery and detective genres into historical perspective, much like the Cadfael books did. I have yet to finish this one, and it is beginning to develop into a thick plot.

The book that I'm struggling to put down at the moment is called "The Incorrigible Optimists Club" by Jean-Michel Guenassia. Translated from the original French, the book is set in Paris during the early 1960's when France was embroiled in the Algerian crisis, and Europe was caught up in the Cold War. The book therefore has political issues weaving through it, but essentially it is about people, their relationships, their actions, and their stories. The main hub of the book is a teenager called Michel, somewhat of a rebel, around whom a series of fascinating characters revolve. One group of characters, and perhaps the inspiration for the novel's title (though I guess I won't really know this until I've finished the book), are a bunch of expats mainly from Eastern Europe, though there is a German in the group. This group meet at a typical Parisian cafe/restaurant where they socialise and play chess. They argue about almost every subject they can talk about, but it doesn't spoil their cameraderie (at least not yet).

While I can lose myself in novels like Clariel set in an imaginary world, or Sovereign looking into the distant past, it is novels such as The Incorrigible Optimists Club which resonate to me. I can't help imagining chess players or immigrants, or chess playing immigrants finding people of similar backgrounds, or who like similar interests, to make their new life in a new country happier. Here in multicultural Melbourne we have suburbs which may have a predominant ethnic background, while chess clubs such as the Melbourne Chess Club have a distinctly immigrant flavour running through its history even to the present day.

It is rare that I feel such an affinity for so many themes in a novel, from chess to cafe culture, time spent in Paris, immigration, and all the everyday feelings that a person goes through on a daily basis. Amazing! I could even be accused of having my fair share of incorrigible optimism.

1 comment:

  1. Carl, you captured yourself in a nutshell with your last sentence, :)