Sunday, March 23, 2008

What I Just Finished Reading

Sometimes when browsing the thrift store bookshelves I buy a book because of its jacket copy which is why I bought Per Olov Enquist's The Book of Marie and Blanche -- certainly not for the photo if a swooning Blanche which made it look like a bodice ripper. Enquist is Swedish and apparently has a good reputation -- certainly I will read anything else of his I come upon. Marie is Madame Curie, who won two Nobel Prizes for her work with radium, once with her husband Pierre and once on her own, and Blanche is Blanche Wittman, who worked as an assistant to Marie -- and lost both legs and one arm to radiation poisoning but had previously been an inmate at the infamous asylum in Paris, Salpeterier where she was a protege and possibly lover of Prof. Charlcot who is remembered as a hypnotist and mentor of the young Sigmund Freud. Two VERY interesting women with complex and interesting lives who lived together after Pierre's death.

Enguist has a poetic style that was both fascinating and sometimes irritating with overwrought language at times [but appropriate to the period and to Blanche's "hysterical" personality]. Little by little their biographies are told, a process of discovery that is appropriate to the story of scientific discovery also. With one brief love affair, after Pierre's death, Marie destroyed her career basically for the same reason Eliot Spitzer destroyed his career -- because the public outrage was brutal. True Spitzer was apparently arrogantly careless. Marie was alsocareless in writing a letter that she said "should never have been written." One brings to whatever comes across our path whatever is in the current "air" -- so this parallel was timely and would not have come to mind had I read the book two months ago. It is unlike any other fictionalized biograhy I've ever read.

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