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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
La Duchesse de Langeais; La fille aux yeux d'or - Honoré de Balzac - Good morning young man. Mr... Allen, I think it was?

- Please call me Woody, sir.

- Woody. Well, sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Now, why don't you tell me about your screenplay?

- Thank you, sir. It's called Blame it on Balzac...

- Balzac? Like the French author?

- Yes sir. So the hero, he's this nerdy young student. I was thinking I would play him. He's writing a dissertation on Balzac's La Duchesse de Langeais...

- I'm not sure I know that one. What's the story?

- Well, there's this guy, General Montriveau. He's very brave and resourceful, but he doesn't know anything about women. He's fallen in love with this society beauty, la Duchesse de Langeais, but she keeps giving him the runaround. She doesn't say no, but she doesn't say yes either, she just keeps him hanging around because she likes the attention. She tells him that she loves him too, but she can't sleep with him because she's married, or it's immoral, or whatever...

- She's a cocktease then?

- Uh, yes sir, you could say that. Now the student is in love with this girl, and she's treating him just the way the Duchesse is treating the General. After a while he starts identifying with the General...

- Hm, okay, go on.

- So the General doesn't know what to do, and one day he asks a friend for advice. His friend is much more experienced with women, and he says it's easy. There's this key speech he makes. Let me read it out to you. Ah, Sois inflexible comme la loi. N'aie pas plus de charité que n'en a le bourreau. Frappe. Quand tu auras frappé, frappe encore. Frappe toujours...

- Son, my French isn't what it used to be. Give it to me in English.

- Okay, let me see. Be as inflexible as the law. Show no more mercy than the executioner. Hit her. When you've hit her, hit her again. Keep on hitting her like you were giving her a flogging. These duchesses are tough, but they only soften when you hit them. Suffering gives them a heart, and you're doing them a kindness by hitting them. So...

- Right, I get the picture. So your student is inspired by the speech and he tries it out on the girl?

- Yes sir.

- Does it work?

- Well, in the book the Duchess does fall in love with Montriveau, but there's a misunderstanding, and it all ends tragically. She dies without...

- Never mind the details. Son, I'm sorry, but this won't work.

- Ah, sir, why not?

- Well, to start with no one's heard of your book. And it sounds like a total downer too.

- Sir, I'm sorry I've wasted your...

- Hold your horses, son. I'm thinking. I kind of like the idea, but we have to use something else. Not Balzac.

- Maybe Stendhal, sir? There's a similar episode in Le Rouge et le Noir, written just a few years earlier. Julien...

- No, not Stendhal either. Not French. People don't like French. I'm thinking... Humphrey Bogart.

- Bogart, sir?!

- Yes. That speech you gave me. I see your student, and he's listening to Bogart giving him advice. He's saying... ah, let me see... Dames are simple. I never met one that didn't understand a slap in the mouth or a slug from a forty-five. It's pretty much the same, right?

- Well sir, I...

- And it's going to have a happy ending, right?

- Ah...

- I've even got a title. Play It Again, Sam. Great idea, Woody. So, when do we start? Tomorrow too early for you?

- Sir...

- I like you, kid. I think this is going to be the start of a beautiful friendship.