Literature and War Readalong March 30 2012: To the Slaughterhouse – Le grand troupeau by Jean Giono

Jean Giono’s To the Slaughterhouse – Le grand troupeau is the last WWI novel of this year’s readalong. Giono is one of the great French writers, famous for books like L’homme qui plantait des arbresThe Man Who Planted Trees, Joy of Man’s Desiring – Que ma joie demeure orLe hussard sur le toit – The Horseman on the Roof which has been made into a successful movie. His books are deeply rooted in the South of France and he is often compared to Pagnol.

I try not to be too enthusiastic this time, but, let me just say, cautiously, I think, this should be a good book. At least he is an author who has never disappointed me so far and I’m even planning on (re-)reading a few of his other books this year, like Colline, Un de Baumugnes and Regain, the so-called Pan trilogy. Giono is famous for the way he describes the joy of life and that’s why I’m particularly interested to see how he treated such a bleak subject.

Here are the first sentences

Last night they watched as all the men left. It was a thick August night smelling of corn and horse-sweat. The animals were harnessed in the station-yard. The big plough-haulers had been tied up to the shafts on the carts; their solid rumps held back the loads of women and children.

The train moved off quietly in the night, spattering the willow trees with embers as it took on speed. Then all the horses started moaning together.


The discussion starts on Friday, 30 March 2012.

Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2012, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.

29 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong March 30 2012: To the Slaughterhouse – Le grand troupeau by Jean Giono

    • I can really recommend his other books, if you ever want to take an imaginary trip to the South of France. I’m not surprised they don’t have this one, I wouldn’t say it is his most famous.

  1. This looks like a wonderful book, Caroline! Love Peter Owen books 🙂 My edition of ‘Narcissus and Goldmund’ is by Peter Owen. Your description of Jean Giono – that he is famous for describing the joy of life – makes me want to read his books. ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’ looks like a very intriguing title. Have you read it? I liked very much your comment – “I try not to be too enthusiastic this time, but, let me just say, cautiously, I think, this should be a good book.” 🙂 Happy Reading! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts and follow the conversations on this book.

    • I haven’t read the man Who Planted Trees yet but it’s very famous and must be lovely. I’ve read some of his Pan trilogy books and The Horseman on the Roof. I like him a lot.
      I have become cautious since the last book. 🙂 I was hoping it would be very good but was disappointed. Far too depressing.

      • “The Man Who Planted Trees” is brilliant. It is a short story of only 20 pages or so. After reading it, I believed the main character must have existed in real life. An afterword by Giono’s daughter explained that many people thought the same, but he is fictional. It’s not only wishful thinking, it is Giono’s writing abilities which are so convincing.

        What’s really amazing though is the animated film by Frederic Back. It is like watching a live impressionist painting. I should write a review of the movie. I was lucky enough to see it at a film society showing. Everybody was in awe, struck by the sheer beauty of the images.

        • Thanks for this, Marcus, I didn’t know there was a film. Maybe I can find it somewhere. I was tempted to read it as well. There are some authors who are so great aat making people come to life. It would be great if you would review it.

  2. I’m always baffled by the scarcity of Giono in bookstores here in the U.S., not to mention by the number of his works yet to be translated into English. as he’s such a tremendous writer. The Man Who Planted Trees is a slight work, a fable worth reading to be sure, but offering little of the incredible richness of his lengthy novels such as the exquisite Que Ma Joie Demeure. So far, among those I’ve read, my favorite of his works is Un Roi Sans Divertissement – alas, to my knowledge not available in English translation.

    • I agree, from a purely literary point of view, L’homme qui plantait des arbres is a minor work it still has an impact. Since I read in French I’m not always aware about the translation situation but I went on amazon ukfor this post and didn’t come up with all that many titles. I’m going to read “Que Ma Joie Demeure” very soon as well and now that you mention it will take a look at Un Roi Sans Divertissement. I think he is one of the great maybe by now sadly neglected writers. I’m very curious to see how he will treat this topic.

  3. I didn’t remember one of your choices was a French book. I don’t think I’ll have time to read it but I’m terribly tempted.

    Giono is a great writer although I find him a little clichéd, like Pagnol. You know, the South, the cicadas, the sun and the garrigue.

    I wonder how he coped with mud, violence, gaz and killing.

    Btw, I have Les âmes fortes at home, sitting on the TBR.

    • I know what you mean about him being clichéd although that’s how I see the South of France, I don’t mind. Compared to Pagnol, I think he is the writer with the broader range. It’s not a long book at all, but I understand if you can’t make it. There will always be at least one French book per year. 🙂
      I was particularly interested to see how he will deal with WWI. I’m sure it will be like nothing we’ve read so far.

  4. I was going to say that I didn’t get this post but just double checked my e-mail and there is was. I just came across a writer of WWI books I’d never heard of. I’ll get back to you in case you are interested.

  5. I have long meant to read Giono – I have Le Hussard sur le toit to read and must get to it (ever heard that before?). I do admire your sticking power for reading about war, Caroline. I find that I am much more likely to dislike novels if I read about the same thing twice, or even read two books from the same genre or author in a row. I had no trouble doing it when I was writing academic books, as my reading seemed to take place in a different part of my head. But when I read for pleasure I crave variety. Still, it is always interesting to see what you and your readers make of these novels.

    • I’m certainly curious to read what you will think of him, should you read him. In my French literary history manual that we used at the univeristy, Giono, Ramuz and Colette were grouped together. I can see why to some extent but think Colette is the most sophisticated of the three, still I like the other two a lot as well. I see why Emma calls him cliched but I do enjoy being taken to the South of France via books. And there is more to Giono than a lovely setting.
      We followed the same grouping last year, WWI, WWII… I thought it was quite interesting and makes you more aware of both strengths and weaknesses of the novels. Surprisingly it wasn’t repetitive and this year I mixed homefront/soldier’s life more, there should be more variety.
      I like a bit of structure in my reading and a pattern. Guess we can never completely shake off what we were trained to do. 🙂

  6. Alas I won’t be able to join in on this one since the library doesn’t have it. But I just ordered Coventry from Amazon so I’ll be able to join in April! Enjoy the book!

  7. I’m looking forward to this–even though the Barry was a hard read in many ways, I’m still glad I read it, too! I think this might actually be the first book I’ve read about WWI by a French author, so it will be an interesting take on a subject I tend to read about from only one (British/Irish) perspective.

    • I hadn’t thought of that because I’ve watched a few French WWI movies. Did you not read Japriso’ts novel A Very Long Engagement? That’s a WWI novel as well. I had it on the list first and exchnaged it against this one. Giono is a wonderful writer. It may still be quite harrowing but hopefully end on a note of hope. That Barry was so depressing.

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