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Gemma Betros

Gemma Betros

Gemma Betros studied History and French at the University of Queensland and completed an M.Phil and PhD in History at the University of Cambridge. She has held academic posts in the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia and is currently based in Queensland.  

Gemma Betros reviews 'In Search of the Woman Who Sailed the World' by Danielle Clode

December 2020, no. 427 25 November 2020
One of the frustrating things about being a historian is the number of times you are told by others that surely everything in your specialty must already have been ‘done’. After so many decades or centuries, what more could there possibly be to discover? One of the answers is that what interests scholars, and what topics are considered worthy of examination, changes over time. This explains ho ... (read more)

Gemma Betros reviews 'Notre-Dame: The soul of France' by Agnès Poirier

September 2020, no. 424 24 August 2020
French journalist Agnès Poirier has a flair for relating the saving of France’s artistic treasures. One of the most gripping chapters of her previous book, Left Bank: Art, passion and the rebirth of Paris, 1940–50 (2018), told the story of Jacques Jaujard, who skilfully evacuated the Louvre’s greatest works mere days before the outbreak of World War II. In Poirier’s brief volume on Paris ... (read more)

Gemma Betros reviews 'The Existential Englishman: Paris among the artists' by Michael Peppiatt

May 2019, no. 411 22 April 2019
I wanted to like this memoir very much, not least because the inside of the book jacket promises, with some originality, a ‘not-uncritical love letter to Paris’. People (myself included) have a tendency to wax rhapsodic about France’s capital, but anyone who has ever lived there for any length of time knows just how dispiriting the reality of daily life can be. British writer and art critic ... (read more)

Gemma Betros reviews 'The Years' by Annie Ernaux, translated by Alison L. Strayer

March 2019, no. 409 22 February 2019
The word indicible appears frequently in the work of French author Annie Ernaux. In English, it means ‘inexpressible’ or ‘unspeakable’. Yet saying the unsayable – or rather, exploring the crevice between what is discussed openly and the inexpressible within – is where Ernaux excels. As the opening anecdotes of The Years (Les années) display, this may not always be pleasant: shit, urin ... (read more)

Gemma Betros reviews 'Left Bank: Art, Passion and the Rebirth of Paris 1940–1950' by Agnès Poirier

December 2018, no. 407 27 November 2018
'A country that fails its purge is about to fail its renovation,’ warned French-Algerian writer Albert Camus in a January 1945 editorial. Camus’ ominous edict, issued in the weeks following the end of Germany’s occupation of France, encapsulates something of what Agnès Poirier is trying to say in this, her second book in English. The Occupation and its aftermath form the start of an exubera ... (read more)

Au revoir là-haut (See You Up There)

ABR Arts 19 March 2018
Based on Pierre Lemaitre’s Prix Goncourt-winning 2013 novel of the same name, Au revoir là-haut (See You Up There) is a French film about World War I that takes aim at a society more interested in commemorating the war’s dead than in looking after its survivors. Albert Maillard (Albert Dupontel, who adapted the novel for screen and who also directs the film) is a humble former accountant who ... (read more)

Gemma Betros reviews 'Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris: The story of a friendship, a novel, and a terrible year' by Peter Brooks

December 2017, no. 397 24 November 2017
As we approach the end of what might be considered another pretty terrible year, it’s worth being reminded that every age has its tribulations. In Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris, Peter Brooks – Ivy League professor in comparative literature, and author of Henry James Goes to Paris (2007) – takes on a year in the history of France known as l’année terrible, a year whose physical and psycho ... (read more)