Philippe Besson – L’arrière-saison
This interesting but unhurried narrative takes place entirely in the form of a conversation between three people on a late fall day in a small café on Cape Cod – Louise, Stephen and bartender, Ben. The word ‘conversation’ however, is somewhat misleading because there are probably less than 100 actual lines of dialogue in the entire 200 page book. Instead, Besson tells the story of former lovers Louise and Stephen through an intense review of their thoughts before and after each line of spoken conversation.As one may well imagine, this provides for a somewhat claustrophobic reading experience. But L’arrière-saison is not so much a novel as it is a portrait, inspired by the Edward Hopper painting represented on the cover; it’s a portrait of one evening, of words shared, of connections unearthed and re-examined. The novel is a sketch of the moment when two people who once, years before, shared a most complete intimacy, find each other again. Besson paints this awkward scene for us, pausing to highlight each emotion, each new understanding, as Louise and Stephen remember their shared past and evaluate it through the prism of their failure-filled present.
Admittedly, the structure of the book makes it difficult to get into. The portrait is too detailed, too close. Nearly neurotic in its task of exhaustively mining the thoughts of the three speakers, their worries, their considerations, their changing emotions. But the beauty of the book is in its honesty – the subtle commentary on the difficulty of forming stable relationships, of understanding “love”, the careful attention all three characters pay to social status while at the same time recognizing the absurdity in the very idea.
Ultimately, Besson’s portrait is an exquisitely drawn but bittersweet piece of art.