In 2007, I was introduced to Anne Bragance’s work through her novel Casus Belli about a dysfunctional family. That novel charmed me, both for the depth of its character exploration and because of Bragance’s lovely writing style. Afterward, I hunted out several of her other novels (she has over twenty) and was all geared up to continue getting to know her work but somehow other projects got in the way and I only got around to reading a second novel by her this week.
I am about fifty pages from the end, and curious to see such a huge stylistic difference between this book and Casus Belli. It’s almost like it’s written by another person.
Une succulente au fond de l’impasse, her latest novel, is the story of François and Emma. Forty-something François is going through a divorce when he meets Emma, a prostitute who used to be a champion swimmer. They become friends, nothing more, but very good friends, and then one day Emma disappears…
The book is written in three sections, all in the first person, beginning with François and then about halfway through it switches to Emma. (At the end is a final section in the voice of Emma’s childhood best friend Bénédicte, but I’m not there yet). So far, I find little difference between François and Emma. They each tell a different story, but their language, their emotional register and even their vocabulary is quite similar.
Also, both narratives seem more concerned with the interior reflections of the voice in question than creating a “story” as it were. I don’t always have trouble with an intense interior kind of narration, one which shuns action and the exterior trappings of story, but I suppose it must depend on how the voice works, and most definitely its intellectual and emotional tone. I’m thinking here of André Brink’s first person story The Rights of Desire, or either Eclipse or The Sea by John Banville, even Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – all these novels maintain a strict interior reflective voice, and even a little suffocating at times. And I loved them all. Perhaps I shouldn’t compare to only Anglophone writers, so I’ll mention Nancy Huston’s incredible Instruments des Ténébrès, again partly first-person and intensely interior.
So Une succulent au fond de l’impasse is disappointing so far, perhaps because I get the sense it isn’t trying very hard. Despite their situations, nothing about either François or Emma has managed to reflect on the larger human condition. “Human condition” sounds a bit weighty, but I think that’s what good fiction does – it touches the world beyond itself. Casus Belli dealt with difficult psychological territory, and raised interesting questions about the nature of emotional wounds. The language was also rich and textured and the whole novel was filled with interesting and complicated images.
I certainly won’t give up on Bragance because of this book; she has several others I’d like to try before I decide whether she’s a writer for me. And, who knows, maybe the last fifty pages of Une succulente au fond de l’impasse will reverse all this grumbling…I’ll let you know.