Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

Posts tagged ‘contemporary lit’

Rereading Nadine Gordimer’s The House Gun over the weekend confirmed to me that it will remain one of my all-time favorites. I think this was the third Gordimer novel I ever read and I sought it out because I had so enjoyed the first two. It is her twelfth novel and was published in 1998, when she was 75 years old. And yet it is a novel with incredible insight into contemporary problems of violence and sexual concerns.

 

In 2006, I wrote this about the novel:

 

In The House Gun Gordimer literally unstitches the seams holding together the lives of her main characters, Claudia and Harald, as they cope with the reality that their only child, their son, has committed a murder. Part One begins with the coy words, Something terrible happened but this is not yet Harald and Claudia’s “terrible”, it is only the news, the busy hum of everyday violence the couple are watching on TV one evening. But then within a paragraph, that hum infiltrates their living room. A messenger arrives. Their lives will never be the same.

 

This dichotomy between the violence “out there” and the violence “within” soon becomes one of the central sources of the novel’s power. Harald and Claudia have lived relatively quiet and happy lives, not so much oblivious to the violence in their society, but discreetly distant from it. They are quick to point out that they didn’t agree with the apartheid system but neither did they risk their life and security fighting against it. Claudia is a doctor and an atheist, while Harald is the director of an insurance company and a contemplative Christian. They are both politically liberal, in theory supportive of equality but yet admittedly still enmeshed in the mores dictated by an earlier cultural system. The unfathomable act committed by their son soon becomes their only point of reference and each aspect of their life must pass through its prism as they try to understand the unthinkable.

 

I would say The House Gun has two main preoccupations – one is Gordimer’s traditional dissection of the legacy of apartheid on the South African pysche (from both sides of the color barrier) but the other takes up the issue of longstanding violence within a community and how that poison, for lack of a better word, seeps into everything. With an incredible amount of sympathy, Gordimer presents Harald and Claudia’s son Duncan as someone who can’t help having assimilated that violence (which is both sexual and physical) because, in essence, everyone in the entire culture has had to do the same. The title emphasizes this fact – the group of young people living with Duncan has this “house gun”, an object of incredible violence that everyone treats as no big deal.

 

The novel is one of Gordimer’s most compelling narratives, in the traditional sense, in that the story literally keeps you on the edge of your seat. For those of you a bit shy of Gordimer’s sometimes roundabout narrative style, this would be an excellent book to start with. It is simply packed with her discerning prose and vivid descriptions but also with a story that grips you right from the beginning.

 

6 Comments

Things have been quiet around here – sorry for the unexpected blogging break but I’m back today with more Nadine Gordimer. I finished her 11th and 12th novels over the weekend – None to Accompany Me and The House Gun. Both excellent – of course you all guessed I would say that right?

 

None to Accompany Me meanders in the way that several of her novels meander. It doesn’t have a precise, focused story. Instead it charts a period of time, following the lives of two women (one black, one white) during South Africa‘s transitional period away from apartheid.

 

One of the things I’ve grown to appreciate with Gordimer is her willingness to put what I can only call “story” onto a smaller stage and let the details and intricacies of the lives of her characters create an effective storyline on their own. On the one hand, both women (and their husbands) are involved in dismantling the apartheid system, on the other, they are concerned with more personal issues – a teen daughter’s pregnancy, the death of a co-worker, a son’s divorce, their own marital commitment, new employment and shifting friendships. And all of this is set against the evolving political landscape into which each of the four must somehow fit or transform their identity.

 

The book made an interesting parallel between apartheid and a certain kind of marriage in which one person holds all the power. The kind of relationship in which one person does all the defining for both halves of the couple. Gordimer makes the point carefully, showing that although it is possible for the parties on opposite sides to connect, even care for one another, until that original imbalance is corrected, the connection remains a false one.

 

I’m finding it difficult here to put together a neat synopsis of the novel because it encompasses such a wide variety of human experience. None to Accompany Me is a fairly complicated and weighty read (with exquisite writing, however, to make things just a little easier). The story is deceptively quiet when in fact it takes on a steady stream of huge issues and treats them each with a particularly painful honesty.

 

 

4 Comments

Over at Tales from the Reading Room, Litlove has posted an interesting and informative interview with author Deborah Lawrenson. I enjoyed reading the interview yesterday, not just because Lawrenson reveals herself to be a thoughtful and dedicated writer but because in her responses she actually addresses some of the questions I had in reaction to my recent reading of her novel Songs of Blue and Gold.

 

For those of you who haven’t read the novel, Songs of Blue and Gold is a quiet but serious book. It tells two stories, the first following Melissa Quiller as she searches for answers related to her mother’s past while experiencing a difficult passage in her own marriage, while the second tells the story of Melissa’s mother, Elizabeth, and her relationship with a renowned writer, Julian Adie. Melissa moves between Greece and England and France hunting for clues to a past she didn’t know her mother had and hoping to understand, through that process, what decisions she might have to take in her own life. The two stories communicate on several levels – how is trust built between two individuals, how do men and women need and use one another, how do we define ourselves in relation to our parents, what does it mean to be generous in love, how do we manage the shifting details of our parents lives as we grow to understand and appreciate them as people in their own right, separate from our relationship with them as our parents.

 

On the one hand, the book follows closely the mystery of Elizabeth’s past and Melissa’s quest for information and understanding. She investigates, talks to people, searches for clues. In this sense, it has the aesthetic of a more conventional, plotted novel with an equally conventional emotional structure and writing. On the other hand, there is a consistent and compelling element of unique, specific description and careful interior exploration.

 

These two elements of the novel meant that my reaction to Songs of Blue and Gold became a little complicated. Readers read for different things. My particular reading bias means that most often I could honestly care less about plot because I’m looking for sentences and words put together in a new way, for scenes and dialogue that reveal exactly how complicated human beings really are. I certainly won’t accept incoherence or the complete absence of plot but I’m more interested in an emotional or philosophical movement within a story, than a specific or logical series of events.

 

So my experience with Songs of Blue and Gold was that I would get happily lost in a section of brilliant writing, in looking at Melissa or Elizabeth’s particular interior processing and then suddenly be brought up a little short by a reminder that there was a larger story at work that needed to be brought to conclusion. But I struggled with that reaction because it reminded me why I dislike literary criticism that attempts to label fiction as either good or bad. Ignoring extreme examples, fiction must exist outside simple qualifiers like good or bad. If we are to let fiction work its magic, we have to recognize that fiction is experienced one person at a time. A novel creates a one-of-a-kind relationship with an individual reader. And then goes on to create another, different relationship with another reader.

 

This doesn’t mean criticism, even the kind that revels in its definitive judgments, isn’t useful or interesting or worthwhile. Criticism provides a particular critic’s exploded view of the inner mechanics or hidden meaning of a work of fiction, and often to the benefit of the reader. But what it does mean is that my immediate knee-jerk reaction of wanting to dismiss or ignore the more commercial elements in Songs of Blue and Gold is flawed. It’s based on my accepting a bit too easily the rigid categories defined by someone else for me.

 

In Lawrenson’s interview with Litlove, she mentions that it was difficult to place her fourth book, The Art of Falling, with a publisher because it didn’t fit into either of the generally accepted categories of commercial or literary fiction. I haven’t read The Art of Falling but I would say that Songs of Blue and Gold also walks that line – although I felt it leaned decidedly further over the literary side of the fence. But this isn’t what should define the book, even if I was slow to come around to that understanding. A novel shouldn’t have to be one or the other. Readers are much more intelligent and nuanced than this.

 

Lawrenson has written a thoughtful, lovely, well-researched and interesting book that draws on elements of journalism, mystery writing, real-life inspiration and literary fiction. That unique blend meant I engaged with it on a variety of levels. I fell in love with certain passages, I got caught up in the vivid descriptions of the novel’s geography, I experienced a few minor frustrations, I was confronted with a number of questions and I was engaged, as a writer, to study Lawrenson’s technical choices.

 

I look forward to reading The Art of Falling and I will certainly be on the lookout for Lawrenson’s next book.

 

7 Comments

I can no longer remember who recommended Graham Swift’s Last Orders. It may have been Stephen…is that right? But in any case, whoever suggested this wonderful book deserves a huge thank you. What a gem. What a treat to read.

 

I love complicated books with multiple points-of-view and an intricate timeline. Books which are hard to put down because of a real risk of losing the thread. The main, forward action of Last Orders takes place in a single day but the story jumps around from person to person, covering a lifetime of short scenes and powerful experiences. A hodge-podge collection of the moments which gave meaning to each character’s life and which led them all to this particular day.

 

The day in question is not an easy one. Jack Dodds has recently passed away and a group of his friends – Ray, Lenny and Vic – along with his son Vince are on a road trip from London to scatter his ashes on the sea. Swift takes a single car journey and transforms it into the ride of a lifetime. Heartbreak, friendship, treachery, sorrow, luck and joy and everything else you can imagine a person’s life can contain all hitchhike along with the four men as they carry out Jack’s last request.

 

Behind Jack’s story is another, more subtle one. The loud, bravado-filled presence of the four men in the car is made conspicuous by the absence of the women who should be with them – Ray’s wife and daughter, Lenny’s daughter, Jack’s wife and daughter, Vince’s daughter. These are men who have suffered heavy losses. Their sorrow at losing Jack is really the tip of the iceberg, an accumulation of losing much more across a lifetime.

 

Ray has a more central role in the novel and his story is one of the more compelling narratives. His life was intertwined with Jack’s to an incredible degree, for both better and worse. Witnessing the arc of his grief as the four men journey toward the seashore is a wonderfully complicated and riveting experience. I think Swift really gets at the heart of what makes grieving such a horrible process – if it were a simple feeling we would know how to deal with it. But grief surges forth out of the messiness of our day to day and the convoluted details of our relationships. It will never be simple or easy.

 

There is so much going on in this novel – differences between the four men, fathers and daughters, love lost and love found, abandonment, and even a look at social class. Not to mention Swift’s structural and narrative choices. I think Last Orders is a great candidate for a Reading Writer post, because from a writing technique perspective there is a lot to look at and examine. I’ll have to save that for another day.

 

This was my first experience reading Graham Swift and it goes without saying that I really enjoyed it. Has anyone else read anything else by him – any suggestions? I just went and bookmooched his second novel Shuttlecock and his third novel Waterland so will be looking forward to those.

 

 

13 Comments

Philip Roth’s The Ghost Writer is a book working on several levels. On its most surface level, there is humor. On another, a bit deeper, there is a simple tale of ambition and personal journey with predictable ups and downs and tangents and all the trappings of traditional “story”. And on yet another, there is real tragedy and brokenness.

 

It’s a short little book, and not at all straightforward. It starts out innocuous enough, negotiates a few careful twists and turns and then suddenly takes a hard left into an unfamiliar and thrilling metafictional neighborhood. I wasn’t expecting this. It turned the book into something completely different. Something completely interesting.

 

So here are the two stories: Story one – fledging writer Nathan Zuckerman spends the night at the home of his literary idol, a man named E. I. Lonoff. They talk literature, love and writing. Zuckerman meets Lonoff’s wife and his assistant (i.e. his mistress) whom Zuckerman is extremely attracted to. Story two – Lonoff’s assistant, a woman named Amy Bellette, is actually Anne Frank.

 

Story two is Zuckerman’s brilliant invention. In my opinion it is the absolute best part of the entire novel. I actually wish it were the entire novel. Yes, I know, I know, metafiction has another purpose. And in The Ghost Writer I think Roth uses his metafictional element to the benefit of Zuckerman’s Jewish identity crisis – which is quite interesting in its own right. I just think he asks the same questions from a much more fascinating perspective in the Amy Belette/Anne Frank story. Put another way, story one is not much without story two, but story two rewrites history and asks some phenomenal questions in just a few pages and all on its own.

 

I haven’t yet read enough Roth to really understand all that he’s exploring in the whole Nathan Zuckerman-as-Roth-alter-ego thing. I get the sense that his exploration of the writer’s pysche is as important to him as the story he has his writer telling. In The Ghost Writer, the idea that he is a Jewish writer is very important. In fact, his being Jewish is really the central question of his role as a writer. (And I believe this is Roth’s fundamental preoccupation in all his novels).

 

Although I do somewhat wish the Amy Bellette/Anne Frank story could have stood on it’s own without any connection to Nathan Zuckerman, I did love the idea of Zuckerman inventing this fiction while snooping through his hero’s desk in the middle of the night. This is such an exquisite example of how a writer’s imagination can work. He meets a person who intrigues him, someone whom he really knows nothing about and then blithely invents her entire life. Early in the novel, Roth makes it clear that Zuckerman relies heavily on autobiography in his own writing. So everything Zuckerman comes in contact with is a potential narrative. This all winds back around then to the idea of writerly responsibility and what Zuckerman owes his culture and society.

 

For some reason I have always been wary of Roth’s work and I put off reading him for quite some time. I read a lot of male writers so I’m not sure what about Roth made me think he was a MALE writer but this is the impression I had. I read Everyman a few months ago and it didn’t do much to rewrite my initial expectations. And even after finishing this second book, I’m not sure I will ever find an easy port of access into Roth’s particular project, but The Ghost Writer asked some interesting questions, poked a bit of fun at writerly pretensions and at the same time took itself very very seriously. I see more Roth on my horizon – any suggestions? Anyone have a favorite?

 

 

10 Comments

I believe Gordimer probably begins each of her novels with an idea – by that I mean her characters often represent a philosophy instead of an active element of some story. I don’t mean this as a criticism, her characters are never ‘types’ because she eventually fills them with enough inner life to sink a lifeboat, but in essence her work is more about context than it is about story. In some of her novels, however, I think the story does get a bit too pushed aside but in others the balance of idea and story comes out just fine.

 

Her tenth novel, My Son’s Story (1990) takes up several ideas – interracial love, adultery and the ongoing revolution to overthrow apartheid in South Africa, and settles them firmly inside an engaging, well-told story. The novel begins with a teenage boy playing truant who catches his father doing much the same. The two run in to one another at the movie theatre. The son’s minnow of a lie is swallowed up by the enormous shark of his father’s obvious infidelity. But without batting an eyelash, his father introduces him to his white mistress.

 

The book takes place in the political environment which preceeded the final dismantling of the apartheid system. It was no longer strictly illegal for a black man and a white woman to be together, but Gordimer shows it was not accepted either. But this is less the point, really, because Sonny’s affair coincides with his political awakening. His love for Hannah runs parallel to his developing passion for revolution, for justice, and the two experiences are simply inseparable and will remain inseperable. A reality which will cause big problems for Sonny.

 

The story is told in alternating viewpoints – first person Will (the son) and third person Sonny (the father). This technique and the access it grants us to both men’s experience of Sonny’s revolutionary development and his affair is what propels the book forward. Sonny represents a movement toward the future, toward a new kind of society where relationships are based on ideas and sharing and aren’t first and foremost defined through skin color, but his evolution is due mostly to knowledge passed along to him by Hannah. Will, on the other hand, wants to reject that structure. He’s torn between wanting to maintain his quiet life between the lines set for him by someone else and bursting out, but on his own terms, with no help from the oppressive system that made him who he is in the first place.

 

This tension between the two men is already a lot for the story to contain but it goes further, delivering a number of interesting surprises along the way. Mostly to do with Sonny’s wife – Aila, one of the novel’s more intriguing and rich characters.

 

And there are also those moments of pure Gordimer. The reason why I read her novels slowly.

 

Here is the narrator describing how Sonny categorizes the difference between his wife and his mistress:

 

Joy. That was what went with it. The light of joy that illuminates long talk of ideas, not the 60-watt bulbs that shine on family matters.

 

And later, a moment of quiet reflection on Hannah:

 

The face of a woman who uses no makeup has unity with her body. Seeing Hannah’s fair eyelashes catching the morning sun and the shine of the few little cat’s whiskers that were revealed, in this innocent early clarity, at the upper corners of her mouth, he was seeing the whole of her; he understood why, in the reproductions of paintings he had puzzled over in the days of his self-education, Picasso represented frontally all the features of a woman – head, breasts, eyes, vagina, nose, buttocks, mouth – as if all were always present even to the casual glance. What would he have known, without Hannah!

 

 

8 Comments

It strikes me that one of the more fundamental issues explored in Sue Miller’s The Good Mother is how little control we actually have over our own lives. It all starts in our childhood – all that shaping and influencing that our families exert over us, our attempts to define ourselves within, or, in extreme cases, completely outside that framework, and then the relationships we start to build with teachers, friends, partners, children. Most of all with society. Miller really gets at the tension between those ties and the individual. How does an individual continue to be an individual in the constantly evolving development of those ties? How does an individual decide which of those ties are best cultivated, best respected, or, when necessary, best severed?

 

To explore these questions Miller creates a specific situation – she gives us Anna Dunlap, a recent divorcée with a young daughter, who finds herself falling in love, redefining her sense of self, exploring her sexuality for the first time, and learning to cope with the shifting demands of single motherhood and singledom. Anna eventually becomes embroiled in a horrible custody battle which requires she find a way to justify some of her choices to both society as well as to a number of her personal relationships. She is forced to question, nevermind make a public account, of her way of life, her thinking, her sexual experiences and her value as a mother.

 

The Good Mother made me consider how difficult, how dangerous it can be for someone to be a sexual being and a parent at the same time, especially without the sanctioned framework of marriage to help set some of the rules. Sexuality without established guidelines is threatening for many people. As Anna loses her right to privacy about her most personal thoughts and experiences, that reality is really put into glaring perspective. People love roping other people into their moral comfort zones because it is much easier to do this than genuinely step into someone else’s shoes, or engage in earnest conversation about these difficult issues.

 

The book was written in the 1980s, an era which I think concentrated a significant portion of its emotional energy on divorce. Was it always bad? Was it destroying our societies? Miller’s novel is a distinctly feminist look at divorce and it exposes some of the double standards which may, for all I know, still burden any divorce procedure. But it also takes a very serious view of divorce; it reminds the reader that children really suffer when their world suddenly splits into two, distinctly different universes. 

 

The quote on the very-cheesy front cover of my copy of The Good Mother reads:

 

To whom is a woman more deeply bound, the man she loves, or her own child?

 

Well, that doesn’t at all do justice to the question I think this book is really asking. The novel does put that difficult challenge before Anna, but it goes a lot farther in exploring whether Anna should choose between herself and her own child. This seems more universal to me because I don’t think a parent needs something as extreme as a custody battle or a new lover to become confronted with that essential question. How much of ourselves do we sacrifice, voluntarily or otherwise, to our children? Do our desires, or certain essential elements of our personality, necessarily take second seat once we’ve brought a child into the world? Is our happiness less important than our child’s?

 

 

 

9 Comments

I love reading first novels, especially of writers I already know and respect. But I’ve been having a love/hate relationship with Martin Amis’s The Rachel Papers. Here is an author who can really write, who is wonderfully clever and wordy and funny. But I suspect he knows it and that smugness runs right across nearly every page. Also, the idea behind The Rachel Papers is much what I imagine a story passed between sex-obsessed twentysomething men might be like. All about who gets what, when, how and for how long. And will there be any swapping.

 

The book reminds me a bit too much of Edward Docx’s The Calligrapher, which I read in 2007 and which I grudgingly admired but which secretly annoyed me to no end. I realize now The Calligrapher was probably a nod to Amis, at least the main characters of the two books and their ridiculously contrived research and preparation for each seduction seem to be cut lovingly from the same cloth. So does their snarky humor and irreverence for anything not having a direct effect on their sex life.

 

This is neither my kind of book nor my kind of story but Amis is undoubtedly a most excellent writer and for that alone, I’m enjoying The Rachel Papers. Also, Amis’s hero (an unabashed Martin Amis stand-in) reminds me of a friend of mine, an inveterate womanizer who happens to believe his miniscule poetic side somehow makes up for most of his horrible behavior. Men like this are infuriating, and so is Amis’s Charles Highway. He also happens to be literate and just self-deprecating enough I’m willing to read on and see what will happen to him.

 

If I get through the entire book without slamming the covers shut at least once it will be a miracle.

 

Happy weekend reading everyone!

9 Comments

I finished Nadine Gordimer’s novel A Sport of Nature last night and believe this will be the most difficult of her novels to write about thus far. It was complicated – but not in a way I was expecting. This is a novel I will have to read at least twice, and slowly, to come to any firm conclusions about what Gordimer was trying to do.

 

In the simplest sense A Sport of Nature is a personality profile, telling the story, from childhood to adulthood, of Hillela, a white South African woman who “becomes” a revolutionary in the struggle against Apartheid. Hillela’s political and psychological trajectory is unusual, mainly because Gordimer reveals her transformation from unconcerned to concerned (about her country’s social injustices) through a distillation of the idea of human contact. It makes sense that falling in love with another human being is one of the best ways to smash up racial boundaries and I think this is often the story that gets told – how better to understand our shared humanity than to really and truly fall in love. But Hillela’s story is more than this familiar one – her character, her self, struck me as Gordimer’s personification of the idea that love is blind.

 

Her early life is marked by a series of transgressions, all of them having to do with sex. She develops a relationship with a man from a township, whom she doesn’t even realize is black (a first allusion to exactly how colorblind her experience of falling in love will become) and is kicked out of her private school, she woos her cousin and is eventually caught in his bed and has to leave home, she follows a lover illegalIy into Ghana, escaping South Africa not for political ideals but romantic ones.

 

Through all this Hillela seems to possess some incredible luck. She is taken in again and again by the right people and kept back from the edge of poverty. She becomes friends with the wife of the French Ambassador to Ghana, moves in with this family as a sort of nanny and eventually has an affair with the Ambassador. It’s during this period that she meets Whaila, the black man who will become her husband.

 

This is the moment when Hillela changes, when she becomes engaged in the fight to overthrow Apartheid. This is Whaila’s passion and Hillela has fallen in love with him so it becomes her fight too. On the one hand, I saw Hillela’s “transformation” as quite shallow – to love this man, she will also love his politics. A subject she had no use for previously. But on the other hand, this is the moment she becomes aware of her disregard for skin color. She isn’t in love with Whaila as an exotic other, but with him – his mind, his person, his whole self. She was raised under Apartheid, and although rationally she rejected it as many of her generation did, she had never confronted its reality emotionally. So then to finally experience, emotionally, the absolute meaninglessness of that system is nothing short of revelation.

 

What happens to Hillela after this is also really interesting but I’ll give the story away if I say any more. So I’ll just say a bit more about Hillela as a character – after this transformation she continues to create a personal, rebellious world where Apartheid has absolutely no power over her. But the power she uses to fight the world beyond her personal circle isn’t physical, it isn’t intellectual, and it isn’t even emotional – her power is purely sexual. Gordimer is exploring a really interesting idea here, even if I found it somewhat uncomfortable. Her portrait of Hillela is intriguing and provocative. She is essentially a nobody who manages to rise to considerable political power…through love but mostly through refusing to choose a specific ideology except her own colorblindness.

 

As I mentioned above, there is definitely more to this novel than can be picked up in one reading. So in the meantime, before I tackle a re-read or any of the critical work about Nadine Gordimer I’ve been delighted to discover over the last 8 months, I have three more of her novels to read by the end of the year. Next up: My Son’s Story, published in 1990.

 

 

5 Comments

How wonderfully tricky French can be. I wrote on Thursday that I was reading Anna Gavalda’s novel Je L’Aimais and I translated the title as I Loved Him. But this was wrong – or at least it was only partly correct. In French the article gets placed before the verb and when the verb begins with a vowel, like aimer, the “le” or “la” is contracted so we don’t know without more context whether it is “him” or “her”. I assumed “him” because the story seemed to belong to Chloé, the narrator, who has just lost her husband to another woman. But as the novel progresses I realized that the story belongs just as much to Pierre, Chloé’s father-in-law, and his own story of love lost…so the title could just as well be I Loved Her.

 

Well, I did a quick check and the title of the novel has been translated as Someone I Loved – that’s just perfect.

 

This is a novel about adultery. About the worst kind of betrayal most people can imagine and the shock of having to try and understand why the person you love doesn’t love you anymore.

 

Au bout de combien de temps oublie-t-on l’odeur de celui qui vous a aimée ? Et quand cesse-t-on d’aimer à son tour ?

Qu’on me tende un sablier.

 

La dernière fois que nous nous sommes enlacés, c’était moi qui l’embrassais. C’était dans l’ascenseur de la rue de Flandre.

Il s’était laissé faire.

 

Pourquoi ? Pourquoi s’était-il laissé embrasser par une femme qu’il n’aimait plus ? Pourquoi m’avoir donné sa bouche ? Et ses bras ?

 

Ca n’a pas de sens.

 

[How long does it take to forget the scent of the person who loved you? And when do you stop loving them?

Someone hand me an hourglass.

 

The last time we held each other, I was the one who was kissing him. It was in the elevator on the rue de Flandre.

He let me kiss him.

 

Why? Why did he let himself be kissed by a woman he no longer loved? Why did he give me his mouth? And his arms?

 

It makes no sense.]

 

But it’s also a novel about love. How do we know we’ve found love? How do we know it will last? What happens when love arrives at the most inconvenient moment? When you think about it, this whole loving thing is a pretty fragile affair. And I think this is what Gavalda wants to explore in Je L’Aimais. Love is often a tricky experience to negotiate, filled with some wild ups and downs and often a lot of unexpected and potentially dangerous mundanity. Gavalda presents two versions of the experience of love – first through Chloé and her raw, painful astonishment of what has just become of marriage. And then through Pierre, thirty years her senior, and what he reveals about his own passionate discoveries.

 

Stylistically, the novel is interesting because it unfolds almost completely as a long conversation between Pierre and Chloé. I felt Gavalda managed this back and forth really well, dropping well-placed hints to remind us of their surroundings but for the most part she just let their dialogue do all the hard work.

 

And Pierre and Chloé do venture out into some thorny territory, especially in terms of duty vs happiness. Still, the book is an easy read and I might even argue that Gavalda’s attempt at a moral (a very small one, but its still there) might not have been a good idea, because I think, as horrible as it is, there just aren’t any straightforward answers where adultery is concerned. But despite her debatable conclusion, I liked very much how the book mostly focused on negotiating/exploring the very frightening reality that love is not always a permanent experience.

 

 

9 Comments