My rating: 1 of 5 stars
“Extraordinary perfection’, ‘Delicate, carefully weighted sentences’ and ‘exquisite skills’ litter the truncated missives on the back of this slim and stylish pink and black novel. A circular stamp proclaiming “Arts Council – England” adorns a corner, as does a photo of the author herself; an inky thumbnail that evokes something of the French avant-garde. And indeed, Violette Leduc was a member of that crowd, attracting the praise of Simone de Beauvoir and rubbing shoulders with Wildean figures like Maurice Sachs. But I am afraid, this little novella, so prettily packaged failed to make an impression on me.
The story follows an old lady, who unfortunately lives out a miserable fate as her last days are mired in poverty as she wanders the streets of Paris. Her wits are clean gone and her memory has reverted back to that of a child’s, as all impressions and emotions to do with her surroundings are boiled down to the five senses. As in expected in the French tradition; objects, cities, streets and other inanimate things have voices and personalities. The Metro is her favourite place to hang out, especially when the lollipop-eater comes along.
I suppose the intent was to produce a novel of ‘senses’; where mundane actions to a destitute, lonely old lady take on a hugely symbolic significance. The main character is a harmless thing really, and has her little daily routines that help fill in the time. But the quaintness that was supposed to fill the narrative and turn a tale of paucity into a startlingly fresh perspective didn’t really kick in for me. Instead I was caught somewhere between a ‘nostalgia’ overload and a distinctive abhorrence for that particular nostalgia that was assaulting my senses. Leduc’s Paris was smelly, littered and just grey. The parts were she is at the metro reminded me too much of the current state of British Railway Stations. It is not a pleasant place to be reminded of.
I also found a lot of the metaphors used by Leduc was very far out. Maybe it’s a French thing, an avant-garde thing, but i just couldn’t make the leaps required to understand the connections. For instance, ‘the guillotine of 5am’ that fell on her neck, that just didn’t make any sense to me at all. Imagination is a wonderful thing to have, but I have learned that credibility must also play a part in the imaginative. Like the author’s name, this novel sits on the ‘ultraviolet’ end of the writing spectrum. I can’t quite ‘see’ how it works. If you are looking for a novel similar to this, then I recommend Djuna Barnes ‘Nightwood’. Again a pink and black cover, again very avant-garde and a quick read to boot but it will blow your socks off.
Note: This book was left unfinished. I hope I’ll gain better understanding of it some other time.