Duras, Marguerite. L’Amour. Univ. of Rochester. 2013. 109p. tr. from French by Kazim Ali & Libby Murphy. ISBN 9781934824795. pap. $12.95. F
Translated into English for the first time since its publication in 1971, this surreal, compelling piece reimagines the characters and events of Duras’s Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein. Day after day, three nameless characters walk the beach of the coastal town S. Thala, revisiting a pivotal moment from years past when one (“the traveler”) abandoned another (“the woman”). The lack of internal dialog or thought leads to an emotional distance between the reader and the characters, while the almost nonexistent plot, sparse, fragmented syntax, and Dali-esque setting suggest an experimental film (indeed, the book was reworked for the screen as La Femme du Gange). However, Duras’s use of repetition (“The steps resume. Uneven, hesitant. They resume. They stop again. Again resume.”) keeps this work from seeming random or haphazard, adding a rhythm that both evokes the sea that surrounds these shadowy, cipherlike characters and imbues the book with a haunting, dreamlike tone. Despite the choppy sentence structure, the narrative is marked by lyrical language that emphasizes the significance of memory and feelings of longing, loss, and regret. VERDICT Though seemingly impenetrable, this rich and intriguing title will reward readers willing to understand it within the context of Duras’s other works.
Laurain, Antoine. The President’s Hat. Gallic. Sept. 2013. 208p. tr. from French. ISBN 9781908313478. pap. $14.95. F
Winner of the Prix Landerneau Découvertes and Prix Relay des Voyageurs, this delightful “1980s fairy tale for adults” is the story of how a black felt hat belonging to French president François Mitterand transforms the lives of those who possess it. One November evening in 1986, Parisian accountant Daniel Mercier is enjoying a solitary plateau royal de fruits de mer when the head of state and his dinner companions are seated next to him. The awed Daniel prolongs his own meal until the presidential party departs two hours and seven minutes later. “Never again, he told himself, would he be able to eat oysters with vinegar without hearing those words: ‘As I was saying to Helmut Kohl last week.’ ” Upon discovering that Mitterand forgot his hat, Daniel takes the chapeau as a souvenir and finds a new confidence when he wears it: “In a strange way, he felt that something of the President was there in the hat. Something intangible…. But whatever it was, it had the power of destiny.” Daniel is promoted and transfers with his family to a new city, but the hat, left behind on the train, begins its journey from owner to owner, working its strange magic. VERDICT Laurain’s gentle, satirical humor remind this reviewer of Jacques Tati’s classic films, and, no, you don’t have to know French politics to enjoy this charming novel. Fans of Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog will want this. [Ten-city tour as part of ABA’s “Indies Introduce Debut Authors” promotion; previewed in “A World of New Titles,” LJ 7/13.—Ed.]
Teulé, Jean. The Suicide Shop. Gallic. Sept. 2013. 169p. tr. from French by Sue Dyson. ISBN 9781906040093. pap. $13.95. F
The Tuvache family has a lucrative business selling their customers every imaginable device for committing suicide. A few centuries in the future, when environmental catastrophe is an everyday occurrence, most people are desperate and looking for assured methods with which to end their lives. However, to the Tuvaches’ horror, Alan, the newest member of the family, is born with a joyous disposition and an impish desire to bring happiness into the lives of his family and the morose customers of the Suicide Shop. In a style reminiscent of Charles Addams’s cartoons about his macabre Addams Family, Teulé, a French author and filmmaker, creates this blackly humorous story with a delicate touch as Alan’s influence reaches even the most hardened family members. VERDICT While Teulé writes in a comedic style and much of this novella (which has been turned into a successful animated film) is charming, this book is not recommended for readers who have experienced the suicide of a family member or friend. With its ambiguous ending, this title is only for lovers of extremely black comedy. It will appeal to those who enjoyed Chuck Palahniuk’s Survivor or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and to Charles Addams’s fans. [Gallic Books is a six-year-old British publisher specializing in French literature.—Ed.]
Trouillot, Évelyne. The Infamous Rosalie. Univ. of Nebraska. Oct. 2013. 152p. tr. from French by M.A. Salvodon. ISBN 9780803240261. pap. $19.95. F
“The screams, the fear, the anguish, the shame, the indignation, the anger and the rage.” They pour out of Lisette, a Creole slave in 1750 Saint-Domingue, horrified by a man’s burning at the stake on the Beauplan plantation. With poisoners striking black and white alike, terror has consumed the island, and those judged guilty are consigned to the fire. But that’s not the only reason for Lisette to be angry and afraid; throughout this remarkable little book, delivered in language both sumptuous and biting, we learn about Lisette’s desperation as a slave; her furtive meetings with her beloved Vincent, among the runaway slaves inciting unrest; the awful punishments meted out by the island’s masters; the violence visited on Lisette by the master’s son; and the memory of the Middle Passage—for Lisette has heard from her grandmother about her family’s capture and transport in misery on the Infamous Rosalie. We also learn about Lisette’s dream: “[that the] Creole child who still lives in me, you will be born free and rebellious, or you will not be born at all.” VERDICT The story of New World slavery can never be told too much, and Haitian university professor Trouillot’s telling is especially affecting. Highly recommended for sophisticated readers.