Beating la chamade: something only French hearts do
Posted March 30, 2012on:
I felt supremely intellectual and sensitive while I was reading this book, all the more so because I read most of it while standing in the queue for the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. Not that David Hockney is an intellectual. But the standard of badinage in the queues at the Royal Academy is generally pretty high.
I should also point out that the edition I was reading was not chosen lightly. I settled on the translation by Robert Westhoff only after a protracted internal struggle.
Nevertheless, although I liked this book and couldn’t fault individual sentences, it didn’t hold my attention as much as I’d hoped.
The dialogue is a bit precious. There is some wan and winsome philosophizing. The characters drift along in a haze of amorality, without too much to do. But there are some very sensual descriptions, which I adored. Chapter 7 is very good, for example. It’s only a page and a half but it has sentences like this:
I’ll never be able to meet you without blushing,” said Lucile, “or see you leave without feeling pain, or speak to you in public without turning my eyes away.”
As she turned, he closed his fingers and held the lower part of her face, almost fiercely for a second, her mouth pressed to his palm. Gazing at each other, they wordlessly promised to have thousands of such moments together, no matter what happened.”
Even in English this is very French: classic, simple, understated and intense.
The English have more words but, as one of the characters states in the (very short) closing chapter, “where poetry is concerned, France reigns supreme.”
Françoise Sagan is perhaps not the greatest French writer but she does justice to the tradition of beautiful, clear, poignant love stories into which she was born.