Friday, May 10, 2013

The Confidant by Hélène Grémillon

First Sentence:  I got a letter one day, a long letter that wasn’t signed.

Camille Warner is in publishing, pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and sorting through condolences from her mother’s death.  One letter, much thicker than the rest, stands out not only for its size, but its lack of either salutation or signature and seems to be part of a story.  As more segments arrive, Camille is curious, thinking perhaps it’s an author looking to be published, then intrigued as the characters begin to be identified.  As the story evolves, Camille realizes just how personal the story is.
In the beginning, it’s not easy to identify which narrator is speaking when.  Usually, I find this highly annoying.  I don’t, however, believe the story really would not have worked any other way.  I also realized that, after only a few pages, I was so immersed in the story, I didn’t mind.  In the beginning, there were a few portents—always a major flaw in my view—but even those, I forgive.
The author’s/character’s voice, with the help of her translator, immediately drew me in.  Her writing is punctuated with small truths that are both illuminating and disturbing…”As the curtain fluttered closed I thought of how once the last survivor of a family is dead, there is no one left to receive letters of condolence.” and “It is not other people who inflict the worse disappointments, but the shock between reality and the extravagance of our imagination.” 
I shan’t tell you any more about the characters beyond my summary above.  Learning who they are, reading their stories as they unfold and learning how the relationships intertwine is all integral to the plot itself.  It should not be spoiled.
The story is set in two time periods; the 1975 present and the years before WWII.  I appreciated learning of the milestones in history leading up to the war and seeing the European—in this case French—perspective of events.  In some ways, the notions as to how women conceive and remedies for infertility were more disturbing as they were more immediate to the story.
This is a story within a story, within a story, within a story.  I was drawn in immediately and kept turning the pages to the very end.  Whatever you do, DO NOT cheat and read the ending, particularly the poem, until you reach it in its proper time. 
“The Confidant” is a very compelling book I do highly recommend reading.

THE CONFIDANT (Novel-Camille-France-Contemp/1940s) - Ex
Grémillon, Hélène – Alison Anderson, Translator - Standalone
Penguin Books, 2012

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