A muted and uninvolving first novel that juxtaposes the life and career of a neglected French writer, Violette Leduc...

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VIOLETTE'S EMBRACE

A muted and uninvolving first novel that juxtaposes the life and career of a neglected French writer, Violette Leduc (1907--72), with the purportedly parallel story of the woman who attempts to write her biography. Zackheim's unnamed narrator, a painter whose marriage and career have rescued her from a traumatic girlhood, travels to Paris to research the life of Leduc, a now nearly forgotten figure who emerged from an obscure youth to become the intimate companion of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Genet, and other famous postwar literary figures, and the author of a justly celebrated autobiography (La BÆ’tarde), among other books. The narrator's ""research"" is limited to her meetings with Lili Jacobs, an elderly Parisienne who with her husband knew Leduc during WW II. Their conversations about the war and the Resistance alternate with the narrator's unsurprising recollections of her own unhappy youth, restless ""pilgrimages,"" and her family's complex European Jewish heritage. The protagonist's deep respect for the courage with which Leduc surmounted her own ignoble past (she was born illegitimate), lack of physical beauty, and years of poverty to become one of the most respected writers of her time fuels her own writing. But we aren't shown this: We're told it, in exhausting conversations and workmanlike summaries of facts Zackheim has all too obviously culled from sources listed in her ""novel's"" perhaps unintentionally revealing bibliography. Leduc, who surely was genuinely fascinating, is scarcely visible here. Instead we're given vague, cliched paeans to Leduc's sensitivity and originality (""To Violette sexuality was an embrace of her life""). Only in the final 60 pages, when long-delayed information on the specifics of Leduc's life is finally conveyed, do we get a fleeting sense of the emotional urgency and intellectual drama that the writer's embattled life suggests. The subject has great intrinsic interest, but the challenge of communicating something essential about Leduc, or about the sources of her art, has not been met here. A real disappointment.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 1996

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 218

Publisher: Riverhead/Putnam

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996