Female sexuality—the driving force of Texier’s abrasive earlier fiction (e.g., Love Me Tender, 1987; Panic Blood, 1990)—takes a much more romantic form here.
Billed as a mixture of fact and fiction and based on the little Texier knew about her eponymous great-grandmother, it’s the story of a grand amour and its bittersweet aftermath. The narrative juxtaposes a day in 1940 when the elderly Victorine, living in France under German occupation, goes to the beach with her middle-aged youngest son—with Victorine’s staggered memories of her youth, marriage, adultery, and repentance. The latter are revealed in gorgeously written extended flashbacks in which we observe, in the early pages, a young girl who is “good at pretending” growing up in provincial Vendée, briefly encountering handsome teenaged Antoine Langelot, then entering an increasingly unhappy marriage to worldly—and rather officiously masculine—schoolteacher Armand Texier. Victorine bears Armand two children, but dreams of a different, more exotic life. And when Antoine reenters hers and importunes her to travel with him to employment opportunities in Indochina, she vacillates nervously, then, in 1899, leaves her family and joins him. Texier shapes Victorine’s Indochina adventure as a series of disillusionments: Antoine’s repeated business failures, his slow fall into an expatriate culture absorbed in the pursuit of luxury and the consolations of opium, the “message” implicit in a text she uses to study native languages (“The Tale of Kieu,” a narrative poem about a woman who gave up everything to be with her lover), and Victorine’s own burgeoning guilt and unhappiness. The close comes with her sorrowful (though resolute) parting from Antoine and her return to Vendée, and Armand. Echoes of both Madame Bovary and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening suffuse a nevertheless inventive and artfully composed delineation of a beguiling and complicated woman’s arduous journey toward self-understanding.
A subtly textured fourth novel: Texier’s best yet.