A CLEANING WOMAN by Christian Oster


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Vapid and pretentious tale of obsessive love.

French writer Oster, author of eight previous novels, debuts here with an enigmatic, largely pointless, deadpan, unsatisfying, and extremely self-important story. It begins with Jacques, a middle-aged corporate manager, in a kind of extended meditation as he takes stock of his life after the departure of his old girlfriend Constance. After six months of refusing to clean his apartment, he decides to hire a cleaner and calls Laura, whose handbill he had noticed, and engages her for two days a week. Laura is 25, rather sullen, and not terribly clean-looking to the fastidious Jacques, though he finds himself oddly intrigued. He begins to call his apartment when he knows she’s there, and later he arranges to be home while she cleans so he can watch her. Laura is polite but shows little warmth toward Jacques, so he is surprised when she suddenly asks him one day if she can move in with him. It’s a pragmatic arrangement (she’s broken up with her boyfriend and can’t afford a place of her own), but before long she and Jacques are sleeping together, and very quickly they—well, they don’t fall in love exactly, but they become very strongly dependent on each other. Jacques thinks about his new lover in considerable detail (“I focused on . . . Laura’s vagina at rest. Closed. But not too closed . . .”), and they even vacation together. But they’re not happy. Laura falls in love with a younger man, but she won’t leave Jacques without his permission. He thinks she should leave, though it’s not as if he has the right to give her permission. He discusses it with his depressed friend Claire, who can’t help him. There’s a kind of rescue at the end, but not a happy ending, exactly. It’s much more nuanced than that.

If you have to read it, better open a nice French red.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-59051-039-9
Page count: 125pp
Publisher: Other Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2003


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