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SWIMMING IN PARIS by Colombe Schneck Kirkus Star


A Life in Three Stories

by Colombe Schneck ; translated by Lauren Elkin & Natasha Lehrer

Pub Date: May 14th, 2024
ISBN: 9780593655931
Publisher: Penguin Press

Insight into a Frenchwoman’s life from the woman who lived it.

Colombe Schneck, the narrator of each of these three assembled novellas, engages in a careful dissection of various stages of her life. That the book’s author is also named Colombe Schneck provides some clue as to how close to the bone Schneck is cutting here. In Seventeen, she parses the inevitability of biology and the shock of betrayal by one’s own body (and the results of an unplanned teen pregnancy). Friendship explores a lifelong friendship between Colombe and Héloïse, allowing Schneck to examine, in subtle detail, the ethnic, class, and political differences between bourgeois households during the girls’ formative years in 1970s and ’80s Paris. A different kind of bodily betrayal is visited upon Héloïse in the account. Schneck’s last remembrance, Swimming: A Love Story, recounts an affair Colombe embarks on after a season of romantic disenchantment. Among the other gifts Gabriel bestows upon her during the course of their relationship is an awareness of her body (and the development of a sense of autonomy over it). Repeatedly, the inevitability of life’s unpredictability is made clear to Colombe, but it is only with later-acquired self-awareness that she is able to continue in the face of her doubts and emotional discomfort. Translated from French by Elkin and Lehrer, Schneck’s matter-of-fact delivery of all aspects of her lived experiences—from a comparison of the Parisian apartments favored by the bourgeoisie to her panic at uncertainty—lends a universal quality to the narrative; these observations made by one woman are broadly recognizable. Acknowledging the influence of Annie Erneaux on her thinking and her ability to write about issues intensely personal to women, Schneck carries that frank discussion forward with grace and hard-won knowledge.

No pulled punches here, just truth.