PHANTOM LIFE by Daniele Sallenave


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The first of Sallenave's novels to appear in English--a somewhat claustrophobic account of four years in an adulterous relationship. Pierre is a teacher, married for ten years, the father of two children, not so much trapped by his wife as happily enmeshed in the routine of his household; his affair with 25-year-old Laure--a single librarian--adds spice, freedom, and danger to his life. But Laure realizes that what is freedom for Pierre is constraint for her and struggles with conflicting feelings: pity and condescension toward people who march lock-step into marriage versus her longing for ordinary family life. Her self-esteem demands that she distinguish her "understanding" with Pierre from the adulterous "affairs" that other people engage in, though she realizes that she is playing out every clichÇ about love with a married man: she is condemned to live a phantom life waiting for him to phone, being unable to call him at home; spending most of their time in bed since they cannot be seen in public; dealing with separations over holidays and family-oriented vacation-times; suffering from curiosity and jealousy over his life "at home." This focus on clichÇ, explored in a tone of almost clinical detachment, may be intentional irony, but the material and the emotions are overly familiar. Nothing really happens here; by the end, the "understanding" has been through ups and downs but will eventually continue indefinitely. Stylistic grace is not enough for a novel without plot or psychological insight.

Pub Date: June 5th, 1989
ISBN: 394-56453-7
Publisher: Pantheon
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