SA FEMME or The Other Woman by Emmanu≤le Bernheim

SA FEMME or The Other Woman

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Bernheim's third novel (and first to appear here), a spare little wisp of a thing, won the 1993 Prix M‚dicis. Claire is a doctor who lives in one room of a tiny Paris apartment while using the other for seeing patients. When her stolen purse is recovered (and brought to her door) by attractive construction-worker Thomas Kovacs, Claire's previous lover goes out the door and new romance springs to life. Unfortunately, Thomas is married to an architect wife and also has kids, yet every day he comes over to Claire's after she's done seeing her patients, staying for exactly an hour and a quarter so as not to raise suspicions at home. The lovers, Bernheim mentions, were luckily ""almost the same height,"" so that, in lovemaking, ""from their toes to their foreheads, Thomas was glued to Claire, and Claire was glued to Thomas"" (elsewhere, Thomas ""was breathing Claire's breath. And he was drinking her saliva""). As ever, a love affair is interesting to the extent that the people in it are interesting, but one learns little more of Thomas than that he eats meat, has good digestion, and takes sugar with his coffee. Claire, meanwhile, tries vainly to imagine his family life (he's not talking) while she saves, in a desk drawer, four sugar cubes as mementos of coffees together, along with Thomas's daily discarded condom wrappers (not to mention his first used condom itself). One can imagine her happy surprise when, after three months or so, Thomas comes out from a long stay in the bathroom one day and announces -- voil… -- that he doesn't have kids and isn't really married after all. Happiness! Claire successfully treats a patient for hepatitis as story ends, and the future looks up. Some pleasant details and Parisian atmospherics, but otherwise thin, motiveless, and unpeopled to the point of a pretentious nothingness. Tiny and inexplicably silly.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
Page count: 119pp
Publisher: Viking