Lambert (Termcraft, 2014) records the life a 20th-century schoolteacher in Bordeaux.
At the end of this biography of Madame Hébert, formerly Micheline Ponthier, Lambert writes that the nonagenarian felt gratified that someone had finally put her life down on paper. “The past was not hers anymore now that it existed in a written form, and it would be up to the reader, especially the younger generation, to draw a lesson from it.” The lesson is embedded in the history of a woman, born in 1916 France, who worked as a teacher when the Germans invaded in 1940. Against the backdrop of World War II, the young Catholic Micheline entered into a forbidden love affair with a young Protestant doctor. The relationship was doomed. After the war, Hébert became the director of a training center for women and married a widower with children. Decades later, after her husband, too, had died, Hébert worked with the author to attempt to quiet the competing forces of her recollection and set her memories in order, putting to rest the dead and finding redemption for the living. The book is an unorthodox biography. The names used to describe the characters appear to be pseudonyms (the book is dedicated to a “Madame H***”). The work is as much about the creation of biography as it is about Hébert herself. Lambert exists as a gentle presence at the margins, the receiver of Hébert’s musings and memories. We learn of a previous attempt at setting things down: “Madame Hébert had decided to hire a ‘ghostwriter,’ but the final product failed to satisfy her: one hundred and one pages for a life, her life, filled with emptiness and clichés.” Included along with her sometimes stream-of-consciousness thoughts are many letters, photographs, and drawings of various sites in Bordeaux. The mixed media, along with the blurred line between biography and literary novel, brings to mind the writings of W.G. Sebald. The fractured nature of the narrative, dotted with artifacts of the past, provides a compelling method for telling the story of a life marred by war and loss.
A hushed but resonant literary memoir.