This debut by a French novelist puts a mystery inside a narrative puzzle.
An epigram from Samuel Beckett introduces this slim novel about the titular protagonist and occasional narrator, a 42-year-old woman who recently gave birth to her first child. She suffers from severe panic attacks and receives medication. Within the narrative, Viviane is more often referred to as “you,” though sometimes as “I” or “we,” and occasionally she refers to herself as “Elisabeth.” Viviane is plainly mad, which means “you” are as well, as “you” (the reader) attempt to discern the motivation behind the crime that the protagonist may (or may not) have committed. “[T]hat’s just what she wants, to bring some order to her memory,” says the narrative at a point where Viviane has become “she.” “Instead of coming to light, however, events are retreating ever deeper into darkness.” This much is relatively clear: Viviane’s husband has separated from her, perhaps because of a younger woman, perhaps because Viviane is crazy, perhaps because the marriage was a mistake from the beginning. Or perhaps all of the preceding. She feels that younger women are a threat to her in the workplace as well as in her marriage: “You know that you’re not twenty anymore and that young women are lying in ambush, ready to take your place and wring your neck.” Affairs abound in the novel, generally between older men and younger women, complicating the plot and adding to intrigue on various levels. At one point, a man who may or may not be having one of these affairs is described (presumably by Viviane) as “either really handsome or absolutely not.” The plot’s mystery resolves itself in surprising fashion, but mysteries of language, consciousness, identity and perspective remain impenetrable.
At one point, even the baby is “trying to solve the mystery of causes and consequences,” which puzzled readers will immediately find relatable.