A sensation in France last year, this novel from Lévy (Rendezvous, 1997) manages the impossible, combining the plot of a made-for-tv-movie with language worthy of a feminist philosopher-poet.
For French readers, some of the interest of this novel stemmed from its rumored autobiographical elements (Lévy’s father is a noted philosopher in France, and Lévy herself travels with European high society), but even if its celebrity references escape American readers, this beautifully written book deserves attention. If it can be said to have something so conventional as a plot, it recounts three crises in the life of first-person narrator Louise Lévy. First, her beloved grandmother dies, then her glamorous mother is diagnosed with cancer and, most importantly, her husband, the successful and charismatic Adrien, abandons her to marry his own father’s lover. These events do not appear in chronological order. They emerge as almost incidental catalysts for Louise’s introspection. The masterful way that the story moves from random childhood memories to evocative sensations of taste and sound and touch in Louise’s mind finally yields a rich, multi-dimensional portrait of a woman who believes that she is the creature of feeling alone. Out of a stream of random thoughts, a full character—elusive, contradictory and often very charming—finds her way out of the despair of losing the people she loves.
Lévy’s prose is luminous—much credit should go to her excellent translator—and the novel is a marvel of construction.