18 November 2013

Laurent Mauvignier: Apprendre à finir (2000)

Laurent Mauvignier's Apprendre à finir ('Learning to Finish') is painful to read, partly because it's about pain, the pain of loss, which is the writer's central preoccupation. In this respect it has a resemblance to his earlier Loin d'eux (1999), which is about the death by suicide of a son, told in a number of narratives.

But Apprendre à finir is about the loss of a husband (although not by death) and has just one narrative voice: the relentless internal monologue of a woman whose name isn't mentioned, who is looking after her husband who has just returned from hospital after a significant car accident. His recovery will take a long time, although the already broken marriage that had violently torn them apart before the accident is something that will never mend.

Another similarity between this book and Loin d'eux is the working-class background of the family: the husband here is a dustman, the wife a femme de ménage. Articulateness isn't a noted asset with Mauvignier's characters, and the reader has to forage in the half-said and the unsaid, spot the contradictions, pick out the lies, read in the interstices, in order to snatch at glimpses of the truth his characters hover around, leave clues about, or deny.

Denial is a particularly important word here. The woman's older son Philippe seems to want to tell her something, but she doesn't want to know, is frightened that he might be seeking to tell her the truth about her relationship with her husband: that it is dead, and no matter how much she works on caring for him, delighting in seeing him recover a little more each day, he probably feels nothing for her but hatred.

The woman's monologue is a repetitive, jealous rant of self-deception, weaving in and out between the future and the present in (often very long) sentences, re-living the pain of her husband's adultery, ignoring his contempt for the flowers and newspapers she frequently took to hospital for him, although she ignores his body language and lives for the day when they will be together and happy again as in the beginning, which of course will never happen, which she knows deep down, but will never allow herself to admit it. Meanwhile, her words nevertheless betray her, and neurotically she mentally photogaphs his bedside table before she goes out to work, noting the exact position of the phone so she will know if he has phoned the other woman.

She isn't insane, or even on the verge of insanity, although she is certainly very neurotic. And, in contradiction to the title, she never will learn how to get over the truth behind the lies she tells herself.

Stunningly written. My other Mauvignier posts are below:

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Laurent Mauvignier: Loin d'eux
Laurent Mauvignier: Ceux d'à côté
Laurent Mauvignier: Dans la foule
Laurent Mauvignier: Tout mon amour

Laurent Mauvignier: Seuls
Laurent Mauvignier: Ce que j'appelle oubli
Laurent Mauvignier: Continuer
Laurent Mauvignier: Autour du monde

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