20 April 2014

Hélène Grémillon: Le Confident (2010)

Le Confident (translated as The Confidant) is Hélène Grémillon's first novel and took her four years to finish. It concerns love and hate, lies and truth(s), fertility and (assumed) infertility, change and constancy,  suicide and survival, desire and jealousy, all largely set against a backcloth of the lead up to – and then the reality of – the Second World War.

I used the word 'largely' in the sentence above because the novel begins in 1975 but has very long flashbacks to the war years. This is done in what could be called an epistolary format, although the letters are frequently so long that this doesn't read at all like a conventional epistolary novel.

Le Confident is thickly plotted with four voices, although two of these are in effect ventriloquized by one of those four. Camille lives in 1975 and her voice has a non-serif typeface, whereas while Louis physically exists in the same year he is particularly mentally preoccupied with the years between 1939 and 1943 and his voice is indicated by a serif typeface. Louis – in the same typeface – repeats two long sections using what he remembers of the words of his dead lover Annie. Finally – also in the same typeface  there is the long uninterrupted voice of Camille's dead mother as repeated through Louis again.

Camille's sections are short and mainly appear in the earlier parts of the novel, although they bookend the other voices.

Camille's mother has just died and among the letters of condolence is a long narrative written (he just mentions in passing) by someone called Louis. Louis continues to send passages of his story to Camille, who initially thinks he must be doing so in error. Eventually, though, she comes to realise that Louis is in fact writing about her mother's life, of someone she didn't even know was her mother. And that Camille's biological mother Annie became pregnant by the husband of 'Madame M.' (actually Elisabeth), her 'adopted' mother.

None of the story here would have been possible without Annie and Louis's love for each other, but that's, er, another story. This is a complex novel and it is one hell of a read.

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