11 December 2015

Emmanuel Bove: Cœurs et visages (1928)

Emmanuel Bove (1898–1945) is a half-forgotten writer who has nevertheless become something of a cult to many readers, and his books have been re-published a number of times, such as in this example from Motifs, an imprint of Le Serpent à Plumes. The back cover calls Bove an 'Impitoyable taxidermiste des sentiments humains' (a 'pitiless taxidermist of human feelings'), which I think is an excellent way to describe this book at least (I've only read one other of his novels). Rightly or wrongly, I thought of a male, early twentieth-century Jane Austen.

I won't go on to describe the many characters in this book, I'll just leave a few of my impressions. André Poitou, a noted shoemaker with several branches in Paris and others throughout France, has just received the coveted Légion d'honneur at the age of sixty. He's worked his guts out to build himself up to such a position, seems never to have married or even have played the field, and now feels that his life is just beginning. As he approaches the Hôtel Gallia where over one hundred guests are joining him in his celebration, he anonymously pops into a bar for just one anis to steel him for the experience. He will need it.

In a relatively recent one-paragraph review, L'Express likened the scene that seems about to unfold to Buñuel's movie L'Ange exterminateur, and I confess I felt that a similar climax would occur, although it didn't, in spite of all indications pointing in that direction.

To sum the novel up in a word, this is a tale of pride and prejudice, petty vanities and long-harbored jealousies, all there around the dinner table waiting to explode in an alcoholic haze as many of the ill-chosen guests – who include André's hypocritical doctor friend who isn't a friend at all, plus his younger brother who lives off André's earnings and is a nasty piece of work all round – prepare to take their frustrations out on him. But in the end it just doesn't plan out the way things appear to be headed.

My other posts on Emmanuel Bove:

Emmanuel Bove: Le Piège
Emmanuel Bove: Cimetière du Montparnasse

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