15 December 2015

Michèle Lesbre: Écoute la pluie (2013)

In 2003 an old man smiled at Michèle Lesbre at the Gambetta métro station and then threw himself onto the rails in front of a fast-moving train. This suicide, the reasons of which would never be known to her, haunted her. In 2007 she dedicated her novel Le Canapé rouge to him, although it was not until Écoute la pluie (lit. 'Listen to the Rain') that she was able to write about her traumatic experience, to turn it into fiction.

This is a first person narrative and the narrator's name is only mentioned once: Gisèle Desmaret, which is an obvious corruption of the author's own name. Gisèle no longer lives with her unnamed partner, who now lives in Nantes, although the pair still appear to see each other regularly, although it is only revealed gradually that things may not quite be as they were with the pair, and when the narrator claims that the absence makes the two more fond of each other she is evidently using what Sartre referred to as mauvaise foi: self-deception.

The whole book is addressed to her lover as 'tu', although ironically she may never reveal the contents to him, which are in fact her thoughts after seeing the old man kill himself. She had in fact been waiting to catch a train to meet her partner in a hotel they had often used during an earlier stage of their relationship. But the suicide severely disturbs her, causes her to wonder around Paris in the rain most of the evening and night and not try to get in touch with her lover to tell him what is wrong with her, as she is incapable of explaining.

She does explain her problems to Irène, a long-term friend, although she announces the suicide to many others at her friend's dinner party in a hopelessly gauche manner: in anger, she stands on a chair and says: 'This evening I saw a man throw himself under the métro, he smiled at me and jumped.'

The short novel sees the narrator mulling over the past, her relationship with her lover. One of the main themes is communication, the inability of words to convey their meaning. Her partner is a professional photographer and tries to show significations through images, which causes the narrator to see similarities between different things, such as the smiling old man and an old photo her lover took of a man smiling while lying asleep on a seat on the métro. The whole narrative seems like a subterfuge, as if the narrator is taking stock, the death is something of a catalyst for her to question herself on their relationship, they the living must decide on their future. Unable to explain herself any other way, she can only leave a cryptic message on his answering machine: 'Écoute la pluie'.

How can I express my opinion of Michèle Lesbre's novel? Well, let's just say that this is far from the last book of hers that I'll be reading. She writes exquisitely.

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