This is a collection of twenty-five forgotten short stories written over some years following Agota Kristof's exile from Hungary to Switzerland in 1956, and there are a few hints here of her most well-known work, La Trilogie des jumeaux, or The Twins Trilogy.
This is no comfortable read. The atmosphere a number of the stories is often of strangeness, surrealism, anguish, unfulfilled hopes, anxiety, the futility of life, and (desire for) murder, madness, although not suicide. There is paradox, and irony. And there is also an odd anonymity: virtually none of the characters has a name.
The back cover of this edition cites 'Mon père' as 'certainly the most autobiographical' of the collection, although there are beyond any doubt more 'hidden' autobiographical factors at work here: Kristof, for instance, didn't like marriage, and there are three marriages in three stories in particular which stand out outright failures.
Right from the beginning, 'La Hache' plunges us into a murder, in which a woman has summoned a doctor, telling him her husband has fallen on an axe at the side of the bed in his sleep, although the doctor's first thought is to send for an ambulance for the woman herself, who has obviously used the weapon on her husband. In 'L'Invitation' it's the wife's birthday and the husband says that although she'll have to wait until the end of the month to receive a present he can afford, he'll just invite some of his friends round for a meal and drinks, and he'll do all the work for a change. The wife says she'd rather he take her to a restaurant than he bring his friends round, but this is not to be: the wife does all the cooking, in fact everything while her husband and friends have a great time feasting and drinking. At three in the morning the party is over, and as the narrator ironically says, 'The chums have left, the husband snores on the lounge sofa, exhausted, poor thing.' Time for the wife to clear everything away, but before she does the washing up she takes a long look at herself in the mirror.
This is disturbing stuff.
My other posts on Agota Kristof:
Agota Kristof: La Preuve | The Proof
Agota Kristof: Le Grand cahier | The Big Notebook
Agota Kristof: Le Troisième mensonge |The Third Lie