8 September 2016

Christian Oster: Dans le train (2002)

Dans le train, published a year after Une femme de ménage, also has an odd young woman as the central point of focus, and the unmistakable imprint of the previous book is on this: the obsessing about tiny psychological factors, should he say, or do, this or that, or why has she said or done this or that? The minutiae of apparently unimportant actions take on a huge importance for Frank, the first person narrator.

It all starts while waiting for a train: Frank has decided to go on a day trip to Rouen, although he has no plans as to what he's going to do there. He sees that a young girl is holding a bag which looks heavy: maybe she doesn't want to put it down for fear of soiling the bottom. Frank therefore decides to play the gallant card and offers to relieve her of her weight. Just like that: he doesn't say he fancies the girl of anything else, he just does it.

And he puts the bag on the luggage rack for her and asks if he can sit next to her, which he can, although Anne says she's not much of a talker, although it turns out she is, and they have a conversation for an hour until the train stops at (the fictional) town of Gournon, where they have to change for Rouen, where Anne is also going. But Anne doesn't want Frank to carry her bag anymore as she says she's meeting her sister at the station and doesn't want to be seen with a man.

Frank, however, hides in the shadows and watches Anne wait for twenty minutes until she leaves the station and goes to a hotel. He decides he'll go there too: after all, they're both supposed to be going to Rouen but neither of them is doing so that day. And Frank's suspense regarding the young girl is such that he knocks on the hotel room doors until he finds Anne, who is surprised and not too happy to find Frank in the doorway, although she doesn't seem too bothered about what amounts to a virtually unknown man tracking her down. She doesn't let him in though.

Then Frank, who hasn't been carrying a bag or anything, realises that he must seem a little dirty to Anne: she may have guessed (incorrectly, of course) that he has a fold-up toothbrush in one pocket, but his other one surely isn't bulky enough to hold a pair of underpants. (There's no mention of a clean shirt or pair of socks.) So he goes out to just buy new underpants (although there's no further mention of a toothbrush, fold-up or otherwise).

On his return Frank finds Anne in the hotel lounge, and she invites him to come to a session in a bookstore, where (the fictional) Marc Soupault is giving a talk. I'll pass up on the details of the talk (which isn't much of one anyway) and move on to later that evening, when a rather distressed Anne appears on Frank's doorstep in a bathrobe which she hasn't bothered to fasten properly. She says Marc has just 'taken' her, but that's not it – the correct word is 'fucked', and Frank can 'take' her if she wishes. Frank is slightly gladdened that Anne has used the word 'taken' for him, but like Anne he admits that he doesn't want to indulge in sex either.

That's the story so far, and if the reader is expecting all ends neatly tied up at the finish of the book, to discover what Anne's relationship with Marc really was, then he or she hasn't encountered Christian Oster before. I'll just say they go to see Anne's sister in Rouen (she actually exists) and that there's a very satisfying orgasm on the train going, but that's just the beginning. Yes, Oster's books are a must.

My other posts on Christian Oster:

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Christian Oster: Une femme de ménage

Christian Oster: Rouler
Christian Oster: Le Cœur du problème

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