7 September 2016

Christian Oster: Une femme de ménage | Cleaning Woman (2001)

My first Christian Oster, and certainly not my last. I think it's true to say that I've never disliked any author published by Minuit: often disturbing, edgy, inventive, gripping in a superior way, challenging, unusual, etc. Most of those adjectives fit Une femme de ménage.

The narrative is in the first person and we have access to the finest (equals minutest) thoughts Jacques has, and he has a great number of thoughts, many of them obsessive but not in a deranged fashion. But the whole thing remains very odd, and the fact that we know the ending is more or less inevitable doesn't in any way detract from the interest.

Jacques is in his fifties and his wife Constance has left him for six months, in which time Jacques has let the housework slide so feels it necessary to employ a cleaning woman. But he soon employs Laura to work for four hours on Mondays while he's at work. Laura is a beautiful girl of about twenty-five who doesn't really seems to have much experience of her work, but Jacques doesn't say anything to her even though she seems to have some kind of allergy to vacuum cleaners, or possibly doesn't know how to use one. But Jacques says nothing of his complaints, although he does mention that Laura could actually lift the objects she's just cleaning around the mantel-piece.

Not that this inferferes with the general plot, though, which shows Jacques also employing Laura on Friday (his day off), and Laura is soon desperate to find somewhere to live as her boyfriend's throwing her out. It's only a small apartment, but the gallant Jacques insists Laura sleep in his room while he takes the sofa bed.

This arrangement continues until the night Laura appears at the lounge door in her pyjamas asking if Jacques would like to 'make love' to her. Well, he's a free man, heterosexual and normal(ish), so of course he has no objections. And after a slight hiccup the sex continues. But then Constance (whom Jacques really dislikes) turns up on the doorstep and tells him she loves him and wants to come back.

That does it: Jacques has to flee, so he asks his (not too close, but...) friend Ralph to put him up for a week. (Ralph's real name is Raphaël, only Jacques doesn't know that, least of all that Constance gave him this name and was sexually involved with him – but that's a different story.) Ralph in fact puts them up for at least twelve days, by which time Laura has found a new lover and whose mother (surely just one of Laura's lies) seems to think that Laura is Jacques's father.

My other posts on Christian Oster:

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Christian Oster: Dans le train

Christian Oster: Rouler
Christian Oster: Le Cœur du problème

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