25 March 2018

Sophie Divry: La Condition pavillonnaire | Madame Bovary of the Suburbs (2014)

Madame Bovary of the Suburbs is not a bad translation of the title for Sophie Divry's La Condition pavillonnaire: the novel itself, in its central and by a long way the longest of  its three parts, quotes Flaubert's Madame Bovary: 'Au fond de son âme, cependant, elle attendait un événement': 'Deep in her soul, though, she was waiting for something to happen.'

La Condition pavillonnaire is concerned with the life story of the fictitious M.A., from a young child until her death: the first part takes us through her schooldays and university in Lyon up to her marriage to François; the second with her boredom with the marriage, her bourgeois existence and her extra-marital affair with Philippe from work, whose severing of the relationship due to his promotion to Cergy with his wife and children leaves her devastated; and in the third part we see her doing a number of other things to try to fill in the gaps in her existence, try to heal her: charity work, psychiatry, yoga, acupuncture, etc, until she's a widow with grandchildren and will soon die.

Almost throughout, apart from the few occasions when 'vous' is used for the family in general, M.A. (a distancing 'name' in itself), she's addressed as 'tu', which far from treating her in a familiar fashion almost belittles her, sets her apart, which of course is so true. Sophie Divry used to be a journalist for the monthly Décroissance (meaning 'ungrowth' (the paper is against consumerism)), and there are several instances in the book which give lists of the parts or the functions, for instance, of the car and the washing machine, all of which add to the impression of dehumanisation. And the car's wheels will continue to turn after M.A.'s death, the washing machine will continue to turn, on her death a new buyer will live in the couple's former house, and the cycle of life to death, the bourgeois suburban condition will continue.

No comments: