On the face of it this should be a fascinating read: Albertine Sarrazin, famous for her criminal activities and for escaping from Doullens, breaking a bone in her ankle, being rescued by an ex-con (Julien Sarrazin) who finds several planques for her, plus the very interesting novelised version of her exploits in L'Astragale, the astragal being the ankle bone in question. And both novels were translated, although not, it seems, her third: La Traversière.
Unfortunately I didn't like this novel, over five hundred pages of tiny print to reveal what exactly? There haven't been many novels set entirely (well, almost) in prison, and obviously what we're reading here is very close to the reality of the prison life that Albertine Sarrazin –here called Anick – must have experienced. That's a plus, as are the many slang expressions that add a rich colour to the book, and most of which in their time must have been culled from prison life. So, a realistic depiction certainly, and certainly the boredom is more than adequately conveyed. And that's the problem: it's so well conveyed that the reader – well, this one at least – is bored too.
The book is divided into three more or less equal parts relating to the different penal institutions in which they're set, although they all tend to merge into one. We have the dirt, the endless waiting, endless hopes of escape and/or being released, the many letters bringing hope, the chores, the cups of coffee, the subferfuges, the chumminess of the inmates, the smoking and saving of nub ends, the reading and card games of belote to kill time, etc, etc. The monotony is sometimes broken with the occasional celebration, buying beer from the prison shop, or when Anick is allowed out to marry Zizi (Julien) and gets drunk, but there is nowhere near enough variety to same the novel. Which is very sad.
My Albertine Sarrazin posts:
Albertine Sarrazin: La Cavale | Runaway
Jacques Layani: Albertine Sarrazin : une vie
Albertine Sarrazin: L'Astragale | Astragal
Albertine Sarrazin in Doullens, Somme