31 May 2020

François Taillandier: Anielka (1999)

Below I called Abel Quentin's first novel Sœur a 'state of the nation' novel. Without doubt, François Taillandier's Anielka, published twenty years before and winning the Grand prix du roman de l'Académie française, is in some ways a similar novel of an earlier period in French history, only with a very different group of older people of a rather higher social standing. In Le Figaro Magazine, Étienne de Montety described the novel as 'unique and bizarre', which I first thought an exaggeration, although I now have to agree that Taillandier is (here certainly) 'the spokesman for a world out of kilter, looking for a way out'.

Anielka has a Polish background but was brought up French-speaking, brought up on Corneille's alexandrines. But, as the narrator here says, she can't swim. The narrator is a character here, as he observes his subjects, interrogates them politely, but manipulates them, includes them in his story, which is up to a point postmodern. Anielka is in fact adrift, being unable to relate to others. She has had a relationship with a man which produced their son Quentin, but as she can't adjust to being a mother her lover leaves her for another, taking charge of the child, which suits Anielka. Anielka then has a relationship with the older François, although she won't move in with him as she has a place in the 17th arrondissement that is paid for mainly by inheritance. And then she meets Will.

Will is in the theatre and continually questions Anielka on her past, on her double existence, or the other (Polish) self that she seems to want to hide or at least make light of. But then Will is capricious, leaves Anielka, and she is really cast adrift.

François is the older man, from a modest background but made good, and he is himself cast adrift after Anielka dumps him after Will has dumped her. Whisky will help initially, but he'll recover – unlike Anielka, he can swim. 

Anielka's friend Annick (with her alter ego Aurore, who is Annick's wilder self) is what the French would term 'une allumeuse' (a prick teaser) who likes to turn men on but then complains about the inevitable consequences of men chasing after her. Near the end of the book Anielka has a few days' homosexual relationship with Annick-Aurore, but it was just a kind of experiment, or a need for tenderness.

The reader is constantly reminded of the moment by trade names, or references to the time the book is set, etc. An example: 'The pavement (protected for one hundred metres by barriers preventing cars from stopping, especially those containing a bottle of gas stuffed with old nails)', plus comments about the behaviour of the modern woman. Is Anielka a modern woman? She's left wing (unlike her father), but then as the narrator says:

'The problem in our time is that resistance is archaic: Catholics, communists, monarchists, fascists. The western masses are driven towards the hedonism of the market. Which will kill them, but it doesn't matter.' Umm.


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