14 November 2013

Véronique Ovaldé: Les Hommes en général me plaisent beaucoup (2003)

Les Hommes en général me plaisent beaucoup (literally 'In general I Really Like Men') is a strange, rather uninviting name for a novel, but this is a highly readable book.

I would almost call this first person narrated novel experimental in that it consists of many different sections that mix different times, creating a jigsaw that slowly reveals its content. And the way in which it is written – in vast, comma- and dash-strewn sentences – mirrors the troubled mind of the protagonist.

Lili has every reason to have a troubled mind. She is fourteen when her mother – who for years has protected her and her four-year-old brother from the insanity of her neo-Nazi father (who even calls his wife 'Eva B.' during sex) – dies from a mixture of exhaustion and hopelessness.

Le vieux (as Lili calls her father, although there is not the lop-sided respect in that title that exists in the English expression 'the old man') is a tyrant and leaves his kids to fend for themselves for whole weeks, changing the telephone number and leaving the front door of the flat open but filling his children with huge exaggerations of the terrors of the outside world and leaving them without a key so that they are afraid to ever leave the flat.

When Lili tries to hang herself by the light fixture it crashes down on her, but leaving a small gap in the ceiling that inevitably leads to the tenants above enquiring as to the kids' welfare, which leads to Lili meeting and forming a relationship with the tenants' friend, the enormous lemantin (sea cow) Yoïm. Yoïm not only sexually abuses the consenting Lili (in fact commits statutory rape in American law) a great number of times, but (wholly without her consent) he hires her out to a 'client', gets her commit a bungled burglary, she takes the rap and ends up in a compulsory 're-education centre'.

That's where Samuel comes in. He's a teacher but he spends his Saturdays visiting the centre. He is a good husband who has fallen in love with Lili and given her a completely different – ostensibly happy – life. But all Lili feels for him is gratitude, and when Yoïm returns on the scene she is re-attracted to him. But then, Lili is a very disturbed young 23-year-old, and much of her life is spent in dreams. Those zoo animals she keeps talking about, for instance, are surely only of symbolic significance aren't they: freedom and imprisonment, etc.

There are several similarities between this book and Ovaldé's other novel I reviewed a few years ago (and give a link to below), Ce que je sais de Véra Candida: an abused young woman who takes flight from her home, who lives with an essentially good man, and who returns (albeit with a difference) to her abuser. And the very long, comma-filled sentences. But I enjoyed this one more than Véra Candida, possibly because of those very similarities.

Véronique Ovaldé: Ce que je sais de Vera Candida (2009)

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