24 March 2014

Véronique Olmi: Le premier amour (2009)

When Emilie notes that her first lover Dario wants to see her she almost immediately hops into her car and begins the drive from Paris to Genova, Italy. Despite the fact that she's just spent hours preparing for a loving evening celebrating her twenty-five years of marriage to her husband Marc, and despite the fact that she hasn't seen Dario for thirty years and has no idea why he wants to see her.

It's hardly surprising that no one understands what she's up, let alone herself: like Dario, she's now about fifty, although unlike him she has three daughters who have all left home. This is part of the problem: she feels lost, and even tells her eldest – Zoé – that Dario is the only man she's ever loved. Unsurprisingly, Zoé walks away from her mother in disgust, and Emilie at least has the honesty to admit that she'd have done that same.

Emilie meets Zoé on the journey down because Zoé lives in Marseilles and guesses that her mother will pay a visit to Christine (Emilie's sister who has Down's syndrome) in a home not far from Aix-en-Provence, the town where Emilie spends the night. This is the last of a series of meetings that Emilie has made on her way to Italy, although the others have been with strangers, and have had a weirdness that seems to indicate an almost allegorical significance, although that's clearly not intended.

When Emilie arrives at Dario's wealthy home she's surprised to be greeted by Giulietta, his wife of twenty years: something's made Dario lose his memory and Giulietta – who's discovered some diaries that her husband wrote about his obviously enduring memories of Emilie – hopes that her presence will be able to jog his mind out of its amnesia.

Alas, this is fruitless, and attempts to reconstruct the cause of the trauma only worsen things considerably. Dario had grown very attached to Malika, a ten-year-old daughter of illegal immigrants who was a kind of daughter substitute he used to regularly give presents to. But one day when he's trying out his new car the sun gets in his eyes and he hits the young girl, who dies a few days later. Two years after the trauma reconstruction Dario's grief kills him.

This is a very quick read – despite the 278 pages – and frequently a gripping one, but it expects far too much credence on the part of the reader, particularly with the primum mobile. Er, so in preparation for the wedding anniversary celebration Emilie goes to the cellar to fetch a bottle of wine and finds it wrapped up in a copy of Libération, from which she reads a message apparently from her ex-lover telling her to go to his home in Italy, which is exactly what she does. And for some reason Giulietta chooses to leave just one message in a left-leaning newspaper in the hope that Emilie will see it. Umm. These days of course, people simply go to Facebook or Twitter, etc, but we know she's tried Facebook (which Emilie doesn't have an account with) and anyway that would ruin the plot, letting Emilie (and of course the reader) know in advance what would happen when she arrived in Genova. Modern technology continues to make things difficult for authors, which is obviously why Emilie conveniently forgets her phone. The major problem is that it's all too contrived, all so unbelievable.

And why, Livre de Poche, do you show a photo of a much younger woman in the rear view mirror on the cover? Rhetorical question of course.

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