Pomme's father left the family some time before the book begins, and her mother made do as she could: by working in a bar and by selling her body. Her mother later worked in a dairy, and Pomme never graduated from just shampooing in a hairdresser's. She went to Cabourg with her 'friend' Marylène, a girl with dreams way beyond her station, until she leaves Pomme after finding a partner.
One of the reasons Marylène leaves is because Pomme doesn't really act like a friend, doesn't really act like a person – in fact she hardly seems to exist, have any opinions, have a self. If asked to describe Pomme's character, it would be difficult to know what to say.
And yet Pomme finds a partner of sorts, because almost halfway through the book Aimery de Béligné – a student from a different social class to Pomme's – sort of chats her up and takes her for rides along the coast and (although he at first seems reluctant) they become partners, and even live together in Paris, Aimery continuing as a student and Pomme continuing the shampooing.
Until, that is, Aimery decides to leave her because – apart from the fact that they're completely incompatible – Pomme seems to almost worship him, although she doesn't say so, doesn't really say anything, just immerses herself in a world of material objects, whereas of course Aimery is an ideas man, or so he seems to believe. So what could Pomme possibly object to if they split up? Nothing, of course, as Pomme never objects to anything, just accepts. She doesn't have any opinions or ideas about anything does she?
OK, so she returns to her mother but is ashamed of her own body, thinks she's too fat, so doesn't eat and becomes anorexic. Years later Pomme's mother asks Aimery to visit her, in her psychiatric home, where Pomme tells Aimery about the lovers she's had over the years, of the time she went to Greece, Thessalonika to be precise: she doesn't really want to upset Aimery and tell him the truth, does she?
More of a long short story than a novel, La Dentellière (trans. as The Lacemaker) is intriguing, entrancing and very re-readable. There are obviously some influences from the Nouveau Roman – particularly, I think, towards the end when an emaciated Pomme falls in the road and the cars are described in a geometrical fashion that made me think of Alain Robbe-Grillet.
This Goncourt-winning third novel has plagued Lainé for decades because he just views it as an excercice de style, far from the best novel he's ever written, although he is well aware that he'll always be seen as a one-novel guy. This is the impression I had too, although I'll have to give a few of his later novels a try when I come across them. This one I spotted in a Lourmarin (84) vide grenier and snapped up for 50 centimes. I'd avidly read the book some years before, and this time too it far from disappointed me, and Claude Goretta's film of the book – the movie that really set Isabelle Huppert on the path to stardom – is well worth viewing too.