28 April 2017

Pierre Combescot: Les Filles du Calvaire (1991)

Pierre Combesot's Les Filles du Calvaire (winner of the Prix Goncourt in 1991, the year of publication) weighs in at four or five hundred pages, depending on the edition. It's in a sense a modern re-working of a nineteenth century novel, filled with many characters, impossible to sum up in terms of plot in a few paragraphs, more Zola than Balzac, although with many digressions, leaps back into time, covering around fifty years of the first part of the twentieth century.

Les Filles du Calvaire is the name of a (real and still extant) métro station opposite the Cirque d'hiver, and close by there's an imaginary café, les Trapézistes, where the central character Madame Maud (formerly the Jewish Rachel Aboulafia, with great exotically-stockinged legs) presides over a group of circus performing clients, freaks (if I can still use that word without being condemned for political incorrectness), pimps, prostitutes (both male and female), crooks, nude dancers, etc.

We whizz back to Rachel's parents and grandparents, from Tunisia to PACA, then onto Nazi Paris and after, all of this in a slang which many might find difficult to cope with, hence the paucity of reviews of the book. The Jewish mythological figure Litith? Certainly she's there in prominence. Translation of this book into English? I can't see one, although that might in many respects be a positive because I hate to think of the mess that could be made of this amazing book.

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