Thyde Monnier (1987–1967) – a writer I discovered when in Marseille and on visiting Allauch, where she spent five years with her first husband – left a large body of work on the sights, smells, tastes and characters of Provence. Grand-Cap is the first novel in a six-part series Les Desmichels, the others being Le Pain des pauvres, Nan le berger, La Demoiselle, Travaux and Le Figuier stérile.
I found the book rivetting but a little uneven, and initially infuriating dense, so difficult to get into because of the various generations peopled by so many names (I'm terrible with family trees), although eventually the deluge calmed and I could tell, er, the wood from the trees, although that's after a number of deaths a little way in. All this is evidently because Monnier had to some (maybe a large?) extent got the saga figured out in her head if not on paper.
This novel is slightly related through memory, and that largely through Arnaude's memory. Arnaude was the beautiful daughter of the (knife)grinder, an occupation considered lower than the dust, especially by the nouveau-riche (by marriage) father of Antoine, who will do anything to prevent the 'mésalliance'. Including severing him from any entitlement to his inheritance.
Nevertheless Antoine marries Arnaude, has three sons by her, a relatively brief but hard and poverty-stricken existence rich in love, but – wood here again – dies while working in the tree-cutting business. Anyway, World War I sees off one son, although the second, Félicien, just disappears. Until he returns again in secret (as a deserter) although he too soon dies, but not before unknowingly giving his younger brother a huge interest in sex.
Ollivier is a sixteen-year-old who's been excited by the nymphomaniac Nine's sexual activities with Félicien, and soon his enthusiasm in sex leads her to have him go for some time to a hotel in Toulon, where she visits him every few days for sex. But what's going on here, as Ollivier doesn't want to spend his time as a pimp, he wants to be a sailor, and his mother Arnaude, who's she?
Thyde Monnier in Allauch