Thursday, 21 October 2010

Penguin no. 1056: The Affairs of Flavie
by Gabrielle Chevallier

Clochemerle by Gabriel Chevallier was such a delightful book, that I thought I would choose another of his books to read this week. This one was called The Affairs of Flavie, and it was also published as one of the 30 Penguins with the unsuccessful full colour covers. It is a very perplexing book; having read it, I’m left asking many questions, and the top of the list is why would Penguin publish it. That would be followed by why the author chose this title. Why name the book after an obscure character who disappears by the middle of the book, and whose story is never developed?

You know you are reading the same author. He has the same prejudices, the same focus on understanding people’s characters and motives, and certainly the same obsession with the attractiveness of plump women, and the ugliness of slim women. Then there is the same labouring on the theme that older women who are proud of their virtue are usually in that state because no one wanted to take it from them. He believes that people are generally proud of the character trait that caused them the least trouble, and he certainly seems to believe that the motives of women are limited to passion, jealousy and control. The pleasant ones are always simple-minded and devoted to their men, or their men are worthless and so they are forgivably devoted to their lovers.

The story begins with Flavie, who lives in an apartment in Grenoble in France, and who is bored with her life and her husband, filling her imagination with dreams of a liaison with a man modelled after American movie stars. She is attacked by a friend of her husband, and knocks a vase from her window, killing M. Euffe, a self-made millionaire and grocer, who is making up for lost time by squandering his wealth on his mistress Riri Jumier. The book then follows the consequences of this death upon M. Euffe's immediate family, Flavie, Riri and his business Silken Net. As the years go by, more people are drawn into this circle and we follow their lives too.

This book is the literary equivalent of a soap opera. It exists because it exists; the story is simply a story – it has no direction or purpose, characters are introduced and written out at the whim of the author, and then it just ends. And the ending is the most disappointing part, because there is no climax and conclusion. The story takes an abrupt right turn, we race through the life story of an incidental character, there is a final sentence and the story is over without anything being resolved.

1 comment:

  1. But isn't that a little like life? There is no ending, our part of it just ends and we can genuinely make little sense of it. I often wonder why there are no books I know of (other than as a plot device based on comic misunderstandings) where more than one character has the same name...

    mike owen



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