Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bex's Bookshelves: Trois femmes puissantes, by Marie NDiaye

It's been a while since I read anything in French, and there's a very good reason for that. It's all so bloody miserable. At least modern French literature is. I say that, I think the miserable novel is something the French have done well for a long time. Have any of you read Zola's L'Assommoir? I had already read La Sorcière and Rosie Carpe by NDiaye and remember quite liking them. They were strange and moving. So when Trois femmes puissantes won the Prix Goncourt in 2009 (usually I avoid anything that wins the Prix Goncourt) I decided this was one to read. And look, a mere two years later, I got round to it.

I do quite like a miserable novel every now again. I actually like, if like is the right word, L'Assomoir. Although generally I prefer my misery leavened with a bit of humour, a bit of wit and irony. Basically, something less French and more Russian. Trois femmes puissantes is a novel that appears to strive for misery in every word. It's about the power of suffering. There's a lot of suffering. And it's very powerful. I suffered reading it. Powerfully. It's beautifully written, though like many French novels I sometimes suspect it of being a triumph of style over content. For me perhaps the most interesting aspect of the novel was the tension created by the characters moving or attempting to move between France and French Africa.

A quote? Go on then. Just one. Just to give you an example of the misery.

Il croyait comprendre, du fond de son désordre, de sa faiblesse, l'insignifiance fondamentale de ce dont il souffrait et, cependant, de cette intuition il était incapable de se servir avec profit, perdu comme il l'était dans les marges de la vraie vie, celle sur laquelle chacun a le pouvoir de peser.

And because I wouldn't want those of you who don't speak French to miss out:

He believed he understood, from the depths of his turmoil, of his weakness, the fundamental insignificance of what he was suffering and yet, he was incapable of making any profitable use of this intuition, lost as he was in the margins of real life, on which everyone has the right to make their mark.

Happy weekend everyone!


  1. Were there any dirty jokes in it?

  2. Sounds like a barrel of laughs. I admire you for reading it - so that I don't have to! I prescribe a PG Wodehouse to counteract the misery.

  3. MiK, I like it, straight to the heart of the matter. And Joo, that's me, readin' the highfalutin' so you don't have to. Bx


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