What immediate force of recognition! Cry us a river. No practical recourse, and, worse, no emotional recourse. And that her husband is actually fucking her little sister? The trouble is that Elisa is completely, utterly besotted by Gilles, regardless.
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Bourdouxhe was a contemporary of Simone de Beauvoir, who praised the novella for its subtle portrayal of the differences between male and female sexuality. An English translation first appeared in , but Daunt Books have given it a new lease of life with this beautiful edition published last year.
Deeply in love with her husband and expecting their third child, Elisa wants little more than to care for her family. In doing so, she strives to maintain as comfortable a home as possible. The opening scenes paint an idyllic picture, full of the simple pleasures of life:. He is leaning out of the window again, his mind at once blank and spinning with small thoughts: Sunday tomorrow…the smell of the soup…the beauty of the flowers in the garden.
Life is sweet. As he watches Elisa bathing his two little naked daughters in the setting sun, he feels at peace. Shortly before the birth of her baby, she begins to experience a vague sense of unease.
Gilles appears unsettled in some way. At first Elisa puts it down to her own condition — after all everything is a little strange when one is heavily pregnant. With her back turned on Giles and Victorine, she rummages through her bag for some money.
One by one she fixed her gaze on some of the objects around her, the things that made up her familiar world, then her eyes lit on her own hands as they closed the bag, and she saw they were trembling. Precisely at that moment Elisa knew that behind her back there was another world, a world that was complicated, threatening, unknown. She felt it to be so and she was certain she was not mistaken; she was also certain that it was absolutely essential not to turn round suddenly and confront it.
She realises that something is going on between Gilles and Victorine, but rather than addressing it directly, she chooses to remain silent and wait. Even though she is tormented by the thought of the affair, she follows Gilles when he goes out unexpectedly certain in the belief that he must be meeting Victorine. With each new discovery, Elisa hovers between a desperate fear of losing Gilles and a desire to cling to the hope that this phase will pass. And there are the nights, indistinguishable from each other, when Gilles is asleep but her suffering keeps her wide awake.
She moves her hands towards him, runs them over his skin, leans close to his face very quietly, so as not to wake him: she sniffs out unfamiliar smells on him like a ferreting cat. At times, Elisa wonders if she should speak frankly to Gilles or to Victorine, to intervene in some way, but she is afraid of losing her husband. Even though the marriage is hanging by a thread, Gilles still comes home to Elisa. Unable to talk to her sister or to confide in her mother, Elisa turns to the church for guidance.
But in place of the comfort and advice she so desperately seeks, she is told to face the trials that God has sent her way. When Gilles finally opens up and confesses, Elisa finds herself in the role of confidante advising her husband on his relationship with Victorine.
La Femme de Gilles can be easily read in two or three hours, but this story has the potential to linger in the mind for much longer. In contrast to her honourable, respectable sister, Victorine is rather capricious — a flirtatious creature who retains her angelic demeanour throughout the whole affair.
One could describe her as thoroughly amoral. For Victorine is one of those creatures who have no consciousness of their actions: she parades her irresponsibility throughout her life. One day, simply because Gilles was there, perhaps because it was rather too hot, her flesh desired that man, and she took him. So what? Nothing more in it for Victorine, it stops there. Unconscious offenders are the most dangerous of criminals. Source: personal copy. Lovely review. The examples of the writing you provide, really beautiful.
Thanks, Ali. Great quotes and review Jacqui. The author and book are perviously unknown to me but now I will put it on that list of books to drown under.
Thanks, Brian. Sisters can be so different from one another…. Thanks, Poppy. How timely! There are so many points during the story where she could say something to Gilles, but instead she decides to remain silent.
Are you planning to review She Came to Stay? I hope so. Enjoy the long weekend, plenty of reading time ahead. I usually keep an eye of what Daunt Books is reissuing.
It sounds fascinating, and I like the style of both the prose and the cover,. I also like the look of Sylvia by Leonard Michaels, which came out a month or two ago another stunning cover. I loved the clean, direct prose style. Thanks, Karen. I wondered if this one might be on your radar. The novel is mostly written in the past tense, but the author uses the historic present for several extended passages, particularly the most intense moments.
Yes, a review of the Sagan will follow eventually — I am a little behind….! I think all three characters would drive me a bit crazy with their actions, but from your quotes, it sounds like the upheaval is dealt with rather quietly. Very intriguing, especially with the unhappy ending you hinted at!
Yes, I can understand that! There are times when you just want to intervene to try and set things on a different course. What a fantastic review! And I have been reading a lot of novellas lately. This one is definitely going on my TBR pile! Thanks, Melissa! I would definitely recommend this one. Thanks, John. Knowing that it is her sister, makes it seem that much more awful…. II like the subtle way you managed that without giving too much away.
Kudos to the publisher for keeping the French title, and how nice to discover that Daunt is more than just a book retailer I took a look at the publishing arm site — beautiful editions indeed! I liked The Good Soldier very much — it made my end-of-year highlights last year. Are you planning to review it? She wanted to convey the dual meaning as Elisa has to be both woman and wife of Gilles.
But once Gilles and Victorine begin their affair, Elisa is no longer his woman and his wife in name only. And I love their bookshops — the one in Marylebone is dangerously close to the place one of my clients uses for business meetings! I know though that it made an impression at the time. I loved the mood of this.
Yes, I loved the mood as well. It has been translated by the same translator, Faith Evans. I read this after seeing the film which is recommended btw. I have a thing about the book-film connection. I wish more of her work was translated.
No worries, Guy. WordPress notifications can be a bit flaky every now and again! I think I may have missed out on some posts this week as well. Anyway, sounds as though the DVD is well worth a look — thanks for that. Did you review La Femme de Gilles? This sounds remarkably interesting — though I fear you are yet another blogger with designs on sending my TBR even more out of control than it currently is. I liked this novella very much. That sounds simply fantastic, if horribly painful.
Yes, go for this over the Costello, Max. In a different year it would have made my highlights list, but I read so many great books last year that I struggled to find a place for this one. Yes, interesting background on the title — I quite like the fact they kept the French version. Pingback: Marie by Madeleine Bourdouxhe tr. Faith Evans JacquiWine's Journal. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account.
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La Femme de Gilles by Madeleine Bourdouxhe (tr. Faith Evans)
Set among the dusty lanes and rolling valleys of rural s Belgium, La Femme de Gilles is the tale of a young mother, Elisa, whose world is overturned when she discovers that her husband, Gilles, has fallen in love with her younger sister, Victorine. Devastated, Elisa unravels. Just after her novel was first published in , Madeleine Bourdouxhe disassociated herself from her publisher which had been taken over by the Nazis and spent most of World War II in Brussels, actively working for the resistance. Though she continued to write, her work was largely overlooked by history. Read it and rage and then do something. Add to Cart. Also available from:.
La Femme de Gilles by Madeleine Bourdouxhe. Our Assessment: A : beautifully done. Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review 's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole.
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