Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Confidant by Hélène Grémillon

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Local Library
Read: May 10, 2013

Paris, 1975. While sifting through condolence letters after her mother's death, Camille finds a long, handwritten missive that she assumes came by mistake. But every Tuesday brings another installment from a stranger named Louis, a man separated from his first love, Annie, in the years before World War II. In his tale, Annie falls victim to the merciless plot of a wealthy, barren couple just as German troops arrive in Paris. But also awaiting Camille's discovery is the other side of the story - one that calls into question Annie's innocence and reveals the devastating consequences of revenge. As Camille reads on, she realizes that her own life may be the next chapter in this tragic story.

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Ugh. I had such high hopes for Helene Grémillon's The Confidant, but this book didn't work for me at all. From the first pages I struggled with this one, pushing myself to finish it for the sole purpose of being able to say it didn't kick my ass.

To be fair part the problem has to do with my reasons for picking up the book in the first place. I routinely browse the New Release shelves at my local library and got really excited when I discovered what appeared in part to be a WWII era story set in occupied France. I love the time period and couldn't resist bringing the book home with me. 

Unfortunately the aspects I'd looked forward to the most were largely trivialized. The story is so character driven that the conflict fades to the background. Where I'd hoped for hard hitting historic fiction I got a melodrama set in Paris during the 1930s and 40s. 

Once I realized my error, I tried to to judge the book on what it is rather than what I hoped it would be, but here too I had tremendous difficulty. Despite the provocative situational drama, the characters are extraordinarily thin. I couldn't relate to them which made it practically impossible to rouse much interest in their respective fates. 

The nail in the coffin, however, was the style in which The Confidant is written. I don't know if it suffers the same issues in the original French, but the English translation lacks any sort of transition between character point of view or time period. Honestly I spent half my reading struggling to determine who was talking and to what period of the story their narrative referred. 

I wanted an novel I could get lost in, not one that made me fight for every inch, but that is exactly what I had to do with this book. Not one I enjoyed and one I would be exceedingly hard pressed to recommend. 

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And what if my next breath proved to be my last? Terrified, I held my breath and turned to the statue of Saint Roch, imploring him; he had cured the lepers, so surely he could save me. 
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1 comment:

Marg said...

It's a shame this one didn't work for you.

I often wonder what historical fiction is being published in other countries and what the perspectives are so the chance to read one would have been appealing to me too.