Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Girl from the Chartreuse – Pierre Péju (2005)

Translated by Ina Rilke from the French original La Petite Chartreuse (2002), The Girl from the Chartreuse is a heart-breaking story about Vollard, a book-seller who accidentally runs over a 10-year old girl with his van. The novel revolves around the three protagonists of Vollard, the little girl Éva and her mother Thérèse. Struck by the accident, Vollard reads fairytales to Éva, who sinks into coma after the accident, in the absence of her mother a rather aimless wanderer who abandons her child in her search for her own identity.

A profoundly moving novel that deals with the themes of life, childhood, loneliness and above all the question of how to accept oneself and understand differences, what struck me the most about the novel was not the story, as much as the sheer poetry of the oeuvre. Pure brilliance shines through every page, as Péju evokes tears with his poetic prose and makes your heart ache at Éva’s situation and Vollard’s loneliness and his pain. Poignant and beautiful, this is a book worth reading.

As the tradition goes, I leave you with an excerpt that has stayed with me even a year after I first read the book. It won’t take a genius to understand why…

"The Verb To Be" was the name of an old bookshop. A murky place, due not to a lack of lighting but to all the nooks and crannies. A deep space with dark,worn floorboards and secluded niches. Books everywhere, spread on tables and upright in rows, thousands of silent observers on wooden shelves.
An ongoing battle between dust and the printed word at "The Verb To Be," cardboard boxes overflowing with books, piles of volumes threatening to topple. Anarchy reigning supreme. Grandiose anarchy. A profusion of genres and titles. A joyous alchemy. It was here that people could drop by any day to procure their reading matter,highbrow or popular, arcane or classis, in exchange for a modest sum.

I rest my case…

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