As you would expect from the existentialist king there are characters here that don’t feel the need to express their feelings because after all why should they and different characters get asked to reveal their thoughts, which they are always loathed to do. But the big theme that seems to be emerging is an obsession with age. For those of us over 30 the bad news is that we are old and youth has passed us by. For those in their mid twenties the message seems to be grab it while you can because time is running out.
Bearing in mind the book is set in France in 1938 with the Spanish Civil War raging, and the lead character had wanted to go and fight there and the book starts with a beggar handing over a postcard from Madrid there is a sense of youthful innocence about to be crushed.
Bullet points between pages 1 – 70
* Mathieu Delarue is a philosophy teacher that is broke and on his way to visit Marcelle a woman he seems to have a slightly odd relationship with because she is both ill and also mainly housebound
* After undressing in her pink seashell resembling room she reveals that she is pregnant and in response Mathieu starts to plan for an abortion and heads off to check out an old woman that has been recommended to Marcelle
* He doesn’t like that option and plans to visit his friend Sarah and ask her advice and borrow money from his friend Daniel to pay for the operation but the only contact Sarah knows is going to cost 4,000 francs
* Meanwhile the brother and sister Boris and Ivich are revealed with the former obsessed about his life dripping away at the age of 25 and finding little consolation with his singer lover who is in her early 40s and desperate for confirmation of his love
* Ivich turns out to be an odd woman who doesn’t like to be touched, is a hypochondriac and has the ability to annoy Mathieu but is fearful that having failed her exams she will be packed off back to the country and her parents
* With the burden of the pregnancy over him Mathieu starts to crave the freedom he has always wanted to be kept intact from the age of sixteen when he first thought about what he wanted from life:
“He had said to himself: ‘I will be free.’ Or rather he hadn’t said anything at all, but that was what he wanted to say and it was in the nature of a bet: he had made with himself that his whole life should be cast in the semblance of that unique moment.”
* Meanwhile back at Marcelle’s house she is thinking about the illicit friendship she has with Daniel, how she might feel about being a mother and whether or not she would hate Mathieu for forcing her to have an abortion
The whole sense of youth/age birth and death runs through the first seventy pages but at the same time there is of course a story developing about characters that want in their own way to be loved and to be free. How that develops will become more apparent tomorrow…