Monday, February 07, 2011

book review: Taking it to Heart by Marie Desplechin

"The effort of paying them so much attention had worn Granny out. Her face had crumpled and her eyelids had begun to droop, her expression had grown increasingly vague. They left, waving out of the car windows, at once sorry and relieved. Granny waved farewell from the kitchen window. She looked like a princess locked in a tower by a witch, condemned to watch the world through a narrow arrow slit. They had left her exhausted by conversation and wanting to return to her anxious silence."

This collection of short stories takes you into the minds of various female characters and into the lives of several Parisians all with a search for happiness in common.

One of the ways they look for contentment is in the arms of a lover but often that ends in failure but with them almost pre-programmed for love they continue to search for replacements. Most of these characters have children but they stay firmly in the background most of the time. The children seem to be a physical reminder of previous relationships and failures to find lasting love in the past.

But beyond love, which is clearly a dominant theme, there are observations here about the difficulty some women have on finding an identity post-motherhood and post divorce. In Haiku the story follows someone who has never found love and as a result getting married is not only a dramatic change to her personal circumstances but also liberates her from a pigeon-hole her friends have placed her in.

Other stories that stick in the mind include the title one, Taking it to Heart, telling the story of a brother and sister who are going to visit their grandmother. Her experiences include the war and seeing some of the terrors and she has imparted this almost obsessional frankness about death. The events of the war still cast a long shadow and as the old woman herself prepares for death it is her legacy of horror stories that lives on particularly strongly in her grand daughter.

Having read through the stories the sense of a strong voice emerges and can be heard in each story through different characters. Desplechin manages to get the balance just right with the length and content with this stories and as an introduction to her writing it leaves you with a strong desire to go on and read Sans Moi, her novel also published by Granta.


Caroline said...

I love Marie Desplechin and have read a few of her books. I am pleased to see her reviewed. I'm not sure she is well known in the English speaking world. Sans moi is a favourite of mine. Is that the English title as well? I read them in French.

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