Violette's Embrace

Michele Zackheim, Author
Michele Zackheim, Author Riverhead Hardcover $23.95 (0p) ISBN 978-1-57322-036-1
Reviewed on: 07/29/1996
Release date: 08/01/1996
Paperback - 213 pages - 978-1-57322-608-0
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Violette Leduc is an all-but-forgotten writer whose work was enormously respected by her contemporaries, French intellectuals and writers like Sartre, Cocteau and de Beauvoir. According to Zachheim's first novel, which might more accurately be described as a fusion of creative biography and fictional autobiography, Leduc was a neurotic, possessive woman, who, for example, spent much of WWII in Paris's Cafe de Flore spying on Simone de Beauvoir, who wrote there daily. Leduc wrangles her way into the feminist's life; and into an obsessive ""friendship"" which for Leduc involves a great deal of hysterical crying. The narrative is told by Leduc's nameless biographer, a contemporary middle-aged woman who has gone to Paris to do research and interview one of Leduc's closest friends, Lili Jacobs. Most of the book's plot involving Leduc takes place within the past-tense brackets of Lili Jacobs's memories, as Jacobs and the biographer meet and talk in such Parisian landmarks as Les Deux Magots. The biographer, who, like Zackheim, lives in New Mexico and is a visual artist, expresses her strong empathy with Leduc's belief that ""My ugliness will set me apart until I die,"" as well as with the writer's extraordinary vulnerability and her beautiful literary rendition of it. Overall, this is a quiet, moderately well-written book, with occasional flashes of fascinating material--such as when Leduc, after achieving critical and commercial success in the 1960s, self-consciously interviews Brigitte Bardot for Vogue. (The biographer compares this event with a childhood dinner she had with Marilyn Monroe.) But the often dry, biography-style prose never quite brings to life either the strange, fascinating Leduc or the biographer who so closely identifies with her. (Sept.)
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