Vivant Denon, , trans. from the French by Lydia Davis. . New York Review Books, $12.95 (63pp) ISBN 978-1-59017-326-8
This slender tale of adultery written in 1777 has been rendered into graceful English by Proust translator Davis. The tale encompasses a breathless night for a 20-year-old aristocrat who is spirited away by Mme. de T— from the opera, where he is waiting on another woman, and taken to the lady’s home outside of Paris. The luxurious chateau belongs to Mme. de T—’s estranged husband, though the husband and wife are apparently “to be reconciled.” The young man realizes he is to entertain the wife after her husband goes to bed, which he does until dawn, when his glorious night is ended by the arrival of the lady’s previous lover, Marquis de —. In his introduction, Peter Brooks says the story is about “the ethics of pleasure,” and while scintillating and theatrical, the storytelling is too saccharine to be satisfying.
Reviewed on: 08/31/2009