Michèle Roberts. Bloomsbury, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-1-60819-771-2
The parochial prejudices of two provincial towns, Ste.-Marie and Ste.-Madeleine, and by extension France itself, are brilliantly revealed in this uncompromising novel of WWII ignominy and grief from Roberts, whose novel, Daughters of the House, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Marie-Angèle Blanchard and Jeanne Nérin both attend the school run by the local rectory, but the similarities end there. Marie-Angèle, a callous, reflexive Catholic with the proper petit-bourgeois background, weds a corrupt notable and black marketeer who extorts Jews during the war, and she eventually achieves wealth and status and gives birth to seven children. Jeanne, a penniless Jew who works as a maid in a bordello frequented by German soldiers, is ostracized and publicly humiliated, as a “disgrace to womanhood,” after the war despite her Resistance activities, and forced to abandon her child. Lavish descriptions are the author’s trademark. A mere couch will never surface in Roberts’s world: “the pink brocade sofas were fat and plush. Cosy armfuls you’d call them if they were girls. They lolled about the room sleepily, brazen and half-bare, their covering tasseled shawls, gypsy bright, slipped to the floor.” Mostly, Roberts’s polished, ornately wrought prose adds depth and a sense of acute realism to her captivating story—which flows seamlessly between the protagonists as they take turns narrating this accomplished and inspired novel of wartime France. Agent: Ayesha Karim, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/22/2012
Release date: 01/22/2013
Hardcover - 240 pages - 978-1-4088-1600-4
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-1-4088-3115-1
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