cover image Swimming in Paris

Swimming in Paris

Colombe Schneck, trans. from the French by Lauren Elkin and Natasha Lehrer. Penguin Press, $27 (240p) ISBN 978-0-593-65593-1

French author Schneck’s beautiful English-language debut traces the development of her central character, also named Colombe, through childhood, adolescence, and mature womanhood. In the first of three sections, set in 1984, Colombe accidently gets pregnant at 17 by her first lover, a boy in her class named Vincent, and faces personal fallout after having an abortion. The second part focuses on Colombe and her best friend Héloïse as they come of age in Paris. Héloïse is from old French money; Colombe, the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and the daughter of left-wing doctors, is nouveau riche. In a depiction emblematic of the bourgeois liberalism of those born in the wake of the May 1968 student uprisings in Paris, the girls are taken by their families to the opera and attend classes to perfect their British accents and their tennis strokes; they never go to shopping malls or borrow books from the library. In the final section, set in 2020, Colombe undertakes a heartfelt examination of the great love affair she’s recently had with a man named Gabriel, whom she met when they were children, and of how perfecting her swim strokes allows her to release her fear of life’s uncertainties. This is a gorgeous meditation on the vagaries of being alive. Agent: Susanna Lea, Susanna Lea Assoc. (May)