Lydie Salvayre. Dalkey Archive Press, $12.5 (119pp) ISBN 978-1-56478-349-3
A longtime secretary at a French marketing firm is sent gradually over the edge by the newly arrived competition in French novelist Salvayre's (The Company of Ghosts) bitterly comic 1999 novel. After 32 years of service, the loyal, widowed Madame Suzanne Barette can barely endure the vulgar, blowsy new blond secretary. Madam Barette's diaristic diatribes form the book's short chapters; she prides herself on being restrained, even fanatically polite, especially when crossed by her resentful daughter, gossiping apartment neighbors and prickly cleaning lady. The new secretary, however, lays bare Barette's position as the anachronism in the office, and reveals her troubled relationship with her married daughter (who hates Barette for her emotional coldness, but married a condescending doctor exactly like her mother). Salvayre marvelously conveys the aged narrator's paranoia and impotence, as well as her grotesquely funny antagonist's bigotry and stupidity. Salvayre's wicked, slender portrayal is cold comfort for cubicle workers of all stripes.
Reviewed on: 10/30/2006