DH: After I saw Claude Chabrol’s Comedy of Power, I decided that I would see Isabelle Huppert in anything. That turned out not to be true. And never mind what American distributors do when they translate French film titles into English. It’s as if they deliberately want to distort the meaning of the original title.
The point of mentioning Chabrol is that French film, which I love, was the angle of vision that I used to get into Herve Le Tellier’s Enough About Love. So stop reading here if you’ve never seen Erich Rohmer’s Pauline at the Beach. But if you like Rohmer, or Chabrol, or Truffaut, then you’ll probably love this book. And see Pauline at the Beach if you haven’t. That’s as good a place as any to start appreciating this particular brand of French brilliance.
If Herve le Tellier was served to me on a plate, I’d eat him. I’d like to fly to Paris and beg him to have dinner with me so I could have three or four hours of urbane conversation. It would be like walking onto the set of my own personal My Dinner with Andre.
Take the scene where the text leaps into double columns. Stan knows that his wife Anna has taken a lover, a writer named Yves, whose work he knows nothing about. He finds out that Yves is giving a reading at a museum as part of a group covering the “politically correct” theme of “foreigness”.
So Stan goes to the reading to check Yves out. Why double columns? The first column is Yves dry as dust lecture on the 300 or so meanings of the word “l’etranger” Incidentally, there is no French equivalent (apparently) for the distinctions in English between “foreigner”, “stranger” and “alien”. French just has “l’etranger”. I learned that from Yves’ lecture.
The second column is what Stan thinks about the usurper, running parallel to the delivery of the lecture. Stan sees that Yves is not as good looking as he thought he would be, nor as young. But then Stan gets to thinking about why he never took to writing himself and maybe he could now. And don’t tell me that you’ve never gone to a reading and wondered about being the writer on the platform. So Stan is feeling complexly inadequate, both as a husband and in his vocational choices.
Stan had arrived at the reading late, securing a seat in the back thanks to a sympathetic usher. The same usher now asks Stan why he is leaving the reading so early, before Yves has finished. But we know why Stan is leaving.
Anna’s also a snare of complexity once she decides to cheat on her husband. A best friend advises her to keep her house brand of soap at her lover’s place. That’s so she won’t smell of her lover or a strange apartment once she gets home. Anna soaping up thoroughly in Yves bathroom after sex is a memorable image. But it’s the human comedy. After Anna gets home she takes yet another shower. That’s because she may be arriving home smelling like she’s just taken a shower. So she takes a second shower at home to cover her tracks.
Le Tellier has a nice observation about when Anna first goes to her lover’s apartment. She’s impressed that Yves is living so well. LT remarks that if it had turned out that Yves was living in a dump, then she she could have felt more comfortable in rejecting him. She wanted his poverty to make him unthinkable. Like: what kind of life could you offer my children?
There’s another pair of lovers. Thomas is Anna’s analyst. But Thomas is carrying on an affair of his own with Louise, an ambitious lawyer who’s also married. The chapter title pairing of names is a geometry of love affairs and spouses. So we have “Anna and Thomas”, “Thomas and Louise”, “Anna and Yves”, “Anna and Stan” and most other combinations you can think of.
This helps you help track of all the complexity since you know by the title pairing who each chapter is going to focus on. And once in a while there’s a chapter named after just one character.
There’s a wicked scene where Louise and Thomas are taking her two daughters on an outing. They stop at a waffle stand. Thomas treats the kids and gently wipes a coating of sugar off the lips of Judith, the oldest. This is an outrageous image: how dare he be so proprietary, as the lover, with some other father’s child! Judith asks if Mom is leaving their father to be with this guy. Louise explains that she used to love their father but it will no longer work out. So yes, they are going to be with Thomas instead. I’m masking over what was actually said. This conversation is sweeter than I am letting on. Judith’s reaction? She asks for another waffle.
In Adriana Hunter’s gifted translation, the English sounds French in spirit even though it’s perfectly fluent English. With its delicious gossip, this story offers all the guilty pleasure that you would like in its 228 pages. Just when you’ve had enough of it, it’s over. Enough about love. It’s on sale on February 8th from Other Press, which makes a habit of presenting us with literature in translation.