Friday, April 04, 2014

Book review: Viviane (a novel)

With thanks to Jed who thought I'd like this novel.

Take a deep breath before you get on this ride.  The twists and turns come fast, and the trip is short, but memorable, with moves that made me gasp.  So short, it's almost more of a novella, and that's good because a ride like this is compelling for hours; I'm not sure I'd want to be on long journey.  

Viviane is dark and mysterious, the psychologically-laden plot pulls the reader along quickly, and if that's what you're looking for, stop here before I move you to plot spoilers.  It's a first novel by Julia Deck, translated from the original French by Linda Coverdale.

Very quickly, we learn about Viviane.  She is 42 years old and she has a 12 week old daughter, a peaceful baby who seems to never want for very much.  Viviane is the public relations officer for a concrete company, and her husband Julien can no longer stand being married to her; he's having an affair and "it isn't even from love but from despair."  He wants to leave, he needs air, but instead, Viviane leaves and moves into her own apartment.  Then she goes to see her psychoanalyst and kills him.  We are now on page 8.

The circumstances that led up to the murder of the psychiatrist are described.  Viviane was struggling.  Something needs to be done, I can't take it anymore.  Doctor, you're not listening to me.  He is insensitive, he implies that her problems are her own fault.  You'll take these pills for a few months, you know, the antidepressants, plus the ones for when your nerves give way, they help stabilize the hysteria.  She stabs him and leaves, taking the knife with her.

Viviane then proceeds to stalk, meet, and talk with those suspected of murdering the psychiatrist: his pregnant lover, his widow (who lives with her own lover), a young patient with a history of violence.  She doesn't just stalk the patient, she sleeps with him.  We learn about how her husband's lover was the woman who took her job while she is on maternity leave, how jealousy strikes her, and how she can't let go of dead mother's apartment.  All the while, Viviane is searching, and the reader (or this reader, anyway) waits to understand what could have motivated her to commit murder.  She is not, it seems, delusional. But Viviane arranges to meet Julien, and she stands back and watches him, not letting him know she is there.  This is her end, her part from sanity, and she lands in a hospital, where she confesses to the murder.  She is moved to another facility, one for longer term care, and oddly, the baby goes with her.   Oh, but the end comes with a jarring twist, and all we thought we knew was not to be, the entire landscape shifts from under us. 

That is the thing with this novel, it is constantly shifting.  The language is dark and we feel a distance from Viviane who remains an unknowable person, even as we move closer to know more of her, then farther away to see she is truly a stranger.  As we move in and out,  the point of view constantly shifts: at one moment the story is being told in first person singular, and the next moment it shifts to third person, or even second person.  In French it must be more intriguing, because there is the second person pleural, or formal, tense, one that can't be bridged in the translation to English. (Reviewer's note: finally!  Those years of college French I sat through, that evaporated from my brain no sooner than I left the classroom, have finally served some purpose.)  This constant movement feels odd, quirky, and most unusual.  It parallels the ever-shifting sense of reality that the book creates, where we don't know whose story it is, what truth is to be had, or where it will all stop.  A truly unique ride.