Agnes Desarthe, Un secret sans importance (Orig. French, 1996)

I throw in the towel. I wanted to read Desarthe after the awesome collection of Birth stories by contemporary French female authors. Desarthe’s piece was called “Months, Hours and Minutes” and was quite moving. Our local library branch had several novels by Desarthe (she’s quite famous here in France) and I chose at random this “unimportant secret”. But random obviously didn’t work.

I’m not quite an adept of experimental writing. I like to get some things right (the Where-When-Who at least) and I’m very traditionally-minded when it comes to plot. Too much maybe? But I like to discover new styles too, and I want to give a book a fair chance… I went as far as page 100 out of a total of 200 and I still couldn’t understand anything. There are at least 6 main (unrelated) characters who seem to bump into each other at random. What made me stop my endeavor was a 7th main character suddenly thrown into the story around page 100, in the course of a relative sentence. Come on, if this person played such an important role, why not introduce him earlier on? I’ve lost track of any secret in this book, may it be important or not.

I browsed through French lit-blogs to see what I am missing in this book. Some people say that it’s magic, that there is a Jewish atmosphere. I didn’t pick it up at all, because people are just floating around in shapeless surroundings. Some people are as dismayed as I am (so I’m not the only one to have a problem here, at least it’s comforting). Nothing makes me care about the various characters and there’s no such thing as a real story. That’s a few problems I just can’t forgive in a book, unless there’s something else truly exceptional. I’m just no that into avant-garde, maybe I just need a good mystery with nice cardboard characters and a worthwhile secret to discover.

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3 thoughts on “Agnes Desarthe, Un secret sans importance (Orig. French, 1996)

  1. I’m reading one of her novels that has been translated into English called Chez Moi. I think I like it. I wasn’t sure at first, but it’s been growing on me. The main character is sort of prickly. I don’t want to say it’s not the usual sort of book I read, but her style of writing is sort of different than what I’ve been reading lately. She’s sort of philosophical and I keep wondering if this is a particularly French style. Or is there a particular French way of writing (as compared with British or American or Scandinavian or wherever…I always wonder?). It’s also a short novel, so I’ll keep going.

  2. My local library has got this novel. Its original title is Eat Me! It sounds good, and as I don’t want to stay on a bad experience with Desarthe, I think I’m going to try it.
    As for French style, I’m sure there is but it’s very difficult to analyze. In my opinion French novels usually don’t have much action, they can be very abstract and slow as opposed to American novels where things are always going forward. Let me know your feeling when you’ll finish Chez Moi!

  3. I hope to finish the book by the weekend. It definitely has much less action than other novels. You find out about Myriam’s history through her thoughts rather than conversations or the actual occurrences happening in real time. It’s really sort of different than the other books I’m reading, but I find I am really enjoying it, though I think Myriam’s history seems quite sad.

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