Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Publisher Spotlight Dalkey Archive Press: Review of The Truth About Marie, by Jean-Philippe Toussaint

The Truth About Marie, by Jean-Philippe Toussaint. Published 2010 by Dalkey Archive Press. Translated from the French by Matthew B. Smith.

The Truth About Marie is a short, dense little novel narrated by the former lover of the eponymous Marie, a beautiful woman whose lover dies in her apartment. The narrative follows Marie over several locations and times; the second part takes place before the first, and details the narrator's observations of Marie's relationship with her lover.
Later on, thinking back on the last few hours of that sweltering night, I realized we had made love at the same time Marie and I, but not with each other. At a certain moment in the night-during a sudden heat wave in Paris, for three straight days in the temperature reached thirty-eight centigrade and fell no lower than thirty- Marie and I were making love in Paris in two apartments a mere half mile apart, as the crow files. We couldn't have imagined at the night's start, or later, or at any time for that matter, it was simply inconceivable, that we'd see each other that night....
There is almost no plot; the story, as it is, is entirely about the narrator's fascination with and observations of Marie. There is virtually no dialogue; the book is like an extended interior monologue, with all of the repetitions and personal motifs you'd find in someone's inner thoughts. In the first part, the narrator fascinates over the fact that he and Marie were with their lovers at the same time, in the same building; he lingers over the details of her apartment, her actions but can't get the dead man's name right. The next part takes us to an art exhibition in Japan where Marie met her dead lover.

The last part is the most intense and moving, recounting a fire on the island of Elba, replete with detailed imagery and rhythmic, poetical language. Horses figure prominently in the story; Marie's lover is a racing aficionado and the fire at Elba consumes a stable. Light, real and metaphorical, dominates the story; Toussaint's repetition of certain phrases gives the narrative a musical quality. The Truth About Marie is an unusual but wonderful little gem of a book, highly recommended for readers of literary fiction. Love stories, stories of obsession and erotic fascination may not be unusual but this little book isn't like anything you've read before.

See my interview with Dalkey's John O'Brien here and come back tomorrow for part 3 in this Publisher Spotlight series.

Rating: BUY
The Truth about Marie (French Literature)
by Jean Philippe Toussaint
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FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.