Climates, by Andre Maurois. Published 2012 by Other Press. Literary Fiction. Translated from the French.
Climates was originally published in 1928 but not brought out in English until 2012. Author Andre Maurois was an acclaimed biographer, historian and writer who wore many hats; this novel is a somewhat melodramatic story of a marriage, or two marriages, each destined to founder due to nothing more than the vagaries of the human heart.
The novel is told in two parts, the first from the point of view of French industrialist Philippe Marcenat, who falls in love with the mercurial, beautiful Odile and makes her his wife. But the lively and changeable Odile can't content herself with bourgeois life. Philippe watches while she falls for another man and their childless marriage comes to an end. Philippe is devoted to Odile but is almost passive as she moves in society and takes a lover right under his nose.When she leaves him, it's almost like she was never there.
And yet she remains a strong presence in his life, a ghost who infects his subsequent relationships. The second part of the book is told from the point of view of Isabelle, Philippe's second wife, who could not be more different from the playful and outgoing Odile. Isabelle had a harsh childhood that has rendered her into an introverted and un-confident adult, a woman who dreads social engagement and wants above all to live a quiet life with her husband, whom she adores. She also watches her beloved fall into an affair with the very Odile-like Solange Villiers, a married woman and formidable society figure who does as she pleases, seeing her husband only a few weeks each year. But Isabelle isn't so passive as Philippe after all, and her fate is going to be different from either that of her husband or his first wife.
Climates is a very engaging and psychologically astute novel, about love and the sacrifices people are willing to make for their beloved and for their ideal of love, as well as how they handle the reality of love. It reminded me of a soap opera in that it is primarily about people who have little to do except worry about their love life, about women with little to occupy them to who turn to intrigue and gossip, and people who let their imaginations run wild with jealousy and the constant struggle to interpret their beloved's every word and action. It is a very romantic book in that it depicts the vagaries of romantic love, its moods and appetites and the different ways it shows itself. Solange Villiers is a very intriguing character, a sexually frank woman who controls her life rather than letting it be controlled, and such a contrast to either the girlish Odile or the pathologically timid Isabelle. Climates would be a wonderful literary beach book- smart and fluffy at the same time, perfect for daydreaming on a languorous summer's day when you don't have a care in the world.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book from Other Press.