This is my review of Clandestin (Romans, Nouvelles, Recits (Domaine Francais)) by Eliette Abecassis.
This novella, written in crystal-clear, at times poetic prose, describes in minute detail the meeting between a man and a woman on a station platform and the development of their mutual awareness and attraction on the subsequent train journey. Who are they, and have they met before? Gradually, our questions are answered, as the story moves towards a dramatic climax, dispelling my fear that, having aroused my curiosity, it would have one of those unsatisfying, inconclusive endings.
Despite the minute exploration of people's appearances and feelings, the characters remain shadowy in some respects – we never learn their names, and the two men with whom the woman is involved are both referred to as "he" but can be distinguished by their very obvious differences. The objective, remote quality of the story at times may arise from its serving as an allegory for the nature of existence in general – the essential transience and unimportance of much of life, and the suggestion that we are often just "wandering" through our existence, or filling it up with mundane activities to avoid facing up to the fact that we are all "waiting" for it to end. This sounds rather gloomy, but the tone is quite positive in a philosophical way.
At times, it reads like a woman's magazine story about a pair of lovers, but it is deeper than that and somehow the more "sentimental" passages come across better in French! It also provides some good practice for students – lots of useful examples of applied grammar – past conditional and subjunctive tenses etc.