A Modern Rival to Maupassant

This is my review of Concerto a la memoire d’un ange by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt.

His ingenious plots on a wide variety of original themes, each ending with an unpredictable twist combine with his uncluttered prose to make the French-Belgian Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's short stories gripping and memorable. His success as a dramatist assist him in creating tight structures and dramatic scenes with realistic dialogues.

For me, "The Poisoner" (L'Empoisonneuse) is a near perfect short story in its structure and style. Marie Maurestier, acquitted of the murder of three husbands and a young lover, is the object of speculation and some fear in the local community. The local butcher beckons her to the front of the queue to get her out of his shop as fast as possible. She arouses neither sympathy nor affection because of her sharp tongue, but is also valued as a local tourist attraction. Then, Gabriel, a handsome and dedicated young priest comes to take charge of the church, with dramatic results. Schmitt cleverly manipulates our changing attitudes to Marie and Gabriel. Examining motives and moral issues from every angle in his fluid prose, he builds up a sense of tension and compulsion to read quickly to the end to learn the outcome.

In the shortest tale, a tough seaman receives a message to the effect that one of his daughters has died – but which one is it? In a prize-winning novella which gives the book its title, an ambitious young pianist is driven almost mad with jealousy over the superior technique of an impossibly virtuous and unworldly violinist. In some ways this story is too contrived but still absorbing. Finally, we see the effects of a woman's decision to tolerate no longer the philandering of her corrupt husband who just happens to be the President of France. This last story seems most influenced by Schmitt's embracing of Catholicism in later life. Yet, although all the stories perhaps inevitably have a strong moral basis, he never preaches, and is often unflinching in subjecting his characters to fate, yet is essentially positive.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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