This is my review of The Confidant by Hélène Grémillon,Alison Anderson (Translator).
A thirty-something book editor, Camille assumes that an unsigned manuscript has been sent to her through the post in error. When more arrive, she speculates that the author, "Louis" may be seeking a backdoor method of getting his work published. Ultimately, she is convinced that his story has some intimate connection with her own life.
Louis writes of his childhood sweetheart Annie, who offers naively to be the surrogate mother for "Madame M" the wealthy woman whose generosity to Annie is underlain by an obsessive desire to have a baby. This domestic drama coincides with the outbreak of World War 2 and the occupation of Paris.
Clearly, there are sufficient issues here for a novel that is both gripping and moving and many readers seem to have found this to be the case. So, since this is also a prizewinning French bestseller, translated into many languages, why did I dislike it? I think it is because, lacking much in the way of description, dialogue or subtle character development, this is reduced to a tedious telling of too often melodramatic, contrived and therefore unconvincing events.
I did not mind the use of four different "points of view", saved to some extent from confusion (at least in the French edition I read)by the use of alternating fonts for Louis and Camille, or a fancy line top and bottom of the page to denote "Madame M's" lengthy confession, but having Annie's account of her dealings with Madame M "revealed" to Camille through the third party Louis proves a clunky device.
The final pages resort to yet more ploys – a sudden lapse into free verse in order to tell yet again rather than reveal a last twist. This forced me to search back through earlier chapters to confirm clues that I had missed, perhaps because I was concentrating on reading in my second language of French, although I still think some of these should have been developed more strongly. Overall, I am left with the impression of a tale which, like an amateurishly knitted jumper, needed to be unravelled and remade prior to publication.