“Un Temps de Saison” by Marie NDiaye -More effective as a short story?

This is my review of Un Temps de Saison by Marie NDiaye.

Little does Parisian Herman foresee the repercussions of his fateful decision to stay on an extra day past August 31st in the village where he is accustomed to spend the summer holidays with wife Rose and small son. A landscape he has only ever seen under sunny blue skies is obscured at once under freezing rain and mist which he realises will be the permanent state of the weather until the holiday season comes round again. Beneath the unfailing politeness and smiles of the locals, the women all conforming to the local tradition of tightly-laced bodices with coloured ribbons denoting the length of marriage, Herman observes for the first time the coldness of their stares. He has outstayed his welcome, which was strictly confined to the summer when tourists are valued only as a source of income. In his attempt to find his wife and son who have mysteriously disappeared, the once confident, dynamic urban professional is sapped of his energy and motiviation, unable to find the will to leave a place where he can never really fit in. The ultimate sad irony is that, far from being a refuge from materialistic, corrupt city life, the villagers are no better in this respect.

Related in a deadpan, convoluted, subjunctive-laden prose which sounds like poetry when read aloud, this modern fable becomes progressively more surreal. Precise in the choice of words, but farcical in content, this did not engage me strongly with the characters. It is quite hard to sympathise with Herman and his wife in their different forms of apathy, one wants to shake them, but perhaps this is not the point in what seems a larger scale attempt to question the norms and values of modern French life. The novella is original, and an interesting inversion of the idea of a Paris denuded of its population as people pile on to the autoroutes for a summer holiday in picturesque villages, never thinking about the effects of their invasion, or what these place are like the rest of the year. However, having made her point, Marie Ndiaye lets the story ramble and drag, struggling to a climax which proves a damp squib, the whimper of an ending feeling like a cop-out.

Apart from the practice gained by reading this in French, I found it overlong and rather dull.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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