“ They called us the inseparables”
Lasting friendships that were formed in early childhood are a fascination for me. What is it that brings individuals together, keeps them together and makes them inseparable? And for me, as an avid Francophile, add to that the “mystery” of why a novel by French writer Simone de Beauvoir should come to light years after the celebrated author’s death then I’m hooked.
I had joined the member community at NetGalley, requested and was sent a pre-publication copy of The Inseparables. Long time aware of, but new to reading de Beauvoir, I was grateful for the introduction by Deborah Levy who rightly pointed out that her foreword contained spoilers. I decided to stay with that however as it helped provide context and has prompted me to read some of de Beauvoir’s other works. Then on to the novel itself, translated from the French by Lauren Elkin, only confirming the intention to read more. The text was accompanied by helpful footnotes explaining this or that term or historical background. And what about that mystery? The afterword, written by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, explains how the work was found among de Beauvoir’s papers and came to publication. The afterword includes photographs of the people aliased in the book and some facsimiles of the original handwritten draft.
So in this small volume we get the story, the literary legacy and social context of the work. That impressed me and I liked it very much.
The book recounts the story of two young women, Sylvie and Andrée, who meet in primary school at a very young age. We learn from the opening dedication For Zaza that the story was inspired by the relationship between the young Simone in whose name Sylvie speaks and Elisabeth ‘Zaza’ Lacoin represented by Andrée. The two become friends and rail against the prevailing orthodoxies of the time; they discuss God, religion, philosophy and then ultimately face a final reckoning.
I was captivated by the language in the book. Yes there were all those discussions but they were essential to a sense of movement in the text; a dramatic tension drawing us to an anticipated but nonetheless abrupt conclusion that still leaves a sense of inseparability.
Looking back over the text, there are several places where I have highlighted phrases and sections that stopped me short and made me think. I love it when a book does that. For example in describing one of the adults, Sylvie/Simone writes “His silky hair and Christian virtue feminised him and lowered him in my estimation.” That from a central figure in Feminism? And from the socially engaged woman describing their respective freedoms, Sylvie writes that she ‘had often envied Andrée her independence, but suddenly she seemed much less free than I was’. A sense of foreboding comes in a section where there is a description of a sculpted wooden clock, ‘which held...all the darkness of time’. Foreboding reprised when ‘Andrée placed the violin in its little coffin’ after practising her music during which,’she seemed to be listening prayerfully to the voice of the instrument on her shoulder’. There are many such examples, skilfully inserted throughout the text.
One for the shelves?
Definitely! I am delighted to have read the ebook sent by the publisher through NetGalley but this a novel I would also like to have on my bookshelves so I have ordered a physical copy and will certainly reread.
It's by now a tradition in our house on Saint Patrick's Day to watch together a film with an Irish theme. Usually the day offers an annual excuse to watch Walt Disney's Darby O'Gill and the Little People - a film that always seemed to be playing locally when I was growing up.
A long stroll along an almost deserted beach at the National Trust's Murlough Reserve near Dundrum, County Down. With just a handful of cars in the parking area and passing only a few people on the 600m boardwalk down to the shore, we guessed correctly that the beach would be fairly empty. This really was social distancing.
Buttoned up against the chill and facing the breeze from the sea it wasn't long before blood came rushing to warm the cheeks. No need for an anti-virus mask here. We took deep lungfuls of the fresh salt air and immediately felt the benefit.
The sand was washed smooth with no previous steps before us and the sea seemed to have deposited various qualities of shingle and stone in lovely gradations. A perfect case study for a school geography trip and a salutary lesson in the organising power of nature. Here and there shells dotted the sand, washed ashore or perhaps dropped by feeding gulls. They lay with their scalloped grooves and ridges upward, the anticipated delicacy downward, reminiscent of dropped, buttered toast.
We walked until a stream crossed the beach and turned back towards Newcastle, surmounted by the lovely Mournes, a scissored silhouette against a brightening sky. Donard will be cold today, we agreed.
Then silent reflective thoughts.
How often has this untampered scene been viewed before by people long since gone? And recollected or imagined in the tunes of the songsters who extolled its beauty and missed its presence. This beach has been crowded at other times with families and picnics. Long, bright, summer days. Not now though when our talk is of R-rate, regulations and restrictions.
Sadness for those whose longings have been cut short.