Author: Nelly Alard
Translator: Adriana Hunter
Publisher: Other Press
US Release date: Jan 19, 2016
Moment d’un couple
was first released in French in 2013
and received the prestigious Prix Interallié
for it that same year
also available as ebook
Genre: literary fiction
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
Couples in trouble have been very present in novels, I’m thinking about recent and popular titles: Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. But you have to read Couple Mechanics for a unique treatment of it, in a French context!
Juliette and Olivier are a bobo (bourgeois-bohème) couple living with two children, Emma, 6, and Johann, 4 in Paris, 19th arrondissement. The story is set in spring and summer 2003, the year of the terrible heat wave that killed so many people in Europe.
It’s already hot in Paris by the end of May, and Juliette and Florence are having some relaxing time with their kids in the Buttes-Chaumont park.
As they are lounging on the grass, Juliette gets a phone call from her husband that totally changes her life: out of the blue, he confesses to her having an affair with a younger woman. He both admits being really in love with that girl but at the same time says he does not want to leave his wife and children.
Then start tense days, weeks, and months. Juliette is determined to set up a plan to do all she can to save her marriage.
But with a heavy baggage herself, a painful past and unstable parents, things are not that easy. Anyway, from the start, the relationship between Juliette ad Olivier was already weird.
So it’s all going to be about trust or doubt, truth or lies, fidelity or betrayal, massive communication problems that lead to “ditches of misunderstanding and walls of incomprehension” (p. 64).
She knew he was still lying to her, but she didn’t know just how much. She felt she was standing on the banks of a frozen lake, studying its surface. Apparently frozen, but just how deep was the ice, hard to tell.
Things get worse with the character of V., Olivier’s friend, who has also all kinds of issues and is super manipulative. Manipulation and harassment get not only to Olivier, but also to Juliette, and little by little seem to change her herself. So much so that she wonders if she still loves Olivier, and if she should get herself an affair – she would have plenty of former boyfriends to choose from.
Plus, it looks like this V. could really become dangerous, and Juliette is getting scared of what V. or herself could end up doing.
The intrinsically peaceful nature of women, give me a break, women are females, and females, when they have young, are worse; in fact, when they have young, that’s when they become dangerous, that’s when they’re unstoppable, that’s when they can kill.
She loathed what she herself was becoming because of this woman, loathed the violence building inside her.
You will have to read the book to see where it will go.
This modern study of manners and analysis of emotions between three troubled people is deeply set in a geographical and social context. You can feel the insecurity in Paris, in its streets and subway, and phone calls, texts and emails are central. There are also references to the treatment of Muslim women in France, and at the end parallels with something in the news that year.
I really enjoyed the writing of the book, and the translation was very fluid.
As you can see through my second quotation above, the style is close to the spoken word, and makes the novel very lively.
There are very interesting images, that the author follows to develop an idea (you have a bit of that in my first quotation, there’s another great example of this on p.237).
It is a real page turner, with heavy suspense, as you keep wondering how this affair is going to end up. Early on, you know it can’t end up too well…
It really strikes me that in our days of instant communication abilities, the issue of communications between couples is so popular in literature. It is also sad to see that to be popular and successful, it seems the book has to present the theme under a very negative angle. Looks like no one would be interested in reading a novel where both partners are working daily at perfecting their communication. It is sad, because it is indeed something so very precious and beautiful, something that personally gives me new life every morning.
EN DEUX MOTS :
Un couple moderne, trois personnes intérieurement blessées. Sur fond d’insécurité à Paris et d’une place centrale aux moyens actuels de communication, c’est précisément le portrait d’un âge qui a perdu l’art de la communication réelle et authentique. Jusqu’où peuvent mener les mensonges et l’infidélité ? Triste réalité, mais présentée avec justesse et suspense, dans un langage quasi oral qui accapare toute l’attention du lecteur.
VERDICT: On the background of insecure life in Paris and heavy use of modern communication tools, Couple Mechanics presents the theme of miscommunication and infidelity between a couple. Where is betrayal going to lead them? Great mix of suspense and social insight!
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
At once sexy and feminist, this is a story of a woman who decides to fight for her marriage after her husband confesses to an affair with a notable politician.
Juliette, a computer engineer, and Olivier, a journalist, have two young children and the busy lives of a modern Parisian couple. When Olivier confesses to having an affair, Juliette’s world is shattered.
How do you survive betrayal? Can a broken couple ever be united again? What lengths would you go to in order to save your marriage? These are the questions that this novel, with great intelligence, honesty, and humor, tries to answer. In its acute depiction of intimacy, Couple Mechanics exposes the system of forces at work in a marriage, the effects of the inevitable ebb and flow of desire, and the difficulty of being a man today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nelly Alard is an actress and screenwriter who lives in Paris.
Her first novel, Le crieur de nuit,
received the 2010 Roger Nimier Prize
as well as the 2011 Prix National Lions de Littérature
and the Simone and Cino Del Duca Foundation Prize
for the Support of Literature.
In 2013 she was awarded the Prix Interallié
for Couple Mechanics,
the first woman to win the award in more than twenty years.
Nelly Alard’s website (in French)