Book Review on Simone de Beauvoir's The Inseparables
The Inseparables is about Simone de Beauvoir's friendship (from the age of nine) with Élisabeth Lacoin, nicknamed Zaza. This was a hugely important friendship to her. which she frequently returns to in her writing.
Thinly guised as fiction, in The Inseparables, Sylvie (Simone) firstly meets Andree (Zaza) at a private Catholic school. Sylvie is immediately fasicnated by Andree, with her diminuative size, but irreverant and bold behavior. Andree announces that she had been 'burned alive' and her right thigh 'grilled to the bone' while cooking on a campfire. For the first time, Sylvie experienced what it was like to have a special interest in one of her classmates .She becomes a friend to whom she felt passionately towards for the rest of Andree's life.
As the girls grow up we get a sense of the intense disappointment Sylvie feels when Andree's love for her mother and commitment to family, comes between their special friendship. This distancing between them continues when Sylvie realizes that she no longer believes in God, whilst Andree feels that she couldn't bear to be alive without a religion.
As Sylvie watched Andree, to an extent at least, conform to the expectations her family have of her, there is a sense of Sylvie wanting Andree to take a stronger stance than she does against them. Sylvie is disappointed when Andree confirms to societal rules; the reader is left feeling that Andree's personality has been chastened and limited by external contraints that she cannot or will not fight against. Despite this, Andree is a strange mix of compliance and rebellion. She agrees to her mother's breaking off of an engagement she disapproved of, yet injures her foot with an axe in order to avoid attending a social engagement she didn't want to attend. It is hard to pin Andree down and it this elusiveness that Simone is fascinated by.
As children and young teenagers, Sylvie and Andree had talked intensly and frequently about social, political and educational issues. It is important to remember that this was at a time when women were not allowed to vote It was a time of political awakening, yet many women would not be encouraged into intellectual pursuits or judged on their minds.
Sylvie constantly wants to return to the sharing of the depth of feeling and openness of communication the friends once shared. She perhaps resents the intrusion of societal expectatons in Andree's life. She seems to constantly long for emotional intimacy with Andree.
The second part of the story moves quite quickly. Critics have said that it is rushed and the structure of the novella is imbalanced. I tend to agree. Nevertheless, the exploration of the friendship continues to be shown and invite a strong emotional response from the reader. Sylvie's involvement in encouraging Andree's love affair with Pascal, shows her deep desire for Andree to be happy.
The re-telling of what happened to Andree at the end of the book is rushed and needs more explanation and developement. It is perhaps indicative of the depth of feeling that Sylvie had toward Andree, and her confusion about Andree's own increasing sense of self-disregard, that she writes so briefly about what ultimately happens to Andree.
Book Club Questions on Simone de Beauvoir's The Inseparables
Best Book Club Questions on The Inseparables (if you haven't read the book!)
Personal Response to Simone de Beauvoir's The Inseparables
It's about thirty-fve years since I first read Simone de Beauvoir's works, but of course The Inseparables wasn't published until 2016. The well-written and interesting introduction by Deborah Levy to The Inseparables gave plenty of context to the thinly disguised autobigraphical account, as did this fascinating article Levy wrote about it for the Guardian. The Inseparables resonated with me as it shows the power and intensity that childhood and adolescent friendships can have. In this relationship Sylvie's awareness of the dislike Andree's mother had for her struck me as worth commenting on. Relationships with friend's parents, which at the time, are often only half noticed and observed intrigue me. It fascinates me how children, well in fact, all of us can feel that which we are not able to articulate, We immediately sense if we are 'liked or not'.
The amazing thing about Simone de Beuvoir's writing is its depth and accessibility. Having rediscovered her writing after all this time, I will definitely be venturing further back into her works. I remember a book called She Came to Stay which, at the time, struck me as incredibly perceptive and insightful. I wonder what I will think when I read it again.
Book Review of Elizabeth Strout's Oh William!
I’ve read a few enjoyable and comforting reads in recent weeks, but Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William! is the first book I’ve picked up, in absolutely ages, that I struggled to put down. I read it in two sittings.
The strength of Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William! is the connection that the reader makes to Lucy Barton the narrator. She tells the story in first person and focuses on the minutiae of life, which she uses to explore big life questions. The effect that an individual’s childhood has on their present and future self is never far from the surface of the book.
In Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William!, Lucy’s second husband has recently died. She finds herself spending time with her first husband, William, and she and he go on an actual and metaphorical journey of reflection. William’s own life is unravelling as his third marriage disintegrates. Lucy and he discover hidden family secrets that create insight and provide them with greater understanding of who they are and why they are as they are. We learn a lot about William’s mother, Catherine and through that see the complexity of son/mother relationships. I’m sure if this were a high school text it would be worth analyzing from a Freudian stance.
Oh William! Is a book that focuses hugely on connection. The narrator’s own self-awareness of time passing, the significance of perception and her ability to pinpoint precise emotion is incredible. There is absolutely nothing twee or sentimental in the writing, though it is nostalgic, particularly in relation to their shared grown up children. The sophistication, yet simplicity of the writing in Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William! makes it an utter joy to read.
Book Discussion Questions for Elizabeth Strout's Oh William!
Book Club Questions on Elizabeth Strout's Oh William! (If you haven't read the book).
Personal Response to Elizabeth Strout's Oh William!
The phrase Oh William! made me think of a different book Oh David! by David Shannon. It is a text I used to read to Key Stage 1 children when I worked as a librarian. Oh David! features a little boy who does a series of naughty acts from knocking over a vase to running down the street naked. Despite all his misdemeanors his mum loves him anyway.
This is, I think, kind of how Lucy feels about William. In life we make mistakes, we don’t understand why people act the way they do, we put faith in individuals when perhaps it isn’t deserved and we can’t ever really understand or explain why we do the things we do.
As Lucy observes the actions of her first husband she frequently says Oh William! This sums up the emotions she feels toward him, without perhaps having to overtly articulate or fully understand them. We are all a bundle of complex and contradictory emotions, which leave us baffled, yet alive!