miércoles, 9 de junio de 2010

The Knot Of Vipers by Francois Mauriac

When you reckon your time is up and that you’d like to get a few things straight before you peg out, the temptation to take up a pen and use it as a weapon might become all-consuming. Louis does precisely this, and thus the text of Francois Mauriac’s novel, The Knot Of Vipers, comes alive.

Louis is well-heeled. He has made millions from his business interests over the years. But, realising he can’t take any of it with him, he considers how best to dispose of his fortune and, at the same time, analyses various aspects of the relationships that have filled his life. He finds all of them wanting in one way or another. He might be accused of a lack of both optimism and charity! So Louis pens a letter, a novel-length letter addressed to his wife. It’s to be his final statement and his way of putting the record straight, perhaps also a means of exacting retribution.

He has been married to Isa for many years. Their marriage has been good in the Catholic sense, but their bed has been a cool, reverential place for some time, rather than a seat of reverie. The wife is the husband’s prime target. He recalls her lack of conviction, her inability to respond to him. An entire marriage relived becomes a jumble of opinions, recollections, threats and judgments, many of them petty, but all heartfelt. Louis particularly recalls his wife’s description of an episode with another man. He conveniently ignores a fling of his own.

There was a much-loved daughter called Marie. But for all kinds of reasons she is not going to inherit. How annoying it is when you want to wield the dagger and find the job already done!

So who else might Louis drag down with his pen? Well, there’s his son, naturally, and also a natural son. The former is Hubert, and his personal qualities rarely approach the old man’s professed standards. The latter, Robert, remains meek and unassuming. He’ll do all right! At least he won’t be plotting his father’s downfall!

And so The Knot Of Vipers tightens itself around its own complications. Even lifetimes of highly profitable devotion produce complicated, internecine rivalries that have to be given space to dissipate. And, in Louis’s family, where even the obvious can be denied to preserve public face, what has not been expressed over the years just creates new layers of complication, layers that crowd out any negotiable space.

I found on occasions that the scenario gave way under the weight of what had to be described. A private letter to a wife does not need descriptions of mutual acquaintances. The reader might demand this, but shared experience would only need an occasional reference. This, however, is The Knot Of Vipers only weakness. It’s a real tour de force of the concept that families f*** you up, especially Catholic ones, especially uncommunicative ones, especially… And then, of course, the book ends.

View the book on amazon
The Knot of Vipers (Capuchin Classics)