miércoles, 11 de abril de 2012

The Girl At The Lion D’Or by Sebastian Faulks

The Girl At The Lion D’Or, a novel by Sebastian Faulks, presents a love story which is both engaging and poignant. But because of the book’s setting in 1930s France, there is also much historical and political colour that significantly broadens the novel’s scope.

Anne is a poor, but attractive girl. Her family life was disrupted by the First World War. In this she is not alone. But, as the narrative progresses, we learn that her story is rather more complex than the common, but still tragic one, of family members killed in action. In Anne’s case there was also something to hide. Thus she was orphaned, and perhaps never really had a home she could call her own. At the start of The Girl At The Lion D’Or, Anne is about to make a change in her life – and not for the first time – by leaving Paris to find a job elsewhere.

That elsewhere is Janvilliers, a provincial town, where she is reluctantly accepted as a waitress in the small hotel of the book’s title. Anne is a beautiful woman, perhaps more arresting even than that, and it is not long before some of the restaurant’s clientele are taking note of her charms.

One such client is a middle class businessman called Hartmann. He is married and lives in a large, rangy mansion whose rooms perhaps have their own stories to tell. There develops a liaison that forms the novel’s primary plot. Along the way we learn much about Anne’s background and the Hartmann’s modus vivendi.

There are other characters, of course, and these are convincingly portrayed to create a picture of French inter-war provincial life. There’s the owner of the hotel, for instance, who seems reluctant to leave his flat. There’s the domineering – perhaps threatening – manageress who aspires to higher moral ground. There’s a builder who builds none too well and there are others whose attentions, lecherous and otherwise, are arrested by Anne’s beauty.

But also this is France just prior to the outbreak of World War two. There are rumblings about Jews, about ultra-nationalism, about political leaders in disarray who sway this way and that. There are many stories of loss still vivid from the previous war, stories whose pain has not yet dissipated and whose memory will soon be obliterated by new conflict.

Sebastain Faulks’s novel is not a spectacular read. It does not try to be so. It is, however, a sensitive, informed and often beautiful portrayal of love set against a backdrop full of quite real humanity.

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