Author Archive

Crimes by Ferdinand von Schirach

November 26, 2015 7 comments

Crimes by Ferdinand von Schirach (2009) French title : Crimes. Translated from the German by Pierre Malherbet.

German_Lit_MonthThis read belongs to two events, it is my Book Club read for November and it’s my participation to German Literature month. Ferdinand von Schirach is a defense attorney at the Berlin court. His collection of short stories is made of fictionalized real crime cases he encountered during his career. The collection includes eleven stories of about 25 pages each. Here is the list of the stories in English:

  • Fähner
  • Tanata’s Tea Bowl
  • The Cello
  • The Hedgehog
  • Bliss
  • Summertime
  • Self-defense
  • Green
  • The Thorn
  • Love
  • The Ethiopian.

SchirachEach story relates a particular case. We enter briefly into the personal story of the person accused of a crime. We are told the facts of the case and how it was judged. The prose is sober, without pathos. He never hides the horror of the crimes but still shows you how it happened and tries to understand why. He also gives us information about the German justice system which I found very interesting.

I won’t get into each story, it would be too long and would spoil the fun for prospective readers. I’ll just say they are varied, about blood crimes, bank robberies, break-ins or assaults. Their common denominator? Things aren’t as simple as they seem and the criminal’s life is unusual.

The titles of the stories are the same in French than in English, except for the first one (Les pommes, or Apples) and Green, which became Synesthésie in French (Synaesthesia). While I recognize in the choice of Synesthésie the French tendency to use complicated words when it’s not required, the change of the first title is important. Fähner is the name of the murderer of this particular story. I downloaded the Kindle sample of the German edition of Crime and the title of the first story is actually Fähner. So the change comes from the French translator. Les pommes relates to a part of the story originally named Fähner. It is not a whimsical change. Indeed, Crimes opens with a quote by Werner K. Heisenberg, The reality we can put into words is never reality itself and it closes with another quote Ceci n’est pas une pomme. (This is not an apple), left in French in the original edition of the book.

Magritte_PommeIt is actually the title of a painting by René Magritte and it echoes with the opening quote and the French title of the story opening the collection. With his series La trahison des images (The Treachery of Images), Magritte represents an apple and writes it is not an apple. It is the representation of an apple, the image of an apple but not an apple in itself. There’s something beyond the image and what he paints is not the real thing. You can’t eat it or touch it. It gives you the illusion of knowing what an apple is. With this last quote, it seems to me that von Schirach reminds us that there’s more beyond the words. His stories are based on true cases but they don’t tell the truth or show you the real person. It remains a story, a representation of the facts and characters interpreted by the writer. What we’ve just read is not reality but a representation of reality.

Highly recommended.


Isabelle of the Moon and Stars by S.A. Jones

November 22, 2015 8 comments


Isabelle of the Moon and Stars by S.A. Jones 2014 Not available in French.

Jones_IsabelleOur family volunteered to welcome an Australian teenage girl in our home for five weeks. She’ll stay with us, go to school with our daughter and will be here to live a French life for a while. She’s from Perth, so I asked Lisa from ANZ Lit Lovers to recommend books set in Western Australia. See, I have a very good reason for buying and reading something out of the #TBR20 list. :-) (Still 3 to go, btw). This is how I ended up reading Isabelle of the Moon and Stars by S.A. Jones, a novel I enjoyed very much even if I still have no clue about what Perth looks like.

Ever since The Incident happened two years ago, Isabelle is more surviving than living. She has a dead-end job in statistics and she can’t find any interest in it. Her boss Jack keeps up the appearances about her performance and hides that she’s doing useless reports. Juliette is only hanging on by a thread.

The book opens with her journey in Perth’s public transports and her observation of other people, commuting to work like her. I was hooked right away by Jones’s style:

It is a Monday morning and the train is thick with lassitude. Wherever you look heads loll onto shoulders and eyes are glazed.

Thick with lassitude is really what you can see in the eyes of commuters sometimes. This journey shows us an Isabelle very permeable to the atmosphere around her, to people’s mood.

Isabelle lives in a condo and is a frequent user of the pool of her complex building. She loves swimming and racing against her best friend Evan. I need to say this to explain the book cover unless it is a subtle reference to Virginia Woolf’s drowning. (To me, it’s just another cover being a liability for the novel it advertises.) Isabelle befriends an elderly neighbour, Mrs Graham, who suffers from arthritis but still makes jokes about it. (‘How’s the arthritis today?’ ‘I’m thinking of giving it a name. Hitler maybe. Or Pol Pot.’) Juliette feels that Mrs Graham is very lonely and on impulse, she invites her to a party she’s throwing on the rooftop of the complex for Australia Day.

Only Isabelle had no actual plan to throw a party. Not willing to disappoint Mrs Graham whose eyes lit up at the idea to be invited somewhere, Isabelle feels obliged to organize that party now. Evan comes to her rescue and this project helps her move forward from The Incident and its downfall. Meanwhile in the office, a new attraction grows between Isabelle and her married and much older boss Jack. (The attraction between Isabelle and Jack is stirring like a bear waking from a long, hard winter.)

As we follow Isabelle in her daily life, we learn more about The Incident and more importantly about The Black Place.

There is just her, Isabelle, and The Black Place. The effort of holding herself rigid folds in on itself, like a tremor at maximum velocity. Pins and needles prick her hands and feet. Pain radiates from her blue-turning heart. Involuntarily, her grasping lungs buckle and suck at the air. The Black Place glides under Isabelle’s skin and displaces her. Isabelle is no longer Isabelle. She is a container of despair, a repository of every free-floating grief seeking a home. The panic is as foul as it is inexplicable. It is the panic of the diver breaking the surface and turning, turning, turning to find water at every horizon, the boat gone. Of the woman who wakes in the dark to the shadow of the intruder on the bedroom wall. Isabelle’s mind slips to blades, laceration, knives. Sharp edges that can part skin and leach the bilge until the world grows dim. The idea of blue steel against her skin seems suddenly, achingly beautiful. Isabelle makes a fist and views the underside of her wrist dispassionately. The veins are deep, just a faint blue tracery under her porcelain skin. The moment of contact with the blade would be climactic. Benedictory.

This Black Place has been Isabelle’s cross since her teenage years. She wants to remain in control and tries her best to fight it, to put herself away from temptations and risks to be swallowed by it. Evan is her safe place, her rock and her crutch.

It reminded me of Addition by Toni Jordan because it focuses on a character who has to live with a mental illness. Grace and Isabelle both have to tame something that prevent them to have a “normal” life, whatever that means. Isabelle of the Moon and Stars shows how much energy this illness takes from Isabelle and also what it inflicts on Evan who’s close to her. He helped her after The Incident and he bears the scars from it. The Dark Place, that I picture like the dementors in Harry Potter, something that sucks the life out of you, affects Isabelle but also the people who love her. It’s part of her and she needs to live with it. But what about the others? Do they have to live with it or should they run away to protect themselves?

Isabelle of the Moon and Stars is an atmospheric novel, well-served by Jones’s excellent prose. She balances serious descriptions of Isabelle’s mental issues with a good sense of humour. See here, when Isabelle arrives to work and a new motivation program is implemented by management:

Overnight the office has been festooned with new corporate regalia. P3 – I Believe! blares a poster with a photograph of a wildly smiling Carol Anne giving the thumbs-up. P3 paraphernalia litters Isabelle’s desk – a sticker (P3, PYou, PMe), a box of pencils emblazoned with Performance with a star for the ‘a’ and a new name tag (I am Isabelle and I am P3). When Isabelle turns on her computer a message bleeps at her encouraging her to ‘like’ P3 on Facebook.

I strongly discourage anybody to try to implement that kind of stuff in France for employees would roll their eyes, laugh and throw the goodies away. Anyway.

I didn’t want to tell too much about the plot because it would spoil another reader’s pleasure. Although The Dark Place is a central part of the book, to the point of being a sort of ghost character, it’s not a depressing book. I rooted for Isabelle and hoped she could find a way to dompt this beast and muzzle it. Lisa’s review can be read here, but beware it gives more information about the plot than my billet does.

Three days in Paris and no Fête des Lumières in Lyon

November 19, 2015 14 comments

Mafalda_merciThis is not supposed to be a blog where I tell you about my life but I’ve received wonderful messages on twitter, heartfelt comments and likes on the post I published Saturday morning, about half an hour after I discovered that Paris had suffered from six terrorist attacks in one night, killing 129 people and wounding 352 other. Thanks for them. Thanks to all of you who did a minute’s silence, organized a march, gathered or meditated to honor the people who died on Friday night.

These murderers tried to drag the City of Lights and the country of the Enlightenment into their darkness. They won’t succeed and despite how hurt, shocked and raw we feel about what happened, life must go on.

This week, I had a three days business trip scheduled in Paris. I went. As a coincidence, our assistant at work had booked me a hotel entirely decorated by rap, pop and rock singers. It felt right to stay in a place that celebrates rock music after what happened to the Bataclan. The bedside tables were made of drums, the shower had piano keys on the tiling and the closet looked like a cabinet to file music instruments. Here is the artsy lobby, where you can listen to the music of the five artists who decorated the hotel:

Hotel Triangle d'Or (3)

So how’s the atmosphere in Paris? I didn’t go to the Place de la République, although I wanted to. But it’s not the time to worry the police with passersby gathering around. They have enough to do. I saw lots of policemen, gendarmes and CRS in the metro, on the streets. I attended a conference on the Champs Elysées, I thought the avenue was deserted. I went to a fast food, I had to show the content of my bag to a security guard. Same thing to go to the mall at Les Halles. There are still people sitting at terraces but I found the Parisians walking at a less frantic pace than usual. It’s only my impressions and I’m still probably too emotional to think straight. Mundane views take special meanings, like this fountain with birds of peace just before a Lebanese restaurant.

Fontaine Rueil 2

Otherwise I’ve read that sales of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast are booming. Isn’t that a great response?

Tonight, we also learnt that the Fête des Lumières has been canceled in Lyon. What’s that? It’s a popular event that lasts four days around the 8th of December. Lyon celebrates the fact that the Virgin Mary protected the town from the plague. Every 8th of December, the Lyonnais put candles on their window edges in rememberance of that day. Since 1999, it has become a huge event for the town as there are unique light shows on the city buildings. 3 million visitors come each year to see the shows, enjoy the city and walk around. The policemen are in Paris, such a huge crowd is complicated to protect and the mayor canceled the event. We expected it.

However, we will all put candles on our window edges on December 8th, and this year, they’ll have painful meaning. Fête des Lumières means Feast of Lights but also Feast of the Enlightenment. It would be very nice if you too lighted candles on December 8th and put them on your window edges. That way, we’ll be a lot more to put on lights to fight against their darkness.

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No pink cover, just a dark story. Enjoy!

November 17, 2015 19 comments

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson (2005) French title: Little Bird. Translated by Sophie Aslanides.

When The Cold Dish opens, it’s fall in fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming. The sheriff Walt Longmire is watching geese through his office’s windows when his assistant Ruby comes in and announces that Bob Barnes is on line one, reporting a dead body. It’s so unusual that Longmire doesn’t believe he has an actual stiff to take care of.

She leaned against the doorjamb and went to shorthand, “Bob Barnes, dead body, line one.”

I looked at the blinking red light on my desk and wondered vaguely if there was a way I could get out of this. “Did he sound drunk?”

“I am not aware that I’ve ever heard him sound sober”

Johnson_Little_BirdSo Longmire is convinced he’ll go all the way to the scene to discover some dead sheep. But what he finds there is the awfully damaged body of Cody Pritchard. Killed by a rifle. It doesn’t seem like an accident. Longmire knows Cody as he was involved in a previous case, the collective rape of a Native American teenager, Melissa Little Bird. He was the main instigator of the crime and did it with three friends, George and Jacob Esper and Bryan Keller. The court condemned them to light charges compared to the crime and the Cheyenne community won’t mourn him.

Is Cody’s death a murder or a hunting accident? If it is a murder, does it have anything to do with Melissa Little Bird’s rape?

The Cold Dish is the first installment of the Longmire series. It sets the décor, the characters and made me want to spend more time in their company. The sheriff’s staff is composed of four people. Deputy Ferg, who works part-time because of his passion for fishing, Ruby, the office’s assistant I mentioned before, another deputy that nobody likes and Vic, the latest deputy on the team. She comes from the East coast and landed in Wyoming when she followed her husband who got a job there.

Vic was a career patrol person from an extended family of patrol people back in South Philadelphia. Her father was a cop, her uncles were cops, and her brothers were cops. The problem was that her husband was not a cop. He was a field engineer for Consolidated Coal and had gotten transferred to Wyoming to work at a mine about halfway between here and Montana border. When he accepted the position a little less than two years ago, she gave it all up and came out with him. She listened to the wind, played housewife for about two weeks, and then came into the office to apply for a job.

She’s used to a lot more action than what she encounters in Wyoming and will be valuable on the case.

Walt Longmire is over fifty, not looking for any excitement in his job. He wants to be re-elected to quietly hand over the position to Vic. He’s engaging, he reminded me of Adamsberg, Fred Vargas’s Commissaire or Gamache, Louise Penny’s Chef de la Sûreté. Longmire has been lonely and depressed since his wife Martha died four years ago. His daughter is a lawyer who lives far away and he’s always waiting for her to call. Not so long before Martha’s death, they had sold their house to settle out of town. So now, he lives in an unfinished house with basic comfort, no decoration and he doesn’t care, although he doesn’t lose his sense of humor.

I don’t know what the exact physical dynamics are that cause a shower curtain to attach itself to your body when you turn on the water but, since my shower was surrounded on all sides by curtains, I turned on the water and became a vinyl, vacuum-sealed sheriff burrito.

He drinks a bit too much, he’s terribly out of shape and has been moping around for too long according to his best friend Henry Standing Bear. Henry has decided to take the matter into his own hands, hiring guys to improve the house, showing up at ungodly hours to drag Walt to running. Longmire’s struggles and his friendship with Henry give substance to the novel. They make quite a pair. Craig Johnson keeps it nuanced so it sounds real. Longmire has a wry sense of humor and he’s fond of literature, and sometimes mixes the two, like here when he reads the local newspaper:

I took a sip of y coffee, sat the folder on the counter, and began reading the newspaper. “In the cold, gray dawn of September the twenty-eighth…” Dickens. “…The sippery bank where the life of Cody Pritchard came to an ignominious end…”Faulkner. “Questioning society with the simple query, why?” Steinbeck. “Dead”. Hemingway.

The Cold Dish has all the ingredients of a great read and I loved the witty tone of Longmire’s voice. He’s touching, the plot is catchy, it’s informative about Cheyenne customs, the history of Wyoming and life in this State. The descriptions of the landscape and the community make you want to go there.

It was one of those beautiful, high-plains days, where the sky just blinks blue at the earth and you have to remind yourself to take it in. The second cuttings were all up and tarped, and the perfectly round shadows of bales looked surreal stretching across the disc-turned fields toward Clear Creek like stubble fields at harvest home. I didn’t pass a single car on the way into Durant. It was a little before eight when I got to the office, and Ruby already had five Post-its plastered on the doorjamb of my office. I spotted them when I came through the front door. “It’s a five Post-it day already?”

Ruby makes sure that Longmire stays in line, does his job and takes care of any task she communicates through her Post-its. There’s not much activity for the sheriff, so five Post-its early in the morning is big news. The volume of activity at the sheriff’s office is so low and mundane that everything is treated with minimum fuss and minimum budget too. The county’s jail has only two cells and the prisoners are catered with take-away food from the local eatery. It gives you a feel of small town life in Wyoming where the towns have few inhabitants, where everybody knows everything about everybody. There’s only one street in Durant:

“Vic’s down the street, directing traffic.”

“We’ve only got one street. What’s she doing that for?”

“Electricals for the Christmas decorations.”

“It’s not even Thanksgiving.”

“It’s a city council thing.”

rue ppale

It’s a tight-knit community and this is a very atmospheric novel. Time is not a problem. Johnson’s writing reflects that: he takes time to describe characters, to show us the landscape, to tell us about customs, to dig into the characters’ psyche. Don’t expect a fast paced novel, because it’s not. There’s a lot of action but not in the frenzied and noisy action-movie way. Johnson is obviously fond of Wyoming, where he lives himself. His love for the place seeps through his writing and it makes you want to visit Absaroka County and see it for yourself.

wyoming landscape

What’s not to like?

Craig_JohnsonCraig Johnson won awards in France and he was at Quais du Polar in 2014, signing books, smiling, apparently happy to be there. He looks the part of the Wyoming writer, at least in the mind of a European. I have a copy in French and Sophie Aslanides’s translation is brilliant. I had the opportunity to compare passages to the original and it’s flawless. It sounds American only it’s in French. Johnson’s books are published by the excellent publisher of American literature, Gallmeister. The owner, Olivier Gallmeister, should change his name into Gemmaster. Because that’s what he is.

PS: The Cold Dish was not on my #TBR20 but I read it as soon as I received it. So technically, I didn’t cheat. Thanks a lot to my sister-in-law who gave me this and sent me most of the photos included in this post.

PPS: A last quote, for the road.

There were clouds at the mountains, and the snow pack reflected the sour-lemon sun into one of the most beautiful and perverse sunsets I had ever seen. The clouds were dappled like the hindquarters of an Appaloosa colt, and the beauty kicked just as hard. The head wind rattled the bare limbs of the cottonwoods as the longer branches swayed, and the remnants of grass and sage shuddered close to the ground. The buffeting of the wind against the truck reminded me that I had lost both of my jackets.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité. We won’t back down.

November 14, 2015 32 comments

It all started like a normal Saturday morning. Going to the kitchen with sleepy eyes, picking up my cell phone to check messages and discovering not one but two worried tweets, checking on me. Thanks for your messages, Brian and Nino. Not sleepy anymore, I thought “Fuck, what happened again” and rushed to the radio and the website of Le Monde.

And then the horror. Again. To these pieces of shit who think they will make us change our way of life, I say: “We won’t back down”.

I’ll end this sad post with a quote reminding us what religion should be:

And if you would know God, be not therefore a solver of riddles.

Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children.

And look into space; you shall see Him walking in the cloud, outstretching His arms in the lightning and descending in rain.

You shall see Him smiling in flowers, then rising and waving His hands in trees.

Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

You won’t see Him put bombs to kill innocent people.


The Outlaw by Georges Simenon

November 11, 2015 19 comments

The Outlaw by Georges Simenon (1941). Original French title: L’outlaw.

C’était terrible ! Stan était trop intelligent. Il avait conscience d’être aussi intelligent, sinon plus, que n’importe qui. Il pensait à tout !

Il savait même qu’il allait faire une bêtise et pourtant il était incapable de ne pas la faire ! Comment expliquer cela ?

It was terrible! Stan was too intelligent. He was aware of his being as intelligent as anyone else, if not more. He thought of everything.

He even knew that he was about to do something stupid and yet he was unable not to do it! How to explain this?  

Simenon_outlawWhen The Outlaw opens, it’s night, it’s winter and Stan and his girlfriend Nouchi are walking around in Paris. They’re broke and cannot go back to their cheap hotel because they haven’t paid for the room and they know that the owner will be on the prowl, waiting for his payment or to throw them out.

Stan is Polish and Nouchi is Hungarian. They are both illegal migrants in the Paris of the 1930s. They’ve been together for a while and have come back to Europe after a few years in New York. We soon understand that they had to leave after Stan did something stupid.

The first chapters are poignant as Stan feels trapped in his penniless life. He lives in constant fear of the police. They  walk around, looking for an open café to warm themselves a bit. They are desperate. They’re not allowed to work, they’ve already gotten all the money they could from friends. We follow Stan’s train of thoughts and he doesn’t see the end of the tunnel.

Il marchait. Il pensait. Il pensait durement, méchamment. Ses narines se pinçaient et il serrait les poings. Il n’avait pas le droit de s’asseoir sur un banc, car il aurait attiré l’attention et la première idée de n’importe quel agent serait de lui demander ses papiers ! He walked. He was thinking. He was thinking harshly, meanly. His nose was pinched and his fists were clenched. He couldn’t sit on a bench because it would have drawn attention to him and the first idea any deputy would get was to has him for his papers.

Nouchi and Stan need food and shelter. Exhaustion plays dirty tricks with Stan’s mind. He comes with the idea to bargain with the police: for 5000 francs, he will give them information about a gang of Polish criminals who operate from the same shabby hotel as the one they’re staying in. Instead, they want him to infiltrate the gang.

Simenon_outlaw_EnglishFrom there starts a rather confusing hide-and-seek game. The police are using Stan’s information but are still surveilling him. They are also staking out the Polish gang. I never quite understood whether the police were already aware of this gang’s activities or if Stan put them on it. Stan hopes to leave that mess scot-free and with the money. But Stan isn’t as clever as he thinks and he’s driven by fear, a bad adviser. He’s a young thug who isn’t brave enough to be as violent as his thug persona would require to and he can’t help wanting to earn easy money.

It could have been a great book if the plot had been polished a bit. It feels like it’s been written in a hurry and not edited much. I was more interested in the setting, the Paris of that time and Stan’s status than in the actual story.

It sounds strange to consider Polish and Hungarian citizens as illegal migrants as Poland and Hungary are now part of the EU and we can live wherever we want in the Union. Stan’s current nationality reminds us of the political instability in Europe.

Je suis né à Wilno. Donc, avant la guerre, j’étais russe. Après, nous avons été lithuaniens… Les Polonais sont venus mais, au fond, nous sommes toujours lithuaniens. I was born in Wilno. So before the war, I was Russian. Then we became Lithuanian…The Poles came but deep down, we remained Lithuanian.

All this in a life time. I can’t imagine what it was for them. (Of course, I picked up on this since Romain Gary was born in 1914 un Wilno.)

Simenon gives a chilling idea of what it was (is?) to be an illegal migrant. Stan and Spa from Spa Sleeps by Dinev would understand each other at some level although Spa isn’t willing to do become a criminal to get money.

That part was more appealing to me than the rest and Simenon set Stan’s state-of-mind really well and prepared the reader to understand what he did later. There’s no excuse for crimes but there are explanations on how criminals got there. More about this later this month with my billet about Crime by Ferdinand von Schirach.

This was #TBR20 number 16.

Albertine in Five Times – A play

November 8, 2015 12 comments

Albertine in Five Times by Michel Tremblay. (1984) Original French title : Albertine en cinq temps

My new season at the theatre has started, so you’ll hear about plays again. The first one was Albertine en cinq temps by the Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay. The play dates back to 1984. Albertine is 70, she’s moving in a new home, probably a nursing home. It’s her first night in her new room and she remembers her life. Up to that point, you think it’s already been done. The originality of Tremblay’s play comes from the form. Five actresses are on stage, each picturing Albertine at one moment of her life. Madeleine, Albertine’s now-deceased sister is there too. The six of them will interact and slowly unravel Albertine’s life to the spectator. We learn that her husband died during the war, that her daughter Thérèse strayed from the common path and that her son Marcel is mentally disabled.

Albertine at 30 is in the country for a week away from her family. She was sent there after a drama with Thérèse.

Albertine at 40 is depressed and overwhelmed by her daily life with her children. She’s in a constant fight with Thérèse and Marcel requires a lot of attention. She’s become difficult to live with and believes her family doesn’t respect her or listen to her.

Albertine at 50 is freed. She has decided to cut her children out of her life. She has asked Thérèse not to contact her anymore and she put Marcel in an institution. She works as a waitress, earns her own money and feels free and liberated.

Albertine at 60 is at her lowest, addicted to pills to dull the pain.

Albertine at 70 has been to rehab and is now clean. She’s alone with her memories and tries to reconcile her past selves into her present one.

Through the fragmented Albertines, we eventually have a global picture of Albertine’s life and her misfortunes. It’s extremely well done. The different Albertines talk to each other, questioning their choices, underlining the consequences of a decision made by one Albertine to the life of the next Albertine.

We see the portrait of a bruised and battered widow who had to deal with two difficult children, without the support of a husband, with the constant putting down of her mother, with the love of a sister who had a perfect life.

Tremblay shows us the fate of a woman who was born at a time when being a wife and a mother was almost the only career path. Thirty-year-old Albertine asks Madeleine if she never felt trapped because there wasn’t many options. She felt prisoner of her fate as a woman. She doesn’t know how to interact with Thérèse. She wasn’t meant to be a mother and society thought that women were only on earth to be wives and mothers. She feels like a failure because she can’t be the good mother she should be. She is judged because it should be natural, so something must be wrong with her. And in the end, she is knocked-out by guilt.

Guilt to have put into the wold two “abnormal” children. Albertine at 40 shouts that people should remember they were two to make these children, that her husband died at war and became perfect in the process and that now everybody believes that it’s her fault if her children aren’t normal.

Guilt to fail them as a mother. She loves them but lacks motherly qualities. She has trouble to communicate with them, to show her love. But how can she when her own mother yells at her and belittles her? Tough love is the only one she knows. Is it her fault if Thérèse is now a drug addict and a floozy?

Guilt to have chosen her freedom and her sanity and to have abandoned them. People judged her for that and she had to live with her decision. Her relationship with Thérèse was going nowhere and was toxic for both of them. Sometimes cutting ties is the only solution. Marcel retrieved further into himself and cut communication too.

Albertine in Five Times is poignant play about the destiny of a woman who was caged in her time. She had no other choice than being a mother, she needed help but didn’t get any because she should have known what to do as if being a mother was a built-in skill coming with ovaries.

It is a play about memory and the different Albertines interacting is a clever way to picture our sometimes crowded heads. Although it’s common to talk about a trip down memory lane, memories aren’t linear. They bounce on one another, one leading to another, leaping from one period of our life to another. The simultaneous presence of the five Albertines on stage pictures it perfectly. It is difficult not to think about Proust with a character like Albertine. The opening of the play is Albertine settling in a new room and thinking about the past. It remined me of Proust in his room in Balbec. Proust is also a master in playing with memories. I can’t imagine there’s no reference to Proust with a main character named Albertine who has a son named Marcel. I wonder where Thérèse comes from, though.

I saw a version directed by Lorraine Pintal, with Lise Castonguay, Éva Daigle, Martine Francke, Monique Miller, Madeleine Péloquin, Marie Tifo.

The direction is flawless from the décor, the costumes, the movements on stage to the choice of actresses. The Albertines are dressed in the same colours and fashion with only the style of clothes adapting to her age. The only totally different clothing is Albertine at 50 when she revolted and left to be a waitress. The décor is full of vertical lines, showing bars to symbolise the prison of Albertine’s condition as a woman. Using different stairs allowed Lorraine Pintal to put each Albertine in her own place (room, café, house in the country) but didn’t cut the actresses from moving from and to each other and interacting lively.


The actresses were from Québec and had a local accent. The first minutes were difficult but I got used to it. The differences between French and Québec French are real and rather puzzling and entertaining. For example, we have both imported the word job from the English, to say travail. In French, job is masculine, like travail. We say un job. In this play, they say une job. In French we use the word rocking chair, which is fair, after all in English, you say a chaise loundge, a name that obviously comes from the French chaise longue. In French Quebec, rocking chair has been translated and became une chaise berçante. There were lots of details like this and it enforces the sense of place. It was impossible to forget you were in Montreal.

If anyone reading this has the opportunity to see this play, rush for it. Everything about it is excellent, the text, the actors, the direction, it has it all.


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