(I am aware that something awful happened this week, as it does every day of every week in America, and that everyone is talking about it. I do not have the emotional bandwidth to discuss it outside of a few safe small places offline, and so I am choosing to lose myself in books in this space. I hope you understand.)
“Now that I have nothing to do, monsieur, I thought time would lie heavy on my hands. It’s just the opposite, the days and nights gallop along so fast it makes me dizzy.”
Anne-Marie the Beauty was an actress once. Then she married a boring but stable man, had a son she doesn’t like much, and got old. She had a friend named Giselle, who was more talented and successful than Anne-Marie, but also less virtuous, to hear the beauty tell it. She also had a childhood ritual of watching the actors leaving the local theatre and reciting their names in a dreamy mantra that bookends her life.
I’m familiar with French-Iranian writer Yasmina Reza, but I’ve only read her plays before. They’re very good–her work Art was the first play in translation to win a Tony Award. It’s fitting that this short novella reads a lot like a long monologue. Anne-Marie as the narrator has a clear, authentic voice. As she rambles about the past and the present, sometimes in the same sentence, you really get a sense of who she is and was, and how she hasn’t changed.
There’s something sad about this book. Maybe it’s the bitterness and unfulfillment that peeks through the stories of the not-so-good old times. Maybe it’s the fear and helplessness that comes from getting older, becoming a widow, and being the last living member of your friend group. Anne-Marie lays these things out then whisks them away to lay out gossip-y little stories about her acting days. The book is a bittersweet little tale of a bittersweet little life, and while it isn’t long, it is really thorough. There are so many little details and habits shared that you really feel as though you’re in a little French apartment, politely nodding while your hostess gossips about someone long dead while chewing cough drops .
It’s short. It’s sweet. It took my mind off of the day while simultaneously grounding me deeper in reality.
4 stars and a packet of Ricola to Anne-Marie the Beauty.
(Beautiful people, I hope that you are doing what you can where you can to make the world a better place. I also hope you have time to be whoever you are freely, much like Anne-Marie. Beyond that, if you’re looking for something to read, check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. We have an affiliate relationship, so any clicks and purchases may result in a commission being earned. Peace!)