François Mauriac

THE LAUREATE: François Mauriac was born in 1885 in Bordeaux and died in 1970 in Paris. He claims, somewhat inaccurately, that he was a Catholic who writes novels. He apparently got into a spat with Camus after World War 2. He was in the Académie française and wrote a column in the newspaper in addition to being a somewhat prolific novelist. I don’t know what to say about him, exactly.

WHAT I’M READING: Therese Desqueyroux

REVIEW: After I finally get to MERICA MONTH and read Main Street, I’m going to come back to this. I think there’s going to be an awful lot of tonal similarity, at least. So, the novel starts at the end of a trial where Therese was pronounced not guilty of poisoning her husband. On the train ride back to her house, she recalls the situation and incidents that led to her unhappiness and the marriage she was trapped in. She is constantly shifting perspectives and narrative styles, and has a tendency to dwell on unnecessary details. So, Therese is forced into marriage with Bernard, who’s basically a French hillbilly, because everyone assumed their two families wanted to join their huge tracts of land into one huger tract of land. She’s totally miserable, and feels nothing for the girl she has for him. His sister is infatuated with a (le shudder!) Jew, and Therese breaks them up. When her husband is distracted by a brush fire, she either adds some extra arsenic medicine to his daily water or, as she reports it, she doesn’t tell him that he put the drops in before he got up so he put more in. Either way, everyone tries to cover the whole thing up to avoid a scandal, despite the fact that everyone agrees she’s guilty. Bernard locks Therese in their house with their servants, who abuse her. The only thing that genuinely gets her free is Bernard’s terrified memory of a woman who was locked away for 25 years by her family. As soon as his sister gets safely married off to their neighbor who has a lot of pine trees, Bernard takes her to Paris and lets her go.

This is a great book to pull out when you need to write about Freud in literature, even though Mauriac hated Freud. The reader gets a direct glimpse into Therese’s memories going back to childhood, and the ways she squirms away from admitting her guilt even in her own mind are straight out of Freud. There’s also a huge theme of propriety, people forcing themselves into expected feelings and reactions. Therese was apparently born without the ability to do that, and she suffers for it.

RECOMMENDED: Sure. It’s not The Stranger by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s pretty good. There’s a movie of this coming out in August, might be worth stepping into.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Land of Green Plums, by Herta Muller

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