Friday, July 8, 2011

Marie's Review: The Woman with the Bouquet, by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt

The Woman with the Bouquet, by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. Published 2010 by Europa Editions. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson.

A collection of five short stories by French writer Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, The Woman with the Bouquet deals in secrets and mysteries and with people searching for meaning in their lives, often by trying to ferret out the secrets of others.

Most of the stories deal with love affairs, and often, a crime. In one, a writer listens to an elderly invalid tell an implausible story about a passionate affair she had with a prince; could it be true? But how? In another, an average-looking woman who finds herself ugly, falls for a blinded photographer, who, in finding her attractive, teaches her to love herself. Another woman kills her husband only to have second thoughts, and yet another waits at a train station every day, titular bouquet in hand. But for whom?

My favorite story though was the only one without a love affair at its center, "Trashy Reading," about a cynical professor who reads only highbrow nonfiction until he finds rapture between the covers of a potboiler detective story. On vacation with his beloved cousin, he steals her grocery-store page-turner and becomes engrossed in the adventures of a certain fetching, fictional lady detective, but the story transmits to him a growing anxiety, leading him to a tragic error of judgement and a terrible outcome for his innocent cousin. I liked the suspense built into this story; Schmitt had me turning the pages as fast as the luckless protagonist turned the pages of his fat thriller.

The rest of the stories are delightful, if somewhat similar to each other; "Getting Better," about a nurse infatuated with her blind patient, was also wonderful. It's a personal-transformation story about someone learning to see herself through someone else's eyes, until that viewpoint becomes her own. All of the stories have about them a sort of wistful romantic quality, and except for the poor leads of "Trashy Reading," there are lots of happy endings, too. The collection is a quick read; a story or two a day was a very doable pace for me and considering there are only five stories, I went through it in under a week. Europa fans and readers of short stories will want to add this one to their piles!

It's book one of fourteen towards my challenge goal of Europa Amante!