The Unforeseen Paperback – Sep 15 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
The latest from French novelist Oster (A Cleaning Woman) uses the common cold as a deceptively offhand metaphor for love, and achieves a depth that is comic, sad and very Gallic. The unnamed narrator claims that he lives with a constant low-level cold, and that he inevitably infects every woman with whom he is in a relationship. He loves his partner, Laure, who has, for the past year, proven impervious to infection. As the two set off in their car for a friend's birthday party on the distant island of Braz, Laure is seized with cold symptoms. It shocks her, and the resulting chain of events, closely observed from the narrator's perspective, makes up the rest of the book. The result is a love story deeply informed by Beckett (complete with the narrator acquiring a limp like that of Molloy's title character), where swells of feeling are tracked in sneezes as involuntary as love itself. The narrator's dispassion, which is likely to turn more than a few readers off, paradoxically betrays the depth of his feeling at every turn, giving a story in which almost nothing happens very large stakes indeed. (Oct.)
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Oster's slow, meditative novel, translated into fluid, almost hypnotic English by Hunter, has at its center a protagonist who lives not fully engaged but rather with qualifications for every part of his existence. Not even a walk uphill can be stated straightforwardly: I reached the top of the slopenot quite the very top, there were still a good two hundred meters that carried on to a slight incline on the left. The only sharply defined thing for him is the fear of inevitable loss, specifically of his girlfriend, Laure, who has caught his cold during their brief vacation in the seaside village of Braz, which in his somewhat phantasmagorical mind bodes ill for the relationship. And, of course, a journey to a friend's fiftieth birthday celebration is anything but simple, for a hitchhiked ride leads to attending a stranger's party. The slow dying of the relationship parallels reaching another kind of death. Oster portrays an oddly mesmerizing journey, though not everyone will want to take it. Scott, WhitneySee all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Accompanied by his lover Laure, the narrator is going to the birthday party of Philippe, a friend who lives on an island off the coast of France. When Laure falls ill, she takes to bed in a local hotel, asks him to sleep in another room, and announces that she will not go to the party, insisting that he go--and that he leave the car for her.
Within this simple framework, Oster examines the life of a man who must now either take some action or allow it to happen to him. As he obsesses over Laure's behavior and their failing relationship, he decides to hitchhike, getting picked up by kindly Gilles Traverse, who drives him toward his destination. Unexpectedly, Gilles invites him to spend the night at his home, where he and his wife Helene will be giving Gilles' thirty-fifth birthday party. The speaker accepts, though he is ill and has a fever, which does nothing to improve his interest in the outside world. When the party breaks up, the speaker continues on his way toward Philippe's estate, driven by a woman he has just met. A buffoon, he is the victim of accidents and surprises, a game played by the fates on someone who has not lived his life, thought beyond himself, or learned to think ahead at all.
Filled with ironies and some dark humor, the novel is a challenge. The author creates wry scenes and lively peripheral characters to keep the reader going, while at the same time, presenting a main character who is so inactive that there is nothing for the reader to like or to identify with. The speaker is a cipher, so dull that one has no particular wish for either his success or his failure. Author Christian Oster has given us an existential novel of a man who floats through life, tethered to the world only by his ego, a man others pass without a backward glance. Whether he is capable of change, an idea raised by the conclusion, is an open question for each reader to decide. n Mary Whipple
My Big Apartment
A Cleaning Woman