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, Whitney