I was very much looking forward to the Francoise Sagan short stories published as part of the Penguin Moderns series (#31). I have read quite a lot of her work to date, and always admire the way in which she writes, and the clever characterisation always to be found within her books. In this collection of ‘shimmering, bittersweet tales of desire and disillusionment’, ‘a middle-aged woman breaks with her young lover; a husband is suspected of infidelity; a dying man reflects on his extramarital affairs’.
As with many of her psychologically rich novel-length stories, Sagan concerns herself here with the darker side of human relationships in these stories. She focuses upon sexuality and affairs, and the ways in which people hurt others. The four stories collected here are ‘The Gigolo’, ‘The Unknown Visitor’, ‘The Lake of Loneliness’, and in Joanna Kilmartin’s English translation in 1977.
Throughout, Sagan has such a deep understanding of her characters, and of what motivates them. She knows their vulnerabilities and their thought patterns. True to form, her stories rarely end with happy conclusions, or even with closure. She presents the unexpected, and builds suspense well throughout. She displays one complicated life after another, and the fragments of story which she focuses upon tell the reader so much about her protagonists.
Sagan strikes such a great balance between descriptions of place and developments of character. She has such skill in presenting the more chilling aspects of the natural world. In ‘The Lakes of Loneliness’, for instance, she writes: ‘The idea of those lakes in the setting sun, with reeds, furze, perhaps some duck, immediately attracted her and she quickened her step. She came upon the first of the promised lakes almost at once. It was a mixture of blues and greys, and although not covered with wildfowl (there wasn’t even a single duck) it was nevertheless strewn with dead leaves which were slowly sinking, one after another, in a dying spiral; and each one seemed to be in need of aid and protection. Each of these dead leaves was an Ophelia.’
The translation of each of these stories is fluid, and the prose beguiling. The stories in The Gigolo are not neat; they make one think for weeks after the final page has been read. I loved each of the stories collected here, but was particularly struck by the imagery and troubled female protagonist in ‘The Lake of Loneliness’; there is such a dark beauty to it. The stories here are so human, so deep, and so wonderful.