Imagine if, years after having established a family, a long lost lover magically reappears in your life. What if your domestic life is not as perfect as you had hoped, and you are offered a second chance for romance and exotic adventure? What would you choose?
This is the theme of Victorine, a novel billed as a blend of fact and fiction and based on the little the author knew about her eponymous great-grandmother. Victorine makes this decision, and it is up to the reader to decide if it is the correct one. Her story is told during a single day in 1940 and consists of flashbacks to different periods. It is set in both the provincial French town of Vendée and exotic, mysterious French-occupied Indochina in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The book exhibits a dark and foreboding atmosphere from the very beginning. It is clear what Victorine¹s choice will be, and it is also clear that there will be no fairytale ending. Her struggles between duty and independence, tradition and freedom, and longing and regret are honestly and starkly depicted and elicit the reader’s sympathy regardless of how one feels about her decisions. The other two main characters are vividly, if a bit stereotypically, portrayed. Victorine’s husband Armand is distant and self-serving, while her lover Antoine is, of course, handsome, romantic and adventurous.
Overall, the book is readable, and the plot is intriguing. The writing style is a bit too detached for my taste, but others may feel differently. Perhaps I am quibbling over a minor personal annoyance, but the entire text is based on conversations between characters, yet there isn’t a quotation mark to be found. The dilemmas Victorine faces in her life are definitely food for thought and will keep the reader pondering for quite awhile after finishing the book.