The Girl from the Chartreuse
by Pierre Péju
Translated by Ina Rilke
Those who know what it is to be unbearably saddened by the experience of reading - and long for it - will find a sympathetic voice in Péju. The Girl from the Chartreuse revolves around the power and symbolism of words and tragic childhoods.
The novella opens and closes with terribly visual scenes of near-death experiences. The first has the protagonist, Vollard, a bookshop keeper en route to his store with a van load of books, collide and nearly kill a young girl, Éva. This accident and the girl's long convalescence allows for a pseudo-relationship to form between Vollard, Éva and her escapist mother, Thérèse.
But it is Vollard that Péju focuses on. Péju veers from the story to switch into a first person homage to the character, which consumes the middle third of the book. Do not let this distract or discourage you. Péju's purpose is not only to embellish and glorify Vollard as a lumbering heroic character but to emphasize what it is that Vollard represents: literature itself. We are constantly reminded of the impact books have and that "the only true reader is the thoughtful reader."
The second piece of visceral imagery depicts a bungee jump that Vollard strives to take and accomplishes with spectacular
ineptness. But such leaps of faith are, in all our lives, necessary, if unwanted. For Vollard it will eventually lead to freedom, for the reader to thoughtfulness. Recommended.
By John Kehoe , July 2006