Celine Curiol’s Voice Over: Book Group 3

Voice Over - Celine CuriolYesterday was my third Book Blogger’s Book Group. It’s not actually called that and not everyone who goes along actually blogs but it’s just for my sanity to differentiate from my others! Anyone who’s interested in the group can find out more here on Savidge Reads’ blog.

So this months choice was Voice Over by Celine Curiol chosen by Armen. While I don’t think he did it on purpose, Armen chose a very apt follow up to The Bell Jar which we read in July. In reading Voice Over, I discovered another neurotic female character to rival Plaths. The book is a narrative of a young woman who lives in Paris. She works as an announcer in a train station and is in love with a man who we are not sure is interested in her but has a girlfriend ‘Ange’ that the protagonist seems to envy and idolises as an ‘angel’. The significance of her job to me in being the ‘voice over’ at the station is that she is a sort of faceless person, detatched from everyone around her. She gives instructions, always as they should be – mundane and correct – but never really has contact with other people. She is never named within the book.

She is somewhat oddly behaved, provoking bitchy comments from her colleagues and is also emotionally detached, living in her own little world with a naive attitude which leads her into a whole host of strange and often dangerous situations! The only people she comes into real contact with seem to be equally strange and even these connections are fleeting. She also has a sort of romantic sensibility which leads her to imagine events that haven’t happened yet with great clarity and dread or sometimes hopeful anticipation.

“She thinks of her own death. As if it were a cessation, the sudden interruption of a current, the annihilation of what she is. At any moment. She concentrates on the physical duration of time. Each instant could be the last, yet each instant, once over becomes a reprieve. And, one by one, the instance pass, nothing happens, or rather everything does: she doesn’t die.”

She acts out, announcing inappropriate things at dinner parties. It is hinted throughout that something bad has happened to her. You are lead to wonder, is this why she is so strange?

What really enhances the ‘oddness’ of this book is the way in which it is written. It seems as if it is the protagonists own train of thought, but is actually written in the third person. So you feel as if you are part of her thought process and yet detached at the same time. The sense that it is a train of thought is also made more acute by the fact that there are no chapter breaks so that you feel a bit as if you are hurtling from page to page, from event to event.

I wouldn’t say I liked the character – like Plath’s Esther in The Bell Jar, she is difficult to empathise with and very frustrating at times – but I found the novel very absorbing and thought provoking. I wanted to know more about her – what’s her name? – what is her own image of herself? – what is the nature of her attractiveness that she finds such odd suitors? – is she just plain crazy!!? I thought the writing was very skillful in creating the sense of who she was and making you a part of her curious world.

To sum up in two ajectives I’d say it was both stimulating and surreal!

Claire has also posted her thoughts on Voice Over over on her Paperback Reader blog as has Simon at Savidge Reads, Kimbofo liked it while Jackie at Farm Lane Books wasn’t so sure!

What other French fiction would you recommend?

14 responses to “Celine Curiol’s Voice Over: Book Group 3

  1. Great review! I forgot to mention the Esther Greenwood comparisons and that’s what most struck me.

    I really like how we approached this differently and took different things from it but we both create an image of the narrative as a train itself.

    As for French literature… I don’t think it gets any better than Colette or Anais Nin. Then again, there’s Proust, of course, and before year’s end I am going to read Therese Raquin by Emile Zola, which I have high hopes for.

    • Oh thanks for the suggestions Claire! I’ve dipped my toe into the odd Anais Nin (oo-er), but I haven’t read the others, although The Uncommon Reader made me want to read Proust also…

  2. This is an excellent review! I agree: it was definitely a stimulating and surreal read. I’ve just left a comment on Claire’s blog where I describe it as the literary equivalent of an art house film. It’s kind of quirky and beautiful at the same time.

    Actually, if they made it into a film I reckon Juliette Binoche should play the lead: she’d be brilliant!

    As to French literature, I don’t actually get along with it very well, but I do highly recommend ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ by Françoise Sagan. My reveiw is here: http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/2006/02/bonjour_tristes.html

    • I think that’s a really good analogy actually. Or I think you said maybe Audrey Tatou as well… the movie I was trying to think of was “Priceless” (Hors du prix), but I think that character has a bit more get up and go!! Thanks for the suggestion 🙂

  3. PS>> This is completely off topic, but are you really reading ‘The Official Highway Code’? Are you going to review it?? 😉

    • Haha, I am but only because I’m learning for a theory test. Thrilling or what? Maybe I will review its usefulness for passing or not!

  4. If I had to use two words it would be weird and meandering! Perhaps we should bring the two word descriptions into our book group!

    PS. I’d love a review of the highway code!!

    • Ha, so far I think a 2 word review of the Highway Code would be “boring” and “boring”!! The two word think isn’t a bad idea, although it will have to be an addition rather than a substitution or it will be a very short discussion!

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  6. Great review! I’ve never heard of this book but it seems like a wonderful read.

    • Thank you, it was really interesting and not one I would have thought of if it hadn’t been for our book group. I love that about it!

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