Over lunch today the question came up about favourite books and films and I said that a recent DVD of a French film called Hidden (La Cache) had really left you wondering what the moral was. There are books that make the reader work as well and as the wine went round it was hard to come up with an example. However on boarding the train afterwards to head home it became obvious that based on the first chunk of reading that Jean-Paul Sartre’s second in the Roads to Freedom trilogy, The Reprieve, is going to be one of those books.
Where other writers might insert an asterisk or page break Sartre moves from one scenario to another with such fluidity you almost fail to realise the location has changed until someone you have never heard of starts talking. The blurb on the dust jacket describes the style in these terms: “Cutting incisively from one scene to another…” It leaves you desperate for a friendly face from the first book but even then there has been a gap and things have moved on with almost no explanation. This has been hard work today.
Bullet points from pages 1 – 50
* Things start with two things being established – that everyone is waiting to see what Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain manages to get out of Hitler at Munich and that France is expected to play a role helping the Czechs if the outcome is bad
* Characters in presumably German occupied border areas wait tensely to see what will happen with Milan Hlinka protecting his family behind closed doors and the diplomats receiving news that Hitler is postponing Chamberlain’s audience
* Quickly a host of characters are introduced with a man and a nurse involved in an affair in a hospital that faces being moved because in the event of a war it would be on the front line, a man who has come to Marseille to seek a better life and communists in Paris readying for the conflict
* There is a glimpse of familiar ground with Mathieu on holiday with his brother’s wife Odette at her villa and they talk about the war as he makes sand pies and thinks about Ivich who he has been writing to
* Then there is more confusion with the subject of everyone the prospect of war before another familiar couple – Daniel and Marcelle – appear and you discover they are married but she has not yet had Mathieu’s child
* Everyone is looking for signs of war and finding them in different things with Mathieu experiencing it in the heat of the desert, the diplomats starting to realise it is in the way Hitler treats Chamberlain and for those already in the firing line by stones being hurled and intimidation