The Rendezvous

Overview

The Rendezvous is a beautiful and evocative first novel that blurs all lines between memoir and fiction. In a painfully sentimental journey, Louise, a sophisticated eighteen-year-old Parisian student, sits in a café awaiting the arrival of her long-absent mother, an aging hippie and former fashion model.
As the hours pass and Louise waits, she reaches deeper and deeper into her store of memory, recalling the early failure of her parents' marriage. Louise remembers how brief and ...

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Overview

The Rendezvous is a beautiful and evocative first novel that blurs all lines between memoir and fiction. In a painfully sentimental journey, Louise, a sophisticated eighteen-year-old Parisian student, sits in a café awaiting the arrival of her long-absent mother, an aging hippie and former fashion model.
As the hours pass and Louise waits, she reaches deeper and deeper into her store of memory, recalling the early failure of her parents' marriage. Louise remembers how brief and unfulfilling meetings with her mother have punctuated her safe and secure life with her father, a world-renowned conductor. Carefully walking the balance between anticipation and fear, Louise meditates upon the chaos of her mother's life, a life of decadence, drugs, and irresponsibility.
Coming face-to-face with the powerful love she feels for her mother, Louise wryly acknowledges the complexity of a relationship filled with countless letdowns and unwavering devotion. Written with a wisdom that transcends age and the wit and savvy of a true survivor, The Rendezvous is a poignant examination of the transition to young adulthood and the often startling awareness of a parent's fallibility.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Elle Lévy's writing is quirky and provocative and fresh....A lively, tenderhearted book.

Barbara Fischer The New York Times Book Review Provides a devastating description of the fierce and firm grip of a young woman's love, a reminder that while it is painful to hope and be disappointed, it is more painful still to give up hoping.

Patrick Besson Paris Match Like Françoise Sagan and Patrick Modiano before her, Justive Lévy has exploded onto the literary scene.

Charles Taylor

It's hard to tell whether this debut novel from Justine Levy (daughter of the French philosopher Bernard Levy) is slimmer in pages or ideas. The Rendezvous is told by 18-year-old Louise and takes place entirely in the course of the day she spends -- from morning until evening -- waiting at a cafe for her mother to show up. La mere, a former fashion model, is the bee's knees when it comes to glamour but not so hot in the responsibility department. Well, my dears, being an alcoholic vagabond bisexual junkie does have its price.

Reading The Rendezvous, I couldn't decide what was sillier: that an utterly selfish and irresponsible woman who never misses a chance to fail her daughter was being presented, as the book's blurbs would have you believe, as some sort of "acknowledgment that motherhood itself is an impossibly idealized state" (Josephine Hart), or that a young woman, after a lifetime of such treatment, wouldn't cut her losses and stop making herself miserable over her "acute case of unrequited longing for her dazzling but radically unreliable mother" (Daphne Merkin). Finally, it's a toss of the coin what's more annoying: a grown woman who's so selfish and self-destructive she lets her daughter discover her dead drunk or OD'd, who exposes her child to all her sleazy lovers (there's something a tad reactionary in the way Levy makes her mother's lesbian lover the sleaziest, beckoning Louise into the bath with them for what, it's implied, won't be a chorus of "Splish Splash") and who periodically abandons her daughter when she becomes inconvenient; or a young woman who, all evidence to the contrary, refuses to learn the simple life lesson that parents are people, as imperfect as any others, and sometimes more so. The Rendezvous seems cunningly conceived to appeal to both camps: to daughters who resent their mothers and to mothers who feel guilty but justified about living their own lives. You can imagine members of both groups buying copies to give to each other tearfully at birthdays and Christmas.

Since I haven't yet said anything about Levy's literary style, let me just note that it veers from what could be a parody of jet-set potboilers ("Hello, pet, I'm back from Kuala Lampur, I have a lot of silly little things to tell you. Would you meet me at the Escritoire, in the Place de la Sorbonne, tomorrow at eleven? Kisses and hugs, my kitten") to New Agey forgiveness-and-healing-speak ("Maybe we thought it was the thing to do, to love each other, mother and daughter. But still, we believed in it. With pain, awkwardness, worry, pain again" -- that's gotta hurt -- "but we believed in it. And I, and I" -- ay yi yi -- "despite what anyone might say to me ... despite drugs and craziness, despair and prison, despite your egotism, your dreadful egotism, which is also a sin against yourself ... I would like you to know, Mama, that I have loved you infinitely").

Lest I be accused of having a heart of stone, I would like to say that The Rendezvous did not leave me unmoved. Reading of Anne, the sozzled, strung-out, bisexual glamour-and-drama queen, I felt a real pang of loss remembering that the great Divine is not alive to play her. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Near the end of this deliciously moody debut novel in the form of a continuous monologue, Louise, who's 18 and a true Parisienne, sums up her turbulent, relationship with her legendary model mother, Alice: "It isn't serious. It's a game." Louise is a pretty good sport, when you consider that this summation comes after she has spent an entire day waiting for Alice in a cafe. Louise, who is quite glamorous herself (judging from the number of men who try to pick her up at the cafe), mourns her separation from troubled, drug-addled, charismatic Alice, from whom she first ran away when she was seven. Louise's own coming-of-age angst, well hidden beneath her standoffish, sophisticated air, is stirred up by the anxiety of waiting and wondering if she'll again be stood up. In the meantime, she can't stop thinking about her mother, and the lyrical sweep of her memories--of Alice's drug overdose; her aggressive female lovers; her arrest and imprisonment; the way heads turned wherever she walked form the body of this simultaneously mournful and irreverent novel. Louise wisely contrasts what passes for their relationship with the sometimes lonely but "calm and safe" life she has had with her composer father, and she punctuates it all, including her dealings with a not very sympathetic waiter, with a winning directness. Hers is a very French sort of melancholy, and enjoying it may depend on an appreciation for both reckless glamour and the languorous pleasures of killing time in a cafe. Davis's (Almost No Memory; Forecasts, Apr. 14) translation feels seamless, and one wonders if the chord the novel struck in France, where it was a bestseller, will likewise resound here. (Aug.) FYI: Twenty year-old Justine Lvy lives in Paris, and is the daughter of philosopher Bernard-Henri Lvy.
Library Journal
In a humorous reversal of the French notion of rendezvous, Louise, the young narrator of this irresistable first novel, unravels her personal tale while waiting in a Parisian caf for her mother. It is not just any caf, however, but the one in which her parents, now divorced, met 20 years before; and it is not just any mother, but a gorgeous, extravagantly wayward fashion model, drug addict, and shoplifter. Louise is wise to Alice (we're never quite sure if she's going to show up or not), rather than bitter regarding her neglect of Louise during her childhood, the ghastly details of which the narrator recalls with a Gallic shrug: "This is drama. This is tragedy. This is why I suffer and why there's nothing to do about it." Levy manages a marvelous classical unity of time, manner, and place, and her descriptions (some guy has a "Bourbon profile"; Alice's lesbian lover has "strangler's hands") are fresh and funny in Davis's easy-going translation. We're not sure how Louise turned out so sanely, but we're glad she did. For all readers.Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684846323
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 3/15/1999
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 0.34 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 8.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Justine Lévy is the daughter of the preeminent French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. She is a student of philosophy at the University of Paris. This is her first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
I'm the best thing mama ever did. At least that's what she claims.
"You're a miracle, my little miracle," she used to tell me in a fit of sadness.
The miracle wasn't me, or my name, or my face, but the happiness I reminded her of. The miracle was that I looked so much like the person she loved, the person who had left her. The miracle was that I lived on after their love was dead, that papa continued in me. It was that commonplace wonder — a father diluted in his child.
When she took me in her arms, she would study my face for a sign of his face, his smile, his glance. For a long time, she clung to these coincidences, to the ways we looked alike. Papa was still there in me. Through me, their lives were bound together, the splendor and misery of that love.
And then, it was my turn to leave her. I was seven years old, I had to get out, so I ran away, more or less. I know she felt it as a terrible defeat. And by leaving her that way I really think I lost her. How long has it been since she stopped holding me close to her heart? I miss it.
Her tenderness is somewhere else now. I perceive it from time to time, glimmers of it, in her laughter, on the telephone, in the way she wears her gray fox coat, the perfume in the fur. That perfume — is it the only thing I have left of her?
A message, yesterday, on my answering machine: "Hello, pet, I'm back from Kuala Lumpur, I have a lot of silly little things to tell you. Would you meet me at the Escritoire, in the Place de la Sorbonne, tomorrow at eleven? Kisses and hugs, my kitten."
"My kitten." Okay. Other people would say "my baby," "my angel," "my dear little girl," but she says "my kitten." The main thing is to get along with each other.
Right now she's late, as usual. I should be quite clear about this: Mama is a chronagnostic; time exists, but she doesn't believe in it. That's the way it is. However, she always feels the need to vindicate herself. So she makes up something, anything at all, as quickly as possible. She was pursued by a hired killer. Went to vote by proxy for an old aunt with a cold. Saved a cat from drowning. Didn't wake up. Went back to sleep. Took a sleeping pill instead of a vitamin. Was bitten by a lady in the post office.
When I was little I needed her lies, even if they hurt me. Now what discourages me is that I don't believe her anymore. So I pretend, because I'm so tired; she doesn't even bother to do a good job of lying anymore. What she says is always improbable, but she sticks by it.
Mama lies. There. It's her cure for depression, her remedy for the disease of feeling unimportant. Reality bounces off her, nothing matters: she smokes a joint at breakfast, forgets to have dinner, falls asleep on a bus.
"Oh, yes, pet, I know I'm strange — it's a sort of profession."
Last summer, on one of "our" Sundays, which we we were to spend together, we had a date to go visit some of her friends in Chartres. Mama was driving. Suddenly she made a right turn.
"This way looks nice."
"You're crazy?
"I should hope so!"
In the end, we found ourselves back in Cannes. We never saw those particular friends again.
Once, just once, I asked her to explain it to me. How can a person live outside of everything, within a complete illusion?
"You know, my kitten, the illusion of happiness is always the happiness of an illusion...."
Mama, the great sage in the presence of the Eternal.
The fact is, she will come. That's the most important thing: Mama always comes in the end. She'll order a draft beer, draw a heart in the foam with her finger. She won't drink it: The only thing she likes about beer is its color. I think I know her through and through. And yet how many times I've said to myself, seeing her arrive: That isn't her!
She's disarming.
She'll come, and when she enters the cafe, she'll attract every eye, and silence will fall around us.
Copyright © 1995 by Plon

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First Chapter

Chapter 2

I may as well say it: Mama is beautiful, very, very beautiful.

For a long time I contemplated her beauty in the eyes of the men who had anything to do with her. In those eyes I saw fever, a promise of danger. One day ten years ago, I came across a Vogue cover, one of the last she did before she went under, before she passed into that other life -- the life of bohemian disorder which I feel somewhat responsible for and which has frightened me so since then.

I looked at her, that day, as though I were seeing her for the first time. Wait! That gilded statue, with eyes drawn out toward her temples -- it was actually her! I stuck the photo above my bed, in place of Garbo, and I was paralyzed with admiration. That's my mama!

I saw how I could make use of the situation. I had already gone off to live with my papa. I didn't see her much. I filched her modeling portfolio, a large green file folder, and I methodically cut it to pieces. She reappeared projected on the walls of my bedroom all the way up to the ceiling: mama everywhere, in all four corners of the room, smiling at me and running toward me in a moiré bikini; mama in silver lamé and pearls with a Marlboro between her lips; mama in black and white behind a gate; mama on water skis, frothy waves all around her; mama staring at me with her large clear eyes; mama on a bicycle in the country; mama with a bottle of Chanel No. 5; mama half nude under the sun; mama in small pieces, her mouth on a bottle of champagne; mama in an evening gown in a bathtub; mama in profile, her nose so distinctly shaped.

Mama to the point of disgust, mama to the point of nausea. Mama looking at me at night,t springs up like a jack-in-the-box out of her head, and she's afraid of its sudden leaps.

She resents these men for being no more than what they are, for never being Him. What an odd pact, what a strange sort of loyalty. This mutilated life....


And yet some time ago she got married again. Was she hoping for lightning to strike at city hall? The fact is, she and Alex didn't even spend their wedding night together and two months later they applied for a divorce.

I sometimes run across him in the Latin Quarter, where he still gravitates, and even now he seems stunned, clinging to the slightest scrap of memory. Exactly what happened? What obscure reasons drove this proud, talented man to let himself be duped like that, humiliated, dispossessed, trampled underfoot? Even he can't explain it. He doesn't hold anything against her. A few moments of grace, he says. The curious motions of her hand, easy and precise, when she was applying her blusher. The little girl in her. Her sharp profile. The distress in her eyes, the way her voice would break suddenly, the way she seemed to be saying "help me, rescue me," at the very moment she was kicking him out.

Copyright © 1995 by Plon

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