Victorine: A Novel

Victorine: A Novel

by Catherine Texier
     
 

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In this lush, lyrical, and marvelously evocative novel, Catherine Texier takes a mystery from her family's past and draws from it a portrait of a remarkable woman—her great-grandmother Victorine. A young schoolteacher in a quiet province in France, Victorine had married and had two children. But when she falls desperately in love, she makes a startling choice,

Overview

In this lush, lyrical, and marvelously evocative novel, Catherine Texier takes a mystery from her family's past and draws from it a portrait of a remarkable woman—her great-grandmother Victorine. A young schoolteacher in a quiet province in France, Victorine had married and had two children. But when she falls desperately in love, she makes a startling choice, leaving her family for her lover and a new life in Indochina.

On a single day in 1940, as Victorine reflects on her past, we travel back with her, from the willow-lined canals of her childhood home in Vendee to sun-drenched days and languorous nights along the Mekong River at the dawn of the twentieth century. Hers is an unforgettable story of adventure and self-discovery—of a woman's struggle between duty and independence, tradition and freedom, longing and regret.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Texier does a skillful job of recreating the rich insularity of the French provincial town: ''an amphibian maze of canals almost entirely shaded by vaults of willows and alders, like transepts in a cathedral.'' Old-fashioned objects -- a yole, or canal boat, a woolen bra called a ''heartwarmer'' and a wooden egg for darning socks -- are presented with the naturalness of a writer who is genuinely comfortable in the past. — Nell Freudenberger
Publishers Weekly
Texier, author of the 1998 memoir Breakup and three previous novels (Panic Blood, etc.), spins a steely, delicate fictional tale of unaccounted-for years in the life of her own great-grandmother, Victorine, who was rumored to have run off with a customs officer in the late 1890s, leaving behind her husband and two children in Vend e, France. Victorine first met Antoine when she was 16; she was soon to become the youngest teacher in France, and he was intent on venturing to one of the French colonies. As Victorine settles into her work, she meets dark-eyed fellow teacher Armand Texier and pushes Antoine into the recesses of her memory. She and Armand marry in a hurry when Victorine becomes pregnant, but years later, Victorine meets Antoine again and plans rendezvous with him, feeling a "shameful pleasure at the idea that her secret evened out the power" between herself and her womanizing husband. After some deliberation, Victorine agrees to leave her family to move to Indochina with Antoine, where he guarantees to "show [her] a world that [she] will fall in love with." She leaves without confronting her husband or children, and immediately begins to feel regret. As she wrestles with the prospect of contacting her sister, who also lives in Indochina, or even her family back in Vend e, Victorine remains entrenched in a "split reality" where she must convince herself that the present can, in fact, always be reinvented. Texier offers seamless transitions between the past and present, and even the future as an older Victorine reflects upon her days in the Mekong Delta. Lurking questions of empire and expansion lend an extra dimension to this bittersweet romance, reminiscent both of Madame Bovary and Duras's The Lover, making plain the temptations and risks of expanding beyond one's borders. Agent, Joy Harris. (Apr. 20) Forecast: Texier is best known for her memoir of her breakup with her husband, with whom she co-edited the literary magazine Between C & D. This book should reach a broader readership than her previous novels, and give her a fresh start in the fiction arena. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This dark romance grew out of family rumors concerning the author's great-grandmother, who inspired the title character. Victorine exemplifies the successful French middle class of the late 1800s. Once the youngest teacher in France, she is now a working mother who walks home daily with her husband, also a schoolteacher. Though she finds the family routine dull, she is content until the startling reappearance of Antoine, an attachment from her fun-loving girlhood. The two rediscover their old passion, and Victorine agrees to the unthinkable: she deserts her spouse and children to travel with Antoine to French Indochina (now Vietnam). Overwhelmed by her exotic new surroundings and profoundly disturbed by Antoine's involvement with the highly dangerous, though legal, opium trade, Victorine nevertheless manages to cope by teaching and immersing herself in the local language and culture. Yet neither her love for Antoine nor her new pastimes can distract her from the guilt that virtually consumes her. Texier (Breakup) moves the action seamlessly back and forth between the aging Victorine's reminiscences in 1940 and her earlier adventures in coastal France and the Mekong Delta. Fans of historical novels and Francophiles will devour this one. For most fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/03.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Female sexuality-the driving force of Texier's abrasive earlier fiction (e.g., Love Me Tender, 1987; Panic Blood, 1990)-takes a much more romantic form here. Billed as a mixture of fact and fiction and based on the little Texier knew about her eponymous great-grandmother, it's the story of a grand amour and its bittersweet aftermath. The narrative juxtaposes a day in 1940 when the elderly Victorine, living in France under German occupation, goes to the beach with her middle-aged youngest son-with Victorine's staggered memories of her youth, marriage, adultery, and repentance. The latter are revealed in gorgeously written extended flashbacks in which we observe, in the early pages, a young girl who is "good at pretending" growing up in provincial Vendee, briefly encountering handsome teenaged Antoine Langelot, then entering an increasingly unhappy marriage to worldly-and rather officiously masculine-schoolteacher Armand Texier. Victorine bears Armand two children, but dreams of a different, more exotic life. And when Antoine reenters hers and importunes her to travel with him to employment opportunities in Indochina, she vacillates nervously, then, in 1899, leaves her family and joins him. Texier shapes Victorine's Indochina adventure as a series of disillusionments: Antoine's repeated business failures, his slow fall into an expatriate culture absorbed in the pursuit of luxury and the consolations of opium, the "message" implicit in a text she uses to study native languages ("The Tale of Kieu," a narrative poem about a woman who gave up everything to be with her lover), and Victorine's own burgeoning guilt and unhappiness. The close comes with her sorrowful (though resolute) parting fromAntoine and her return to Vendee, and Armand. Echoes of both Madame Bovary and Kate Chopin's The Awakening suffuse a nevertheless inventive and artfully composed delineation of a beguiling and complicated woman's arduous journey toward self-understanding. A subtly textured fourth novel: Texier's best yet. Agent: Joy Harris

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375421242
Publisher:
Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/20/2004
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.07(d)

Read an Excerpt

Victorine

A Novel
By Catherine Texier

Pantheon

Copyright © 2004 Catherine Texier
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-375-42124-6


Chapter One

September 8, 1940 11:15 a.m.

There's barely enough time to go to the beach before Maurice comes to pick her up for lunch, but she doesn't want to miss seeing the ocean for the last time. The rain, which has poured down for the past three days, has finally stopped and washed the sky a deep, spotless blue. She hurries through the bungalow, impersonal now that most of the furniture has been moved, folds a blanket into her tapestry bag, and puts on rubber galoshes over her soft woolen slippers; the sand might still be damp.

The old steamer trunk stands in the middle of the empty parlor, where the movers have left it, after having brought it up from the basement the day before. The trunk is smaller than she remembers it, its leather scuffed and scratched from years of use. She runs a finger through the dust. It's been forty years.

She struggles to slide open the locks. A heavy smell permeates the old clothes: sandalwood. Her hands fumble along one side of the trunk, then the other. She had slipped in the diary afterward, hastily, she remembers. She pulls out a copy of Madame Chrysanthème, a novel by Pierre Loti, then a catalogue of the 1900 World Expo. That one, too, she must have put in the trunk later. Has she misplaced the diary? She finds a few more books, a photo album with a red leather cover, a blue ledger filled with a list of items: white handkerchiefs, pillowcases, tablecloths with point lancé or Valenciennes, each priced in piastres. Finally, her hand feels a rectangular object at the bottom of the trunk. She pulls it out. Yes, it's the brown notebook. It smells damp and smoky. Without opening it she puts it into her bag and quickly walks out. Drops of water festoon the latticework running under the roof of the bungalow. In the garden, she notices, the hollyhocks, which have grown tall and wild over the summer, are fading to pale lavender and watery pink, as if their colors were running with the late summer rain.

Her joints are swollen with arthritis and her fingers a little twisted at the knuckles. She's carrying her big tapestry bag by the handle. She's put on an apron over her dress as if she were going to the backyard to pick a lettuce or a head of chard for dinner, and a cardigan over it; it's cool by the ocean. The dress is navy blue, printed with tiny white birds or windmills. The cardigan is hand-knitted in a shade of lilac or puce, or just plain gray. Her legs are covered with thick, white cotton stockings. On her feet are the slippers with soft soles and gray pom-poms, and the rubber galoshes over them.

The dories are leaning drunkenly, pastel blotches in the morning sun, their masts teetering low above the wet sand. Just as they had that day when he had come up to her, in his big black overcoat, holding his hat over his chest, bowing. When she was a young bride, before the birth of Daniel, Armand had taken her to Paris and they had gone to visit an exhibition of paintings everybody was talking about. The canvases were covered with tiny splashes of color that blurred when you came up close. But if you took a step back, the scene quivered to life. People said it was sloppy, not good art, and yet now, the beach in the late morning, dotted with the hulls of the dories, mottled with the flickering shadows cast by high, wind-swept clouds, reminds her of those paintings.

She spreads the blanket at the foot of the dunes, sits down, removes her rubber galoshes, and takes the notebook out of her tapestry bag. Forty years, she thinks again. Forty years that she hasn't seen it or even opened that trunk. It had remained closed through all her moves, from Velluire to Maillezais, from Maillezais to Le Gué de Velluire, from Le Gué de Velluire to Villa Saint-Claude, here, in La Faute.

The brown cardboard cover, she remembers, was originally embossed with arabesques in a Moorish style, probably to imitate Moroccan leather. She opens it. A few letters and yellowed newspaper clippings slip out on her lap. Some of the pages are stuck together. She separates them carefully in order not to tear them. The faint blue lines are barely decipherable now, and the original violet or blue ink has turned a pale umber.

Several pages are covered by foreign words dotted with accents.

Cám o?n Chào Chào tam biet biet chúc ng'u ngonda CÂY BÀNG bún riêuphía nam CÔ CHIÊN Chan doocái màn làm gidóng cua oi dâu nha quêbuô?i tó?i

She reads the words slowly one after another. Most don't mean anything to her anymore.

A loose page in a thick paper, folded four times, reveals a row of Chinese characters. One of them, she recognizes, spells out her name.

The others are indecipherable to her now.

She leafs back to the beginning of the diary and reads the first entry.

4 Avril 1898 Saw A. on the beach yesterday. They say things always happen for a reason. Do they?

April 1898-she was not yet thirty-two.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Victorine by Catherine Texier Copyright © 2004 by Catherine Texier. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Catherine Texier is the author of three previous novels, Chloé l’Atlantique, Love Me Tender, and Panic Blood, and a memoir, Breakup. She was the coeditor of the literary magazine Between C & D, is a regular contributor to the New York Times, and has written for Newsday, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and Nerve.com. Texier lives in New York City.

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