Bordeaux, a shrewd and moving portrayal of life in contemporary Europe, is the first novel to appear in English by Soledad Puértolas, one of the most acclaimed writers in Spain today.
A novel that subtly takes the measure of our time, Bordeaux traces the fates of three people: Pauline Duvivier, an elderly woman who lives a solitary life in a tranquil suburb of Bordeaux; René Dufour, a Frenchman involved in unfulfilling relationships with several women; and Lilly Skalnick, a young American woman traveling in Europe. Their stories, which take place in France and elsewhere throughout Europe and the United States, intersect in seemingly random yet revealing ways, gradually forming a complex social portrait. Unifying all their stories are the themes of loneliness, restlessness, and the search for meaning in a world in which neither the past nor the present offers firm answers or lasting consolations.
About the Author
Born in 1947, Soledad Puértolas has been a leading force in Spain’s cultural renaissance of the last two decades. Her literary awards include the Premio Sésamo, awarded to promising young authors in Spain, and the coveted Premio Planeta. All of her novels have appeared in French, and several have been published in German, Italian, and Portuguese translations. Francisca González-Arias is an assistant professor of Spanish at Merrimack College. She is the author of Portrait of a Woman As Artist: Emilia Pardo Bazán and the Modern Novel in Spain and France.
Read an Excerpt
Pauline Duvivier lived in a tranquil suburb, filled with two-storyhouses, far from the center of town. She lived alone, a fact shesometimes regretted, but since any other alternative would havecaused her greater anxiety, she tried to adapt herself to solitude.
Every day a woman came to cook and do the cleaning. WhileMadeleine was there, Pauline remained in her room, located onthe second floor, and wrote letters. When Madeleine left, Paulinewould leave her room and install herself in the sitting room, whereshe listened to the radio and did some needlework. Before nightfallshe would go out to the little garden in the back and water herplants. Some afternoons she ventured out into the streets on thepretext of running some errandMadeleine always did the foodshopping. When the weather was good she set out toward thepark and there, sitting on a bench facing the Natural Sciences Museum,she watched the people come and go.
These two parts of the day were equally valued by Pauline. Sheneeded Madeleine's presence in order to stay in her room, and sheneeded the maid's absence to be able to move freely through thehouse.
It hadn't been easy for Pauline to organize this routine. She hadconstructed it with effort, struggling with her memories. Whenher father, Marcel Duvivier, died, Pauline had been startled by thesolitude. She was accustomed to his silent company, to the rhythmof life both had established since Agnes's death. While her fatherwas alive, the pain caused by her mother's disappearance seemedbearable. Without him,Pauline was left alone in the world. Shewas an older woman. She had not formed a family. Nothingwould remain after her. The nostalgia for what she had had overtookher with unforeseen intensity. She would envision herself inher father's company during their daily walk toward the docks beforedinner. She recalled the warm afternoons in the picnic placesalong the Garonne, when her father spoke with the tavern keeperswith unusual interest and confidence, and, above all, their returnas evening fell, when the city sank into the night and the streetlampsfeebly lighted the streets. They would cross paths withgroups of people, couples who like them were ending a day of recreation.That return was filled with melancholy. Didn't they bothknow their lives were fading like the afternoon that had justended?
The adjoining room was the library, where her father had spentso many hours of his life. After returning from the offices of theCrédit International, he would shut himself up in it. At midafternoonthe visits began, friends with whom he spoke for hours. Paulinewould listen to the murmur of their voices when the maidcrossed the threshold to serve them coffee, and to the sporadicnoise of steps in the direction of the bathroom. When the friendsleft, her father appeared in the sitting room. It was the sign that hewas ready for their walk. When they returned he went back to thelibrary. He hardly slept. He devoured books. He reread those heconsidered his masters. Toward the end, he read only Montaigne,marveling at how each sentence resounded so profoundly in him,discovering in every thought an affinity that previously had passedunnoticed. If Pauline came into the library, he read a passagealoud to her. He'd read it several times, because he knew it wasdifficult for Pauline to concentrate. It was true; her father had readto her so many phrases she only noticed the tone, the expression ofhis face as he read.
That routineof set customs, along with the minor changes thepassing of the seasons introducedtook on in Pauline's eyes animmeasurable worth. During the time she had devoted herself tomaintaining it, her mind had wandered far. She had made an effortto look after her father, and that same effort had kept her occupied.She had thought herself in possession of other thoughts, ofa life she had relinquished. Her father's death had left her alonewith herself, and she lamented then not having known that thatlife was, perhaps, the one she would have chosen.
At midmorning shouts came from the first floor. Pauline descendedthe stairs and found Madeleine in the kitchen. Her eyewas red and swollen. A young woman whom Pauline didn't knowwas crying out with amazement and indignation. Upon seeingPauline, both women turned toward her.
"Come here, Mlle Duvivier," said the girl. "Look at what thatbeast François has done."
Pauline examined Madeleine's eye.
"You should be seen by a doctor. What happened?"
"It was François," repeated the girl. "I'm going to put a coldcompress on it."
"You mean to say he hit her?" asked Pauline as the youngwoman went to and fro in the kitchen.
"It's not the first time," said Madeleine, resignedly.
"But you mustn't allow that," replied Pauline.
"I can't do anything. He's stronger than me. I'd be crazy to try todefend myself. But when he's not drunk he's not a bad person."Madeleine's voice grew gentle.
The girl turned toward her with the cold compress in her hand.
"That's terrible," she said, indignant. "You forget immediately.He's going to kill you one of these days. You can't go on livingwith him. Even your sons tell you that. You must leave him."
Madeleine wasn't saying anything. She had sat down and waslooking at the floor with her uncovered eye. The young woman introducedherself. Her name was Gracielle and she worked for the
Excerpted from Bordeaux by Soledad Puértolas. Copyright © 1998 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Despite being under 200 pages this took me a long, long time to finish. Maybe it's the fact it was originally written in Spanish (Soledad Puertolas is one of Spain's most acclaimed writers). I'm thinking maybe something got lost in the translation. That's always possible. I found the whole storyline to be choppy, disjointed, even abrupt in some places. It was if Puertolas took three short stories and tied them together by location. On the surface all three chapters focus on a single character located in the same city. They all have Bordeaux, France in common. It's the villa that apparently ties these stories together.First, there is Pauline Duvivier, an lonely elderly woman asked to do a favor outside her comfort zone - something scandalous involving adultery and blackmail. As the reader you really don't get the whole picture. Then, there is Rene Dufour. He is unlucky in love, worse in relationships of any kind. You can't help but feel sorry for him and wondering what's wrong with him. The last character, Lilly Skalnick, is a young American traveling through Europe. She's just as lost as the rest of them. As each character is introduced and explored it is hard to ignore the social portrait being drawn. Every character is lost, lonely, searching for something or someone to satisfy an unknown longing.