But life is not just a question of the past, and people are not simply products of their worst experiences. Confronted by the challenges of loneliness and change, the narrator realizes that Olivia has as much to give as she has needs of her own. In the year they live together, a friendship full of vitality and mutual respect develops.
A runaway bestseller in France, Sans Moi explores the curious nature of friendship, the complicated dynamics of learning how to love and be loved, and above all, the importance of learning never to judge by appearances.
About the Authors:
Marie Desplechin is also the author of a short-story collection, Trop Sensible. She lives in France.
Will Hobson is a contributing editor to Granta. He lives in England.
|Publisher:||Editions du Seuil|
|Product dimensions:||4.25(w) x 7.05(h) x 0.60(d)|
Read an Excerpt
'Thanks, I'd love some more,' said Olivia, taking the handle of the saucepan. 'I've got a confession to make. God, I should stop eating so much, I'm blowing up like a balloon ... Do you remember when I first came here, in September?'
'Yes.' I said. 'It's still only October, after all.'
'Oh. Right. Well, I've got to tell you this. I hadn't stopped taking drugs back then. I admit it.'
'Uh huh.' I reached for my cigarettes.
'But I have now.'
I lit a cigarette unhurried]y, blew a smoke ring, and said, 'I knew.'
'You knew what?'
'I knew you were taking drugs.'
Olivia wiped her plate with a piece of bread in silence. She didn't look up. Maybe she didn't believe me, or perhaps she was hurt.
'You could have just kicked me out. People don't like babysitters using drugs.'
'If it'd been anyone else, I would have.' I didn't say anything else.
She got up from the table and cleared away our plates, piling them noisily on top of each other.
'Do you want some coffee?' she asked, going into the kitchen.
I could hear her in there, muttering about the little espresso maker. I'd screwed the top on too tightly and she couldn't open it.
'The fact is,' I shouted, 'I didn't sack you because I trust you ... Can you hear me? Because I'm fond of you.'
A furious groan came from the kitchen, followed by a familiar crash.
'Don't worry,' Olivia called out. 'It's not serious, it's only the glasses.'
As a rule, we appreciate the love of our fellow human beings either as a necessary acknowledgement of our worth or as a surprise that seems heaven sent. We have been raised for it, one way or anotherby being starved or over-indulged, it doesn't really matter. When it comes down to it, we love to be loved and we love to love, maybe misguidedly and to our cost, but deliberately, stubbornly and repetitively. Love pleases us, with its rattle of chains and periodic windfalls. Good thing too. There's nothing more desolate than hating love.
Olivia was caving in under the weight of her problems. Having experienced neither starvation nor over-indulgence, only absence and chaos, she was as mistrustful of other people's feelings as a petty criminal.
'Did someone say something to you?' she asked, slapping two sugars down on the table next to my cup.
'No,' I said. 'I guessed. It wasn't that hard.'
In order to confirm my suspicions, one morning I'd summoned to my flat my brother Laurent, a family counsellor, and his friend Thierry, an expert in the field, partly reformed but full of regrets and prone to relapses.
'Tell him what you told me on the phone,' my brother said, sitting on the old Fender amplifier which presided over the trestle table in my flat.
I poured a cup of coffee.
'OK. Well, some evenings she doesn't say a word and she's really down, and then the next day she's all excited and bright-eyed and can't stop talking.'
'Yes,' said the expert.
'She talks the whole time about the pills she's taking or that she used to take and about drinking, but she swears: drugs, no way, what a bloody liability, when you see how it messes people up, especially girls, all the things you can't do when you're into it and how they all end up, no teeth and on the game, and so on and so forth. Unless you're in it up to your eyeballs, I don't see how anybody could go on about it so much.'
'Sure,' the expert said, looking concerned. He wasn't much of a talker.
'Guys are always ringing up and she doesn't want to talk to them, it's as if she's scared. Then there's Captain Hook and Long John Silver, in and out of her room at all hours of the day and night, carrying bags and acting like big shotsthe concierge is going crazy with suspicion. Then there's the packages she has to deliver, by taxiwho to and with what money, I've no idea. One evening she told me that she'd taken my daughter with her to drop something off. A trip in a taxi, that's fun for a kid. I said no, there's nothing fun about it and that from now on there is going to be no more talk of packages or taxis.'
'Well done. Any other signs?'
'The tin foil keeps going missing from the kitchen.'
'Oh no!' said the expert. 'Tin foil's a problem. A big problem.'
He hunched over his coffee.
'You see?' said Laurent.
'No chance this'll sort itself out.' the expert diagnosed, scratching his sparse hair in dismay. 'Every chance it'll get worse.'
'You're fucked,' concluded Laurent. 'She's got to go. We can tell her, if you like.'
'No,' I said, 'let me sort this out. It's a special case.'
At that point, my brother left for work and the dismayed expert stayed behind with me. We went to bed straight away since it was only casual between usto my great displeasure. I would have preferred a little regularity.
'The hardest thing,' I told Olivia, so she'd understand all the anxiety she'd caused me, 'was that I didn't want you to leave.'
'Because of the children?'
'Yes. But because of me as well. I didn't want to sack you, I didn't want to give you a hard time. I just wanted you to stop taking drugs.'
Of the prize-winning line-up of liars and addicts life had thrown up for me to become attached to, it was clear that she took the palm, the laurel wreath, the roar of the crowd and the entire triumphal arch. It was also clear, from the day we met, that I felt as if I'd known her for ever. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I felt I knew what kind of life she'd had but she struck me as someone I'd always knownthe features of her face, the way she laughed and suddenly turned sad. I could tell her socks in the washing machine by their colours. I could recognize her creases in the ironing.
Let's say we'd experienced the same fears and hardships and had the same kind of childhood. Or let's say that we were the same age. Smoked the same cigarettes. Wore the same nail varnish. But none of this was the case. I was ten years older than her and our lives were as foreign to one another as a Joanna Trollope novel is to a Hubert Selby short story.
'What about your friends, Agnès and all that lot who sent me to you? Did you ask them?'
'Of course. They all swore no, no drugs, ever. They thought it was amazing, really, considering what you'd been through: no drugs and no prostitutionfor a girl who's been in care and lived on the street and seen what she's seen, it's practically a miracle; you can take her on with complete confidence. What's more, she loves children.'
Olivia giggled. She adored people she could make fools of.
'You can't hold it against them. They didn't know. Jean-Luc, Dominique and Agnès, they're innocent. I wouldn't ever have wanted them to suspect.'
'You remind me of a girl I used to know ten years ago. A girl from Savoy. She had tiny blue eyes, thin lips and shoulders like a wrestler. I got her a job at my work. "I wouldn't say I've never touched drugs," she used to say to me, "but all that's over now, it was too much." At lunch she'd tell me about all the tragic things she'd been through, her father who worked in a slate quarry, her twelve brothers and sisters and what a cruel place the world was. The next morning she'd come to the office still a complete mess from the night before, with her clothes all crumpled and white specks round her nostrils and fall asleep on the switchboard. She went mad when someone suggested she should clean up and go into detox and then one morning she left with the four thousand francs I'd lent her; I was earning seven at the time. It made me sad that she could just disappear like that, even though we were friends. I've never seen her again. Maybe she's dead.'
'Maybe,' said Olivia. 'Addicts always end up being bastards, that's just the way they are.'
'We should buy a TV for your room.' I said, the day after her confession. 'We can go to Darty while the children are at their father's.'
'Alright,' Olivia said. 'It'll help me sleep. I can't sleep at night. I just feel too awful when I'm on my own.'
'It's because you're up in the maid's room; it's too small.'
'No, I don't think so,' Olivia said, 'I like the room, I've never had a place of my own before, with a key and everything. No, it's just that nights are a problem for me. I feel bad during the day, but at night I feel even worse. I have to keep the lights on and the radio turned up.'
'How do you manage?'
We were on the Metro, sitting on the fold-down seats.
'I just do. I hardly ever go out, that way I can be sure I'm not going to meet anyone. Except when I go to Sainte-Anne, to see the psychiatrist who gives me pills. Are you sure you want to buy a TV? It's not worth it if it's just for me.'
In the shop, she maintained a steadfast silence, staring shamefacedly at the floor. The security guard stuck to us like a leech. I bought a blow heater and a little TV which cost just under 2,000 francs. We got a taxi home, took the lift to the sixth floor and then the back stairs to