“Our life is frittered away by detail – simplify, simplify, simplify.” HD Thoreau
It was Jorge Luis Borges who demonstrated that the majority of stories told as novels could more powerfully be told as short ‘meta’ fictions. It is British authors who regularly feature in the Booker Prize shortlists who continue to prove the premise behind Borges particular style of writing. There is, however, one nation whose authors have consistently demonstrated that great authors must first learn brevity: France.
Some of the most memorable stories to have come from France are also beautifully short: Marguerite Duras, ‘The Lover‘; Francois Sagan, ‘Bonjour Tristesse‘, Albert Camus, ‘The Outsider‘. It is the latter short novel that has perhaps been most influential on Anne-Sophie Brasme’s debut novel, ‘Breathe‘.
I have just spent a very pleasant couple of hours reading this debut novel. It was written when the author was just 17. Usually, I would argue that a teenager simply hasn’t lived long enough to experience to sufficient depth the many joys and pains of life that they may write as a mastery of their craft. I am one of those readers who will stop as soon as they become bored, as soon as they find a character’s emotion life to be implausible, as soon as the background appears too poorly researched. The trick perhaps, is to cleverly marry a style of writing to the story being told.
In ‘Breathe‘, the main character is a 19 year old girl and reflecting upon the obsession that led to such tragic consequences. As an obsessive personality, Charlene Boher is incapable of feeling regret for the actions that freed her from her obsessions. She coolly – and simply – analyzes those decisions made and refused that led to extraordinary bid for freedom from the tyranny of a very overbearing friendship.
In telling the story as a first-person narrative with all semblance of judgement stripped from the narrative, the voice of a very troubled teenager comes across with crystal clarity. On the border of adulthood, Charlene understands herself with the same acute understanding that her friend Sarah once possessed.
One passage stood out clearly for me: “When you go mad you don’t notice because it doesn’t hurt. The most painful part is when the madness is over.” Remember that this short novel was written when the author was 17. There must surely be more great stories to come from this author and yes, I am immensely jealous.
To view the book on Amazon, click here: link
(‘Breathe’ was translated by Rory Mulholland)