Louis Claret is a high school teacher, coming to the end of his career. He is fifty-eight but seems to be embracing old age. His marriage is over, his daughters are embarked on their own lives, he lives alone, not reading much, just embracing nothingness. But when we meet him, he is at a gallery opening, an exhibition of the work of a former student. As he says,
I didn’t belong there.
He has received an invitation from Alexandre Laudin, a former student whom he remembers as ‘a skinny boy, a scrawny cat in the corridors of the lycée.’
Laudin is becoming quite famous. His exhibition will travel on to Rome, London and Amsterdam, but first this opening in a gallery in his home town.
Louis is surprised to receive an invitation to the private opening, as for him, the boy doesn’t stand out from other students. He is not drawn to his work as shown in the retrospective
A disturbing vision of humanity, reminiscent of both Munch and Francis Bacon, with a incongruous nod to Bernard Buffet, now forgotten…
He has a party at the buffet and goes off home, not expecting to see Alexandre again for some time, if ever.
But then he gets a phone call from Amsterdam requesting a meeting, and a kind of friendship starts up, that reveals to Louis Claret a great deal about himself. For Alexandre wants to paint his portrait, and it is during the silent hours of these sessions Louis mulls over aspects of his life.
I had dreamed of being Kerouac, on the road, out to meet people whose lives intersected with mine, who had things in common with me.
And it becomes clear that, while Louis has always played it safe, the times he remembers are those with some element of risk. Here he is out walking in a storm with his daughter, Iris
Below us the ocean has gone wild. Dark grey clouds roll past, rare patches of clear sky allow a glimpse of imperturbable stars. We stand there, exhausted, but on our feet. We are struggling, my daughter and I, to put down roots. And we are laughing. Yes, laughing.
A friendship develops between Louis and Alexandre and the teacher discovers he has meant a great deal to the young boy when he was a student. We also discover that Louis has has had opportunities to lead a different kind of life, but something has always made him withdraw. Can this new friendship open out his life? Will he accept Alexandre’s offer?
Blondel’s elegantly written novella is about regret for lost opportunities but also about possibilities of renewal. Most enjoyable.
Another lovely little book from New Vessel Press. Now I want to read Blondel’s previous book The 6:41 to Paris.