by Jacqueline Harpman
translated from French
I read this book some years ago, but the main points have still stuck in my head. I don't quite know how to write about this one without spoilers, so be forewarned!
Forty women are kept caged in an underground bunker. Their guards are men who never speak to them, and avoid any interaction. The youngest, through whose eyes we see the story, cannot remember a time before this imprisoned life. None of the other women will tell her why they are there, or reveal what happened to turn their world into a desolation. One day an alarm sounds and the guards run out suddenly, allowing them to escape. They wander through a strange empty landscape, searching endlessly for other people. One by one the older women die until the narrator is left alone in the empty world, with only her own thoughts to commune with.
It's a very disconcerting story. Related in a lovely fashion, I admit I was hooked and didn't want to put it down, but that was mostly because I wanted to know why everything: what had caused the disaster that destroyed the world? why did the other women never speak of it? why did the guards refuse to communicate with them? but what frustrated me most was that even after they had escaped and gone outside, no more revelations were really forthcoming. I gather now, that wasn't the point of the book, it's meant to show something about human nature. What makes us human when the world (almost literally) is gone? what about a child, who grows up knowing nothing but this desolation, how will she form herself and recognize her own humanity? but as I read the story I didn't really get it, and I'm still not sure if I do. I just found it sad, disturbing and ultimately, frustrating.
Have any of you read it? Did you make any more sense of it than I? (I gave it a 3 for a good book because really it was captivating to read. It was just the end that unsettled me with its depressing note and lack of answers).
Rating: 3/5 ........ 206 pages, 1997
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