Thursday, 29 January 2015

The challenge – 13 short stories in 13 days – No. 7 and 8

The American Lover

by

Rose Tremain

Story 7 – Juliette Gréco’s Black Dress

This deceptively straightforward little story has two girls,  Phoebe and Karen, who work in a beautician’s shop, share the story of Phoebe’s mum, Julie, over their lunch break.

Julie had gone to art school in Paris in the late 1950s, was enraptured by la Muse de l'existentialisme, the singer, Juliette Greco, spent her money on the same “little black dress”, fell for and was seduced by her art teacher a “philandering French fool with a dirty floor” according to her own mother and returned home to Epsom despondent. Within six months she had married the beautician’s father and “Nothing more has ever happened to her”. 

It is the little things that make this story – the black dress getting torn (we never know how, but can perhaps imagine), the contrasting sense of style between the tartan skirt, M&S twinset and demi-wave permed hair of Julie’s departure from England and the almost beatnik look of the matelot jerseys, tapering trousers, log straight locks, the inevitable Gualoises cigarettes and the ending - no spoiler, but the final scene is the perfect ending in my opinion. Loved it!

Story 8 – The Housekeeper

Tremain surpasses herself in this story imagining a passionate affair between Daphne Du Maurier and Mrs Danowski, a housekeeper to Lord de Withers of Manderville Hall. After Du Maurier has ended the affair for fear of being discovered as a bisexual in the 1930s, Mrs Danowski is horrified to discover that she has become transformed into the evil Mrs Danvers of the writer’s masterpiece, Rebecca.  I  loved the way she mirrored back the imagery in Rebecca to become the reality in her story with Manderley becoming Manderville Hall, de Winter becoming de Withers, Mrs Danvers becoming Mrs Danowski  and using the same boathouse as the lover’s meeting place , the same preserved West Wing as the untouched memorial to the past. The sense of betrayal felt by the housekeeper is immense, first by the non return of her lover which drives her out of service at the Hall and then by the revelation upon reading the novel that there was no “coded message” for her in its pages instead she had been the inspiration for something as evil as Mrs Danvers.

A fantastic fictional backdrop story to a much loved novel and its writer.

ashramblings verdict Simply a class act!

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