Review | Love Alone, Emmanuel Kattan (Sheila Fischman, trans.)

In Emmanuel Kattan’s Love Alone,  Judith and Antoine were lovers for a brief time. Nine years later, they reunite and revive their former passion. However, they cannot forget the events of the past, and after a violent incident, their relationship spirals down into a nightmarish tale about the effects of sexual jealousy.

The story starts off a bit slow, but becomes much more interesting about halfway through, after the violent incident I mentioned. From the blurb, I was expecting a quirky, darkly comedic book along the lines of War of the Roses. Love Alone does get a bit dark and violent, but was neither horrific enough nor wildly gleeful enough to keep me riveted. It’s a sad, earnest story, yet it didn’t pull me in.

Part of the problem for me is the language, and it’s very possible that this is simply a translation issue. The writing felt stilted to me, stiff and formal at points and overly flowery at others. Take for example:

When I first came here nine years ago, New York was merely a refuge, a cold and unattractive place. I felt lost and I was relieved  not to find anything here that could help me to find myself.

Or, in a news article about a woman whose corpse had been discovered,

According to her sister she had received several anonymous letters, but was determined not to give in to intimidation. The reaction of her colleagues was dismay. “We’re shocked. […] She was irreplaceable,” declared editor-in-chief Ronald Auger.

The language just didn’t flow for me, especially the overly formal construction of “The reaction of her colleagues was dismay.”

There are lines with ideas I find beautiful, taken alone:

Who knows to what degree his eyes have been shaped by temptations he doesn’t even remember, who knows what his caresses to my  body owe to the pleasure that he learned to give to others?

But combined with more awkward phrasing later on, these lines just get lost. I sense this is a translation issue more than anything; it’s possible that, in the original French, the language flowed more naturally.

Kattan also uses to use alternating perspectives, the first person journal entries of Judith interspersed with third person view of Antoine’s experiences. Again, because the language, to my ear, lacked fluidity, these episodes of varying perspectives felt disjointed. The small jumps in time and the number of other women in Antoine’s life also added to my confusion.

Overall, an interesting concept, with some interesting scenes and beautifully written lines, and Kattan certainly doesn’t shy away from showing the brutal nature of sexual jealousy. However, I found the writing a too stiff to be effective in drawing me in to the nuances of Judith and Antoine’s relationship.

 

 

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