I’ve been waiting a lifetime for the French to turn the spotlight of self-deprecating humour on themselves. In fact, I’ve been waiting a lifetime for French humour. It has finally arrived in the form of a funny soliloquy written by new French author Sophie Divry. Of course there have been other ‘regards’ on various aspects of French culture, notably by the Brits though. And as a Brit among French I have to say that yes, we love them but oh how we hate them! We love them because they say ‘Bonjour’ when you enter their space but we hate them because they then proceed to fend you off it with a heavy armoury of post revolutionary complexes several baguettes long.
Sophie Divry’s little book takes a loving swipe at that curious, not-yet-extinct species, the French public sector employee. In 2010 Lucy Wadham penned The Secret Life of France from the point of view of a pained Brit married to a Frenchman in Paris. She also waxed lyrical on the sinister skid marks of the guillotine on contemporary French society. The Library of Unrequited Love, translated into English by Sîan Reynolds, is the soliloquy (no paragraphs) of a librarian to a reader who has accidentally become locked in the library overnight. Having finally cornered a captive reader, the librarian goes off on a rant about her job, her colleagues, her clients, French literature, French history and of course, as the title suggests, her love life. Or lack of one.
After accusing Balzac of being a commercial fraud (I’ve always thought so) and declaring Napoleon a ‘show-off’ who brought ‘total mayhem’ to Europe, the librarian makes one of the most pertinent points of the book: ‘I’ve lost my illusions about ‘the people’ and the socialists’, says Divry. Watch out François Hollande! The French are waking up. If they start rejecting both Napoleon and socialism, what will they have left? They’ve decapitated Sarzoky, after all.
Any Cop?: The translation of this short novella is well done, retaining its French character, with perfect lines such as this one: ‘Culture is not the same thing as pleasure. (It) calls for a permanent effort by the individual to escape the vile condition of an under-civilised primate.’ So, don’t expect to enjoy yourself next time you’re at the Paris theatre. Just make a bit of an effort.