‘Like an Ayn Rand re-write of Last Tango in Paris’ – The Victoria System by Éric Reinhardt (translated from French by Sam Taylor)

tvserIn this novel of secrets and withheld information, the eponymous Victoria reveals what she believes to be very privileged information:

‘In the seventies, sex was on the side of the hippies. Nowadays, it’s on the side of the CEOs!’

Her lover, and narrator of the story, David Kolski, starts to believe her, rapidly ditching his long-held socialist views:

‘Today’s true libertines are undoubtedly on the right. Eroticism has changed political opinion.’

Only capitalism, he concludes, could create a situation where a woman is able to hop on the Eurostar from London to arrive at a hotel in Paris to have sex ‘for the duration of a film’, and then catch the afternoon train back home. ‘I find that fascinating,’ remarks David, ‘and extremely arousing’.

David is a well-paid construction manager who spends his working days pushing labourers to the limit and beyond so he can get the tallest tower in France built for his clients: a major investment bank. We know he’s a socialist because he says he is. After he stalks the apparently unattainable, power-oozing Victoria for three hours through a shopping centre and into a ten-pin bowling alley, he finally speaks to her and she agrees to meet him again. Over a sensuous, flirtatious first dinner, where their desire for each other is so strong they can hardly slurp their oysters, David suddenly interrupts his seduction to say:

‘I wanted to tell you, or rather confirm to you – I think the moment has come – that I am a man of the left.’

Bombshell! Was this relationship doomed before it had even begun? Victoria is certainly disappointed:

‘Seriously, David, left wing? An intelligent man like you, in an age like ours?’

Victoria is the head of human resources at an international company with tens of thousands of employees worldwide. Ikea, perhaps. But we’re never told.

The two discuss their differences over espressos, and David talks for the next ten pages about his work before they finally get a room. It’s the first of many hotel rooms these two married people share as they continue their affair. Reinhardt gives a reasonably detailed description of that first time, and this is probably the erotica mentioned on the book’s back cover. But many of the other sex scenes are reduced to a few lines like this:

‘[The room] had a glorious view of the Palais Garnier. We made love. She was naked except for her high-heeled shoes. I almost came. We ate dinner in the room. I admired the architecture of the Opéra through the window…’

The biggest to and fro between these two are their lengthy, but tediously superficial, discussions on the benefits of capitalism. It’s like an Ayn Rand re-write of Last Tango in Paris.

There are elements of a thriller shoehorned in here and there, but it’s little more than David telling us every so often that ultimately something tragic happens to Victoria. I guess these hints are supposed to create suspense, but it just feels like the Reinhardt is withholding information, which he is. The result is a flimsy story with flat characters who have nothing original or interesting to say. I could go on, but one thing this book has shown me is that there’s nothing to be gained from such long-winded commentary.

Any Cop?:  I’ll be honest, I didn’t make it all the way to the end of The Victoria System. I got as far as page 300 of 460. Not a bad effort. But if I was to live to 150, I’d still think life was too short to waste any more time on this book.

Jim Dempsey


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