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I read a review of mass market Valentine boxes of chocolates, mostly heart-shaped, on salon.com that actually made me want to buy the available-in-a-drug-store-near-you Russell Stover lace heart (the lace compared to the stuff of cheap lingerie), the classic Whitman’s sampler and the Andes mints—maybe because the writer was trying so hard to be amusing about American culture without falling over entirely into Snark, the internet attitude and language all its own, meant to show the hip cruel edge of the writer/judge—a posture that even the Snarkiest know is offensive on this holiday for lovers. You can lament the marketing of love by Hallmark and department stores, but you still need to show up with at least a rose and a small box of chocolate truffles. (The emails from readers responding to Tuesday’s post are unequivocal: A small gift or tribute of some kind is a necessary lubricant to V Day sex; “I love you, Baby”, is not enough.)
Yes, gifts are good. Personally, I love flowers, from the bunch of tulips purchased at the Korean deli by a man in a hurry to get to me to the massive floral tributes, including huge tropical blooms, that my ex-husband and my darling Jackie sent, and French chocolates, from Maison du Chocolat or Richart’s—and books! My best lovers have always given me a book (or more) somewhere along the way.
Here is a book worth hinting for—
French author and linguist Herve Le Tellier is a member of the international literary group Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, which translated to English means more or less "workshop of potential literature” and counts among the membership the Italian author Italo Calvino, one of my favorite writers. Furthermore, Tellier began his career as a science journalist. (As my regular readers know, I am a science geek.) So I was predisposed to like him before I read his novel Enough About Love (Other Press)—an appealing title, by the way. I was ready for a world-weary middle-aged Frenchman’s intellectual take on love, set in Paris. But I got so much more than that.
The main characters are two married couples and two single men. The married women have passionate affairs with the single men. They do not have long agonized conversations with their girlfriends about the morality of their plight and how they must “choose” between husband and lover—as they would in an American novel. Each short chapter focuses on one of the couples in the continually shifting pairings of spouses and lovers. With novels in translation, one has to trust that the translator got it right. Aside from a few awkward sentences and transitions, Adriane Hunter must have done because the wit, sexual intelligence, and deep understanding of love between men and women in all its forms comes through. A book within the book, written by the Bohemian writer character Yves for his lover Louise, is an intensely intimate—and unexpected—experience all on its own.
I love the honesty of this novel. The characters, over forty, sophisticated and quintessentially French, are as as irresistible as the city of Paris itself. If you are inclined toward books that provoke thought as well as ignite sexual fantasy, this is the Valentine novel for you.
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