Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Madame Claire by Susan Ertz

Warning: Some Spoilers Ahead

This is a very charming book. It didn't set my life on fire, but it was one of those entertaining reads with endearing characters and happy endings that are just what the doctor ordered, sometimes.

Madame Claire, the eponymous character, is enjoying her 80s. She can finally step aside from the ebb and flow of the world and spend time with the children and grandchildren she likes, and avoid the child and grandchild she finds boring. (This is all done with great charm, although perhaps it should cause a little pause.) Her son is in an unhappy marriage because his wife hates that he is still attentive and loving and she can't feel superior to him. Her one daughter is in a very traditional marriage, concerned with status and propriety, as is one of her grandchildren. (Overconcern with social mores  and social climbing are the cardinal sins in this book). Her two other grandchildren love her to pieces and entertain her greatly. One of them falls in love with an eminently suitable but poor man, and her mother is shocked.

Her third child ran off with a series of men over her life, and shows too little concern for herself or society, which I guess is the other cardinal sin. She reappears, and Madame Claire and one of the grandchildren endeavour to straighten her out.

It's all very domestic comedy, and and ends up with everyone happy, and as such, the story is entertaining to read and enjoyable to visit, but not indelible in impression.

Near the end, though, Madame Claire's correspondence with a very old friend takes an odd turn after that friend returns to London, and I wasn't as impressed with that. I was liking the friendship between Madame Claire and Stephen and the rediscovery of friendship after decades, and how friendship changes when both parties are older and have different senses of time and importance. Suddenly asking the readership to buy that, far from having an excellent marriage, Madame Claire had had only a moderately happy one, and had pined after Stephen all her life? Not a fan of this plot twist. It feels too tacked on, too little foreshadowed.

And I liked the idea of a man and a woman simply rediscovering friendship at the end of their lives, without bringing in all this "I always loved you and never told you" stuff. In other circumstances, that probably would have been fine, but in this case, it seems too much to detract and adds too little to the overall story and feel. We suddenly veer from wise amusement into melodrama and I don't like it.

But everything else, I liked.


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