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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Madeleine Bourdouxhe

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To purchase Marie

Title: Marie
Author: Madeleine Bourdouxhe
Genre: Novel
Written: 1943 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 154 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Marie - US
Marie - UK
Marie - Canada
À la recherche de Marie - Canada
À la recherche de Marie - France
Auf der Suche nach Marie - Deutschland
Marie aspetta Marie - Italia
En busca de Marie - España
  • French title: À la recherche de Marie
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Faith Evans

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Our Assessment:

B+ : neatly done rich character portrait

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 14/6/2016 Nicholas Lezard
Sunday Times A+ 3/8/1997 Joan Smith
Sunday Times . 14/6/1998 Trevor Lewis
The Times . 26/7/1997 Kate Hatfield
The Times . 9/7/2016 Fiona Wilson

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is one of the most French novels I have ever read. (...) There are times when Marie’s state of mind makes me want to say, “Oh, come on.” The book is almost self-parodically French, ruminating on the grand questions of life in a way most English novels do not. But then events (...) encourage such speculation, and Bourdouxhe is confident enough in her ability and purpose to bring up these questions without apology or irony. It is a remarkable novel very well translated, with a useful afterword, by Faith Evans." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "(H)er novel, Marie, which has finally been translated more than 50 years after its original publication, is an unforgettable, thrilling achievement. What it does, no less, is stake a claim to Bourdouxhe's rightful position alongside Proust and Virginia Woolf as an explorer of interior life. (...) What makes this novel so extraordinary is the way in which the author characterises Marie's desire, and its fulfilment, not as the encumbrance it has been for so many tragic heroines down the ages, but as a liberation. (...) Herein lies the novel's magnificence: its determination to extend the imaginative boundaries of what it means to be a woman in a way which invites comparison with the mature work of Charlotte Brontë." - Joan Smith, Sunday Times

  • "(Y)ou will be pleasantly surprised, too, by the way that Bourdouxhe compresses the themes of recovered memories and living experience into an arresting Proustian miniature. (...) The beauty of love and "the moment of life" are expressed with lyrical vigour." - Trevor Lewis, Sunday Times

  • "Their chief concern is to re-create the physical texture of their heroines' lives and the emotions and memories triggered by their senses. The original title of Bourdouxhe's novel, A la Recherche de Marie, makes clear the source of her inspiration. She brilliantly evokes not only the dazzle of a white road in the Côte d'Azur, but also the pleasure Marie finds drinking with soldiers on a train and the horror of pumping saline into her sister." - Kate Hatfield, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The original French title of Marie is À la recherche de Marie and, as widely noted, the slim novel is Proustian in more than just its title (though certainly not its size). Its protagonist is thirty-year-old Marie, quite happily married to Jean -- "Jean, the only man I love in the whole world ... Her heart was drowning in an infinite tenderness, and her mind began to create strange pictures" when the novel opens, the two of them enjoying a long, leisurely summer holiday. Their Paris life is also comfortable -- "a wife, a husband, a household, a Germaine" (the household help) --, and Marie seems without any great ambitions or clear desires:

She doesn't want a child as one wants an ideal, she likes neither luxury nor receptions, she has scarcely any friends, she hates choosing wallpaper, and she does not believe in happiness. Does this mean she loves nothing, awaits nothing ?
       On the seaside shore Marie glimpses a man, and their eyes briefly meet -- and suddenly everything changes. She both draws completely inward -- "she breathes her own breath: 'Are you there, Marie ? Yes, I'm still here, quite alone in my own arms ... Marie !'" -- and ventures outward, suddenly taking risks she could not imagine before, like taking a boat onto the water. After she rows about some and is back on shore her friends who have been looking for her note: "If we didn't know how scared you are of the water we'd have thought you'd gone out all alone on your own, in a boat or a canoe or something ! But there was no danger of that, was there ?" Marie keeps her little adventure to herself -- like the ones that follow; her journey of self-discovery, if you will, is very much hers, and she keeps it that way.
       She comes across the young mystery man again, and their encounter is already a more intimate one, but only goes so far -- but she takes the telephone number he gives her. They will meet up again, as Marie begins not so much to find herself as to let herself be -- typically then:
     Instead of going home Marie continued to walk aimlessly around Paris. Head and heart empty, she lived only in the present, and as she wandered along the streets and boulevards, took in only what opened up before her.
       She engages with other men, too -- flirtations of sorts, but ones where she also remains in control, and:
If she experienced any happiness, it was the strange, hard pleasure of availability. She walked with a steady step, her eyes clear, her head unusually high.
       Even with the uncertainties of life and events, she oozes confidence, comfortably sure of herself. Among the few other significant figures in the novel is her sister Claudine -- who, despite being the older of the two, had always looked up to Marie. Married to an adoring but considerably older man, Claudine is much more desperate for affection and attention than Marie -- and while Marie remains close to her sister she also strongly condemns her sister's attitude:
Refusing to struggle, refusing to be alone, refusing to suffer: it's all refusal, all along the way ! When women suffer, when they are hurt, what do they do ? Cut their losses, that's what. A cowardly flight towards peace, towards annihilation ...
       There are only a few major events in the novel. Marie and her husband have to move to distant and provincial Maubeuge, where the firm Jean works for is based -- though Marie keeps up some connection with Paris, and they plan to eventually return -- and Claudine has a significant crisis, but otherwise the action, like Marie, practically drifts along.
       Memory surfaces repeatedly, and Marie bobs along on it:
     Marie summons up and recalls all the sounds, the smells, the sights of this garden, and abandons herself to them.
       But even as her memories and recollections infuse the present, Marie lives in the present rather than clinging solely to the past.
       Early on Bourdouxhe had summed up: "Marie awaits Marie", and the novel describes that process then, of her self-encounter, as it were, her increased self-awareness and her satisfaction with her self. It makes for an impressive character-portrait, of a woman able to take joy in the world around her but whose happiness is not defined by or dependent on others.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 December 2023

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Marie: Reviews: Other books by Madeleine Bourdouxhe under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Belgian author Madeleine Bourdouxhe lived 1906 to 1996.

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© 2023 the complete review

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