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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Florence Noiville

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To purchase Attachment

Title: Attachment
Author: Florence Noiville
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 123 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Attachment - US
Attachment - UK
Attachment - Canada
L'attachement - Canada
Attachment - India
L'attachement - France
Quella sottile affinità - Italia
Los lazos - España
  • French title: L'attachement
  • Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine little novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
LA Rev. of Books . 17/3/2017 Norman Manea
TLS . 31/7/2015 Andrew Irwin

  From the Reviews:
  • "The role of literature is an important theme in this melancholic and luminous novel. (...) The abundance of literary and philosophical references (Nabokov, Heidegger, Barthes, Beckett, Romain Gary, even Homer, Laforgue, and Schubert) are geared to capture the quixotic attraction between the two lovers, both so deeply under the spell of literature and its coded suggestions. (...) Attraction is a seductive and beautiful reminder of love’s essential magic and sanity, its mystical aura and its earthly force." - Norman Manea, Los Angeles Review of Books

  • "Noiville presents the student-teacher relationship not as a clichéd instance of predation but as legitimate, if complicated. The novel, naturally, touches on the moral questions involved (.....) The novella challenges and stretches our ethical intuitions, yet, pleasingly, offers no final moral dictum. Noiville’s richest theme is identity." - Andrew Irwin, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Attachment has twenty-year-old Anna retreating to the family home in the country to study for her medical school exams but finding distraction -- "I can't stop reading" -- in a long letter her mother, Marie, wrote that she finds in her mother's old room. Marie died six years earlier, in a car crash, and remains something of a mystery to Anna. The letter, to an old lover, H., reveals yet another largely unknown side to Marie.
       Written when Marie reached 49, shortly before her death, it is to the lover who was 49 when their relationship began: H. was her literature teacher when she was 17, and though he decorously (or "scrupulously", as Marie puts it) waited until she turned 18 "before we became lovers", the affair between the young woman and the much older man continued for seven years.
       Attachment is presented in the form of short chapters not quite alternating between passages from Marie's letter and Anna's present-day reaction to what she learns from it -- not quite alternating because occasionally two or more chapters in a row continue from the same character's perspective.
       While Marie's letter is revealing, Anna also tries to learn more about the affair from other sources, such as her grandmother or others who knew Marie at the time. She tries to discover the identity of H., and ultimately even tries to track him down -- though realizing how very old he must now be. "It's about her", she insists, not him, as she sees this relationship as offering a path to some insight into the woman who disappeared from her life six years earlier.
       Marie's letter describes how the relationship came about, and reflects upon it. Besides being much older, H. was also married; despite the general disapproval of the relationship, Marie and H. were quite open about it -- practically flaunting it, at times.
       Both Marie and Anna reflect on the enormous age difference between the lovers. Nabokov's Lolita is repeatedly invoked -- with Anna picking the novel, and others by Nabokov, up but disappointed to find that in Nabokov the theme of older man and younger woman "is always from the point of view of the man" -- and what she wants to understand is Marie's side. (The Lolita-comparisons -- which Marie also makes -- are in any case misplaced: while the age difference between Humbert Humbert and Lolita is nearly the same (about twenty-five years), Humbert's attraction was to a prepubescent girl, while H. was drawn to a young woman who was at least physically entirely adult.)
       If the mutual attraction between Marie and H. remains -- as is so often the case with seemingly mismatched (for whatever reason)lovers -- somewhat baffling to outsiders, Marie harbors few doubts about it even more than twenty years on, a phase for her that seems to have helped propel her from the uncertainties of youth into adulthood proper.
       Perhaps the most revealing admission comes when Marie recalls the shame of going with the much older man to the hotel where they sometimes had their trysts, the "silent judgement" of the hotel manager when they went there:

I could have told that hotel manager any sort of story based on the worst horrors of sex and money. She would have believed me. But to tell ehr I loved you was unacceptable. It wasn't the sex that shocked her, it was the attachment.
       As the title already suggests, it wasn't necessarily or primarily about the sex or passion -- even as that seemed to play a significant roll, too -- but rather the general sense of attachment. As the lingering silence about the affair suggests, with Anna barely aware of it before she discovers the letter and her grandmother reluctant to address it, it was difficult for others to wrap their heads around this unnatural pairing as well, much less accept any sense of attachment that might have gone beyond the purely sexual between the lovers.
       Noiville reconstructs and considers the affair, from the points of view of Marie as well as several others (as Anna hears from them), nicely, balancing the discomfiting aspects well with the apparently genuine deeply-felt bond between the lovers. How much that attachment truly meant is also revealed in the novel's nicely turned conclusion, as Anna learns, in her final foray in search of answers and in adding up the accumulated evidence, more about her mother than she could possibly have expected -- a surprise ending, of sorts, that lends the story considerably more haunting weight.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 April 2015

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Attachment: Reviews: Florence Noiville: Other books by Florence Noiville under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Florence Noiville works for Le Monde.

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© 2015-2021 the complete review

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