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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

That Mad Ache

Françoise Sagan

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To purchase That Mad Ache

Title: That Mad Ache
Author: Françoise Sagan
Genre: Novel
Written: 1965 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 208 pages
Original in: French
Availability: in That Mad Ache/Translator, Trader - US
in That Mad Ache/Translator, Trader - UK
in That Mad Ache/Translator, Trader - Canada
La chamade - Canada
That Mad Ache - India
La chamade - France
Chamade - Deutschland
La disfatta - Italia
  • French title: La chamade
  • Translated by Douglas Hofstadter
  • Published together with translator Douglas Hofstadter's essay, Translator, Trader
  • Previously translated as La chamade by Robert Westhoff (1966)
  • La chamade was made into a film in 1968, translated by Alain Cavalier, and starring Catherine Deneuve and Michel Piccoli

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Our Assessment:

B- : typical sixties romantic froth

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Globe and Mail . 4/8/2009 Wayne Grady
The NY Times* . 3/11/1966 Charles Poore
The NY Times Book Rev.* . 13/11/1966 Patricia MacManus
Time* . 4/11/1966 .
TLS* C- 27/10/1966 John Sturrock

*: refers to the 1966 Westhoff translation

  From the Reviews:
  • "These caveats are with Hofstadter's theory of translation, however; his actual translation of La Chamade is brilliant, highly readable, thoroughly engrossing and very nearly everything Françoise Sagan could have hoped for in an English version of her novel." - Wayne Grady, Globe and Mail

  • "Sagan knows how to play with the nuances of worldly boredom and the despairing thrusts of passion. Of her seven novels, La Chamade is one of the best and as perceptive as Bonjour, Tristesse. She has added another documentation to her reputation as a precise miniaturist who lucidly fosters a fond romantic delusion -- that the French are so tough and realistic that they can be rational even about love." - Time

  • "La Chamade is deadest when it slips between the sheets or circulates among the Cocos and Bijous of the cocktail set, more lively when Lucile is trying to be responsible and do some work. It is good to come across a committed defence of laziness, even if it is the idea that appeals rather than its sterile incarnation here. The translation is a clumsy one." - John Sturrock, 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:

       That Mad Ache is a new translation of Françoise Sagan's La chamade (by Gödel, Escher, Bach-author Douglas Hofstadter), and while the 1966 translation by Sagan's one-time husband, Robert Westhoff, is apparently no masterpiece ("The translation is a clumsy one", John Sturrock opined in the Times Literary Supplement), it is surely about par for the course for the many middling novels translated from the French in the 1960s. And La chamade is definitely middling.
       The novel tells the story of thirty-year-old Lucile, torn between Charles, twenty years her senior but rich enough to keep her comfortable, and Antoine, the more age-appropriate broody young man she is drawn to. Charles works in real estate, while Antoine is an aspiring (but fairly destitute) littérateur. Lucile is a flighty soul, unable and unwilling to stick it out a job, content merely to be carefree:

Life mostly made sense to me until I left my parents' home. I wanted to get a degree in Paris. But it was all a pipe dream. Ever since I've been looking everywhere for parents, in my lovers, in my friends, and it's all right with me to have nothing of my own -- not any plans and not any worries. I like this kind of life, it's terrible but true.
       Over the years Charles had repeatedly replenished his supply of mistresses at a salon he frequented, hosted by Claire. They'd usually last a year or two, but Lucile turns out to be different, having a firmer hold on him. But:
     What he couldn't say to Lucile was this: "All I care about is You. I spend hours and hours trying to fathom Your psyche, I'm hounded by one single idea. And I, too, am frightened, just as You were saying, frightened of losing what I have. I, too, live in that perpetual state of despair and yearning You described."
       (Hofstadter uses the capitalized 'You' for the French formal-vous.)
       Meanwhile, Antoine is also being kept by an older woman, but falls passionately in love with Lucile. So begins a good deal of game-playing, on the parts of a number of actors. The fact that Antoine and Lucile have an affair is seen as almost natural -- everybody seems to be pushing them towards it --, but they do try to balance giving in to their lust (as they boink each other silly) and betraying, on some emotional level, those who love them. As Lucile notes, Charles: "might be able to accept my sleeping with Antoine, but not my laughing with him".
       Antoine is one of these typical French 'intellectual' romantic heroes of film and fiction, and he's certainly passionate about Lucile, suffering from that heart-pounding "mad ache they call la chamade". Oh, dear ! Oh, yes !
       Of course, Antoine sets an ultimatum -- Lucile must choose ! -- but Lucile remains true to herself -- i.e. indecisive. She sticks it out in comfort a while longer, but eventually gives passion a shot; needless to say, life in the garret, without enough money to play with, doesn't suit her one bit. Of course, there's an additional complication -- like no one saw this coming --: Lucile, looking everywhere for parents, finds herself pregnant: "life had finally caught up with her, and now she was in a fix". Worse yet, she knows that Antoine would happily embrace paternity. Give her at least some credit: she knows she's not suited for motherhood.
       Unfortunately, the solution to her problems requires funds she does not have -- leading her, of course, to turn back once again to her sugar-daddy. And in the aftermath Lucile finds: "she still loved Antoine, but she no longer loved loving him". Ah, yes, how complicated it all is .....
       That Mad Ache is an atmospheric novel of love and longing, and Sagan does a decent job in conveying the complex personal relationships (beyond just the central three characters, too). But it's also an awfully silly story, the characters barely two dimensional, the story gliding along so loosely that it is often hard to believe. Yes, it is affecting, and thus successful; it is not, however, very well written or good literature.
       A very French take on love and romance, familiar from hundreds of oh-so-similar books and movies, That Mad Ache is an easy, quick read with a bit of resonance. But even Sagan could do better than this.

       While That Mad Ache by itself is hardly worthwhile, the edition the Hofstadter translation is published in very much is, as it is presented together with a hundred-page essay by the translator, Translator, Trader; see the review. The background and information offered here more than complement the text: Hofstadter also uses it as a case study in translation; together the package is highly recommended for anyone interested in translation (and so, yes, wading through the Sagan turns out to be worth it).

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 May 2009

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That Mad Ache: Reviews: La chamade - the film: Françoise Sagan: Other books by Françoise Sagan under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Françoise Sagan lived 1935 to 2004.

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© 2009-2021 the complete review

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