“On Sundays, you think about life,” Barbéris writes, and it’s on a languid Sunday in late summer that Jane takes a trip from her home in the bustling centre of Paris to visit her sister, Claire Marie, in the suburb of Ville-d’Avray. It being one of those days people draw out as long as they can, “for fear of stirring up an antique sadness”, Claire Marie opens up about an affair from years earlier with a man named Marc Hermann who had escaped from communist Hungary. On its own, her confession makes quite a slight, vague and incomplete story, but what the sisters leave unsaid is expressed eloquently by Barbéris’s exquisite portrait of suburban Paris as summer morphs into autumn, an intimate story of melancholy and regret told as much in the interplay of light and shade, heat and scents and the passage of the seasons as it is in the dialogue.
TO THE FRIEND WHO DID NOT SAVE MY LIFE
Serpent’s Tail, £10.99
Guibert’s fictionalised memoir of living with Aids was originally published in 1991, and time hasn’t diminished its shocking candour. Author and journalist Guibert, who died at 36 after a suicide attempt, chronicles here three months of going to one doctor after another, looking for a miracle, and how the virus impacted on his circle of artists and intellectuals. Emerging at a time when HIV/Aids was considered a stigma and a death sentence, the book acquired notoriety when Michel Foucault was outed as the model for the character Muzil. The titular friend, though, is a pharmaceutical executive who taunted Guibert with offers of a place on vaccine trials. Guibert’s work had always been confrontational about sex, particularly the masochistic and scatological, and he approaches the ravages of the virus on his body just as uncompromisingly. It’s a harrowing account, but one leavened with dark wit, energy and humanity.
When Anika Molnar flees Hungary and moves in with her aunt in Sydney in 1989, she carries with her a painting of an auburn-haired woman in a blue dress. Strapped for cash, she takes the family heirloom to an assessor, who announces, unexpectedly, that it’s by a highly sought-after French Impressionist. Shortly afterwards, the painting is stolen. Anika’s attempts to retrieve it take her back to a newly post-Soviet Hungary, where the question of how her family was able to afford such a valuable work leads to some disturbing conclusions. Her quest, ultimately, is less about getting the picture back than uncovering the truth about her past, including how she and her family were shaped by the authoritarian regime in which they lived. Booth keeps up the suspense and brings her mystery to a satisfying conclusion while examining, with delicacy and insight, the corrosive personal cost of living in a Soviet satellite state.