Low Heights
PublisherGallic Books
Date Published14 August 2017
 
 
ISBN-101910477427
ISBN-13978-1910477427
Formatpaperback
Pages160
Price£ 8.99

Low Heights

by Pascal Garnier (translated by Melanie Florence)

Edouard Lavenant is retired and in his 70s. He lives alone in a country town apart from Thérèse, his long-suffering housekeeper, and believes he is being watched.


Review

Edouard Lavenant is in his 70s and lives in the country town of Rézumat. He retired there after his wife died and he himself suffered a stroke and now lives alone, except for Thérèse, his long-suffering housekeeper.

We are given a picture of what sort of man Edouart Lavenant is immediately the novel opens. He and Thérèse are in a car travelling to the market in Rézumat and he seems to be going out of his way to offend her. He complains about the radio programme when he had told her to switch it on, and about her driving too fast when only a few minutes earlier he had criticised her for driving too slowly. He even manages to find fault with her because the lovely weather makes her smile with happiness.

It is obvious, however, that she is not going to allow him to upset her. She is used to his bad moods. They complete their shopping and decide to stop for a picnic – a suggestion by Thérèse that he had already turned down and then changed his mind.

Thérèse is overwhelmed by the beauty of the scenery and Edouard, noticing a tear in her eyes, asks if she is crying. Rather sadly she says it is nothing – merely the fact that it is her birthday and she is 52.

She has reason to be sad, even though she would probably deny that she is. She takes a great pride in her work and, although she wishes Edouard were a little less disagreeable, she enjoys taking care of him. She realises that he is fast becoming mentally unstable to the point where he may be a danger to himself but she carries on doing the best she can. She is fortunate in that she doesn’t realise that she is one of life’s unfortunates. As a result, she has never envied or harmed anybody, has never felt hatred or jealousy. On the other hand, she has never felt the love of a man, though she would dismiss that as unimportant.

Edouard has his own reasons for sadness. The stroke after his wife’s death has left him with a withered arm. He also frequently loses touch with reality and is subject to hallucinations, particularly a recurring one of two women watching him. Luckily he has been a very successful businessman and is able to live very comfortably. However, most of his time is spent simply sitting around and complaining about virtually everything. It is just as well that he chose Thérèse for his housekeeper because no other woman would tolerate such an existence. Nor is it improved for her when he decides that they will go to live in Geneva. There she can no longer live the simple life to which she is accustomed and is very unhappy.

The interplay between them seems to have within it the seeds of a very good story and people not accustomed to this writer’s work might expect it to be developed. Instead, Pascal Garnier begins to load his tale with a ‘crime’ plot. First, he is visited by a man who carries news that ought to be of interest to him. However, even when he discovers the truth he does not seem particularly interested and the visit is terminated in a rather unlikely fashion.

Even more unconvincing is his encounter with an old school friend, Jean Marissal, and the decision he takes as a result. In fact, from this point onwards it is hard to take the novel seriously as it strives vainly for action. This is a great pity as the first part, dealing in a very subtle way with loneliness, mental illness and ageing, is very moving. But perhaps even worse than the melodramatic events with which the book ends is the fate of Thérèse – clumsily accomplished apparently for the sake of a doubtful irony contained on the last page. It is impossible not to believe that she deserved better than this.

Reviewed 28 October 2017 by Arnold Taylor