Magazine article The Spectator

The Thunder of Hooves

Magazine article The Spectator

The Thunder of Hooves

Article excerpt

Robert Kee

FIRST NOVEL by Mazarine Pingeot Harvill 9.99, pp. 215

It is, in one way, but only in one way, bad luck for Mazarine Pingeot that her first book attracts attention primarily not for any quality it may or may not have but because she is the daughter of the late President Mitterrand. And she is even more special than that. For she is his daughter from the connubial liaison Mitterrand maintained for the last 30 years or so of his life with the distinguished curator of the Musee d'Orsay, in open but carefully distanced parallel to his steadfast marriage of 50 years to Danielle Mitterrand who bore him three sons. Though `all Paris' had long known of this daughter's existence, it was not until she was nearly 20 in 1994 that her father, proudly wanting the world to see her and for her to be free in the world before he died, tacitly allowed Paris Match to bypass the strict French privacy laws and reveal her. There was a quality of sensation and fascination about her first official appearance.

This undoubtedly attaches to the appearance of her first novel and she or her French publishers have made the most of it by calling the book just that. There are clearly advantages as well as drawbacks to her as a writer in this special claim to attention. Should English readers here prove less aware of, or even less fascinated by, her provenance, the French Ministry of Culture has provided some finance for the translation.

The literally correct translation of the French title Premier Roman, while sound for publicity, loses in English a certain nuance present in the French. Her book is in fact a modern love story, self-consciously young and deeply intense, about two young Parisian students, Agathe and Victor, and their profound relationship which lasts through the book and, provocatively, clearly even beyond. The plot is less a plot than a running commentary on the pressures to which their love is subjected by the strains of being frenziedly young, social, modern and intense in Paris and London (`the glittering English capital') and by the infidelities physical and emotional to which they are modern and intense enough to be subject. The prose style is itself plain and straightforward, only occasionally tripping itself up in the thickets of slight pretentiousness. Of the Paris and London world of partying we are told of Agathe that she loved the embellishments that gave meaning to the depths; for her the culture of the essential was lethal. Nothing was lighter or more alive than superficiality. …

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