Voice Over – Celine Curiol

What I genuinely love about book groups is that you end up reading fiction that you would possibly not normally read or even have ever heard of. One such book for me would be this month’s book group choice of Armen’s which was ‘Voice Over’ by Celine Curiol. I hadn’t heard of it or the author before, but then this is her debut novel and it has only recently be translated from French. Having now read it I am so unimpressed that I was not able to sit with the group last night and chat about it (well apart from the fact I am in Israel as you read this) because I would so love to hear other peoples opinions on this book and have a really good discussion about it because its one of those books you could discuss for quite some time.

Voice Over is told by a nameless female narrator, who also happens to be one of the most complex interesting and infuriating characters I have read in a very, very long time. She (its difficult to review a book where two of the main characters are nameless) works at the Gare Du Nord in Paris as the woman who announces the arrivals and departures of the trains. She is also an observer watching people as they go about their daily lives. She is also in love with a man, only the object of her affection is in love with another Ange. One night at a party the nameless pair kiss and from then on what was her love for this man becomes something along the lines of obsession.

However the man in question won’t be with her (though this slightly changes as the story progresses – will say no more), doesn’t call her very often and stays with Ange our narrator ends up in a depressive dangerous state, announcing she is ‘a prostitute’ at one of Ange’s parties, and then getting herself involved in some dangerous and dark situations because it seems she cant say no. A character that seems to draw drama to her and yet all at once a character who doesn’t value herself and so lets situations lead her rather than leading her own life.

Paris and its people are also big parts of the book. As I mentioned the main character is an observer and so you watch Parisian life, though admittedly through a slightly unpredictable and untrustworthy narrators eyes, and it bring up interesting subjects like the racial issues in Paris, the issues of jobs and the cost of life out there. However if you judged Paris on this book you would also think every man is a sex maniac as she appears to be propositioned at every turn endlessly just in the space of the few months we are in her life.

Sex is also high on the agenda and looks at people’s sexual habits and other peoples reactions to sex, it’s a very interesting look at humans and I personally like books like that, so if you do it will be the book for you. Though be forewarned there were moments on occasion where it made me want to throw it down in anger/frustration. How could the narrator be so naïve, I am not sure she really was, or stupid or feel so worthless to be in the positions she was? I found it ironic, and maybe this was the point, that a woman who did the voice over’s for the people in a station seemed very unable to find a voice herself. Finding a voice is not something the author Celine Curiol needs to worry about, her writing is taught, provocative, emotional, evocative and thought provoking all in a debut. I look forward to more of her works.

All these things made it such a great book to discuss, so as I said I am slightly miffed I haven’t been able to. Hopefully though some of you will have read it and will be able to let me know your thoughts! I would also love to know of any other great French fiction out there that I might have missed out on? What book group books have you read that you wouldn’t normally have done?


Filed under Book Group, Celine Curiol, Faber & Faber, Review

18 responses to “Voice Over – Celine Curiol

  1. Simon, great to read your thoughts on this! We missed them last night (and put Armen on the spot to start discussion off). You have mentioned most of the points that we picked up on during discussion, about the anonymous narrator being passive, infuriating, perhaps plain crazy and this disembodied voice who communicated to strangers yet couldn’t communicate in her personal life. A very surreal novel.

    We also drew comparisons between the narrator and Esther Greenwood, which was funny and bizarrely coincidental!

    As for French fiction, I commented on Novel Insight’s review that Colette is a must (in my opinion), Anais Nin, Proust and potentially Zola (I’m going to read my first of his novels soon). I also really enjoyed The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, which is another recent French novel.

    • Oh dear I promised I would send my thoughts to Kim and then reembered on the plane. I had been wondering what that “what have I forgotten” sensation was.

      I would have loved to have been there in the flesh to be part of the discussion.

  2. novelinsights

    Good to hear your thoughts from the other side of the world. I think it’s interesting what you said about the character not valuing herself. Perhaps she needs an agony uncle 😉

  3. Pingback: Celine Curiol’s Voice Over: Book Group 3 « Novel Insights

  4. I’m pleased that you wanted to throw this book as well! I found it a very frustrating read too. She was such a weird woman! I’m sorry you weren’t at the meeting last night – this book did make a good talking point.

  5. I read about this book from Claire and I went to search for it. I’m excited you guys are taking on a debut and have a great discussion. I am trying to catch up with your reading from this side of the world!

    • What I am truly loving about this book group Matthew is that its a very diverse bunch and the book choices seem to be reflecting that too which is great! This one is recommended if a bit weird hahaha.

  6. This does seem like something that you would want to discuss. Sorry I have no input for you!

  7. Great to hear what you think of it, Simon. I was waiting for you to email me, so that I could read it out at the meeting! Never mind.

    She was an interesting character, and as much as I thought the book was initially a little off-putting (the complicated prose style etc), I actually really fell in love with it the more I read it, so it got a big thumbs up from me.

    I don’t normally get along with French fiction, but I can highly recommend ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ by Françoise Sagan. Review here: http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/2006/02/bonjour_tristes.html

    • Oh agree! Bonjour Tristesse is a great novella! It’s included in the Penguin Loves series for good reason.

    • I am so, so, so, so, sorry. The above would have been exactly what would have sent as was already scheduled. I then got manic with a sudden weekend in Birmingham and forgot… I remembered on the plane and then saw the prices of the internet in Tel Aviv. It would have cost more than the new book group choice!

      Glad you all had a great discussion and looking forward to the next one!

      Shall have a look into Sagan.

  8. I forgot about The Diving-bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby, which is also a great modern French novella/memoir, recently made into a film.

  9. justicejenniferreads

    Great review – very interesting! I’m adding this to my list. Maybe I’ll have someone read it with me so we can discuss. This book seems to have a lot of great topics up for discussion.

  10. Pingback: Voice Over | Paperback Reader

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