In the Gold of Time by Claudie Gallay

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In the Gold of Time by Claudie Gallay

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A young man, an old woman and a chance meeting lead to the final telling of a tragic past kept secret for years, and the breakdown of a marriage that wasn't even aware the rocks were close by. Slow, mellow, dramatically poetic.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 293 Date: January 2013
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 9780857051264

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A young father (I'm not sure we ever know his name) leaves his Montreuil apartment and takes his wife and their seven-year-old twin daughters on the annual holiday to the coast. They have a house, La Téméraire, overlooking the sea a few kilometres south of Dieppe.

They'd bought the house just after the girls were born and go there every summer, and maybe for a weekend or two in the Spring. Never in winter.

Anna, would like to move out of the City, have a proper house in the suburbs, or further south, Dijon, or Provence. She doesn't like the city. She says Paris not Montreuil.

In that aside cast adrift somewhere in the middle of the book is the essence of what is wrong between Anna and her husband. Even if they're not even sure that anything is as we meet them at the start of this summer, heading off for their two months in Normandy.

One day our storyteller has been sent to buy strawberries for the birthday cake. As he is returning he runs into Alice Berthier… an old woman struggling with a basket full of pears. Helping her with the shopping gives him access to the strange old house she shares with her mysterious sister Clémence. Forgetting the strawberries gives him an excuse to return.

Thus begins what might be thought the prelude to an affair, if the protagonists were of more similar age. And might still be thought so, if we were more open in our assessment of attraction and love. And of what constitutes betrayal.

There is nothing sexual in the relationship, no hints at attraction. Intrigue, would be a better word. But beneath that, a growing affection.

He isn't sure what it is that keeps drawing him back to the house and its secrets. Alice on the other hand knows she has found someone that she can tell her story to. It's not an easy story to tell, it's all been locked up for so long. Locked up inside of her and her sister and the old photographs and Hopi artefacts brought back from Arizona so long ago.

Whatever it is, it keeps pulling him away from his wife and his children. He does his best to keep his promises, to spend time with them swimming and playing on the beach, and going out to eat mussels or ice cream. It should be an idyllic summer, except it rains too often. But even then the girls amuse themselves with games found in the attic or the garage or walking on the beach in their wellington boots.

And Anna… perhaps it is Anna who feels it most. His absence. There's scarcely a reproach – how can there be given Alice's age? – but why does he go? Why can't she come too?

In the Gold of Time is not a book for those looking for adventure or deft plotting of any kind. It is merely the re-telling of a tragic past, in fits and starts, by a woman excused her cantankerousness by the supposed virtue of age to a man who knows only that he doesn't know. He doesn't know what he wants – much less whether or not he has found it.

Nods to earlier works come not only from the title (referring to a quotation from Andre Breton's obituary notice and inscribed on his tombstone), but elsewhere: an oblique Miss Haversham moment survives better than it warrants, as does the mysterious garden child that echoes Don't Look Now more from the story than the film.

But the interlacing of literature and art and life are the framework on which Gallay's tale is woven. Alice had been to Arizona as a child, with her photographer father, in the company of Breton and the other luminaries of the age. While war ravaged Europe she was growing up in New York in apartments where there were parties and artists and poets flitted in and out of her young life.

Her father had known the Sun Chief – had been involved in bringing him into the white man's world.

A lot of the backstory to this novel is rooted in fact. But it is the whimsy woven about it that makes it worth the read, not the story.

I hope that Anderson's translation is true to the original, because it is the language here that matters. The whole is an extended poem, told in phrases rather than sentences. The plot is merely an excuse for writing it down.

It is beautiful. In the way that a sandcastle slowly being destroyed by an incoming tide is beautiful. You have to understand what you're looking at and know that it won't last.

I'm not sure I have any idea what Breton meant by the gold of time… but can't help thinking that I caught a dull glint of it in these pages.

Quite unlike anything else!

Buy In the Gold of Time by Claudie Gallay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In the Gold of Time by Claudie Gallay at Amazon.co.uk


Buy In the Gold of Time by Claudie Gallay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In the Gold of Time by Claudie Gallay at Amazon.com.

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Mitsouko said:

Wonderful review which has captured very well the essence of the book. It is really the story of Alice and her father when he was hunting for Indian/American artefacts. What subterfuge he used to convince the tribes to give away - or sell for the price of a few bottles of alcohol - their sacred masks and puppets for the sake of a surrealist collector (Breton) and the revenge taken by the child on behalf of her Indian friends as she witnessed the theft. The writing is indeed beautiful and poetic. I read it in French and I'm happy to see that its music equally appeals in its English translation!