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This book for adults only is the French translation of an original novel written by a scholar from New Jersey, Professor Curt Leviant, originally titled Diary of an Adulterous Woman: A Novel. Despite some excellent reviews which had appeared in a few academic journals and magazines, I have the impression that the first version was not really a huge commercial success in the United States, but its new French version, now with a new erotic cover in red is for some reason an unpredicted success in France, although one must admit that this version is published by an obscure French publisher in Montpellier named Anatolia. The translation from English to French was successfully made by Béatrice Vierne. From what I can see on some blogs in France, this French version of the Journal d'une femme adultère is fast becoming a genuine cult novel in Europe, since it appeals to a specific audience. Moreover, author Curt Leviant was completely unknown in France until last year, and this is his first novel being translated in French. Therefore, this review will refer and focus on the French translation titled Journal d'une femme adultère.
Leviant's novel Journal d'une femme adultère tells a single love story that is narrated three times by each character: a triangle between lovers as retold according to three points of view. A talented cello player named Aviva is a seductive married woman who is currently having an affair with a photograph in his forties, Guido. His best friend Charlie is also seduced by Aviva while she asks him for psychological consultation, without knowing about the long friendship that have existed between both men. It would be pointless to mention that Aviva is irresistible, free-spirited, and often adultery. Of course, the presence of one of the main characters being a psychologist having to face an ethical dilemma with his beloved patient adds to the interest of the book.
Although there were passages that I did not like at all, I have to acknowledge that Leviant's style is often elegant. Narratives are introspective, although there are dialogues and even some cross-references. Even though adultery seems to constitute the leading theme, this novel is in fact a meditation about jealousy between lovers. The other main theme is the way individuals lie to others and specially to themselves, in order to rearrange their own behaviour. But there is humour everywhere in the first half of the story and subtle inside jokes: I did not laugh while reading it, but I smiled a couple of times. For instance, a character mentions a novel titled Partita in Venice, without remembering the author's name. The book casually mentioned was in fact written by Leviant himself; but the character says vaguely that the novelist's name sounds like a French mineral water. "Perrier?" -- No, says the other: "Evian" (p. 68).
Leviant is one of those university scholars who write novels, as writer Patrick Imbert does in Canada. In his everyday life, Dr. Curt Leviant is a Professor of Hebrew and Yiddish studies at Rutgers University. Therefore, as any good teacher, the author has brought a reflection about his own writing and creative process. In this case, the last 100 pages in the addendum are an original supplement: we find in alphabetical order a meditation on some sentences, expressions, themes, moments, or words that had appeared somewhere in the novel, gathered and detailed like a compilation of the book's best passages. For instance, we find selected entries for "age" (because Aviva is almost fifty years old), "desire", "jealousy", "Rimbaud", plus a collection of some Italian proverbs, or a whole passage about Leonardo Da Vinci's thoughts on music (p. 599).
Given its catchy label of an erotic story, some potential readers might ask if the tone of the novel is either vulgar or more sophisticated ? Perhaps I would argue for the second adjective, since although the main topic is clearly seduction and intercourse between man and woman, the author's style remains luxurious with sophistication, with the exception of a few graphic scenes. The text is full of digressions, self-references, and some selected quotes from the world literature. After such an international success, the next logical step could finally be an adaptation of Journal d'une femme adultère for the big screen; if it is well done, it might look like Denys Arcand's famous feature film The Decline of the American Empire [Le Déclin de l'empire américain, 1986].
Curt Leviant, Diary of an Adulterous Woman: A Novel : Including an ABC Directory That Offers Alphabetical Tidbits and Surprises. Syracuse University Press, (Series "Library of Modern Jewish Literature"), 2001.
© 2008 Yves Laberge
Link: Journal d'une femme adultère at Amazon.fr
Yves Laberge, Ph.D., Series editor for the book series « L'espace public » and « Cinéma et société » at the Presses de l'Université Laval
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