Act of Passion (New York Review Books Classics)
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For forty years Charles Alavoine has sleepwalked through his life. Growing up as a good boy in the grip of a domineering mother, he trains as a doctor, marries, opens a medical practice in a quiet country town, and settles into an existence of impeccable bourgeois conformity. And yet at unguarded moments this model family man is haunted by a sense of emptiness and futility.
Then, one night, laden with Christmas presents, he meets Martine. It is time for the sleeper to awake.
is true, speak of Voltaire’s hideous smile! You came in. I had never seen you except behind your desk. You reminded me of the surgeon who comes hurrying into the hospital where his students and assistants are waiting for him. You did not look in my direction immediately. And yet, what a mad desire I had to greet you, to establish a human contact with you! Is that so ridiculous? Is it cynicism to use the word that was so often employed with reference to me? We had not seen each other for five
Charles …’ ‘Good night, Martine …’ The throatiness of her voice that evening moved me to the depth of my being. To hear it once more, I repeated: ‘Good night, Martine …’ ‘Good night, Charles …’ I took another look around the room and moved away. I stammered: ‘Tomorrow …’ She did not ask me what time, and that meant she would be waiting for me all day, because in the future she would always be waiting for me. I had to leave quickly, for my emotion was too much for me and I did not want to
isn’t it? So the blow, if blow there was, had already fallen. For, after all, when one loves a person the pain comes first from not being loved and then from knowing that the person one loves loves another. All that, your Honour, had already happened. Note that, for the moment, I accept the extreme hypothesis, that I concede for the sake of argument that Armande had really loved me in every sense of the word and still loved me. In that case, her attitude to my mind, on my soul and honour,
shall have more to say later, for it holds a memory which only recently — since my crime, to use that word — I consider one of the most important of my life. Why not tell you right away, since it takes us to surroundings you know so well? I have gone to Caen a dozen times or more, for I have an aunt there, a sister of my father’s, who married a man in the china business. You must certainly know his shop on the Rue Saint-Jean, a hundred yards from the Hôtel de France, just where the tram runs so
represented the whole world. It was there behind the window-panes, behind the wall that hid the sleeping landlady. All that was the mystery, was the enemy. But we were two. Two people who didn’t know each other. Who had no common interests. Two people whom chance had hastily brought together for a moment. She was perhaps the first woman I ever loved. For a few hours she gave me the sensation of infinity. She was commonplace, simple and kind. At the Brasserie Chandivert, I had taken her for a