La Chamade (Translated: Heartbeats) was written in 1965 by Françoise Sagan. This was her seventh and most well known novel, other than Bonjour Tristesse.
The novel was a smash when it was published (she was already a huge name in French popular culture) and was adapted into a film version in 1968 starring the one and only, Catherine Deneuve and Michel Piccoli.
Before I actually start the review of La Chamade, I want to give a warning to the readers: if you are interested in reading the works of Sagan, you are going to have to put some extra effort into finding her books. Unfortunately, like most well known international female writers (example: Clarice Lispector – it was a BITCH to find her works translated, I had to search long and hard through out NYC to find copies and when I did, they were in poor condition or they were the last ones available), her works are out of print in the gool ole’ USA, which means you will either have to find an independent book store, go to a used book store, or find a library that carries her works. Where I live, I have to special order her books from other towns and even then, there are only like…1 to 2 copies available. On the plus side, those copies happen to be first editions – for some reason my county library has an absurd amount of first editions, go figure.
With that said, the effort is worth it! She’s an incredible writer and extremely entertaining, so please, put in the effort, find her books!
Now on to La Chamade…
The first thing I want to point out about the novel is its third-person narration. Every other Sagan novel is written from the point of view of the protagonist and is very intimate and spontaneous (mostly because most of Sagan’s female protagonists are young ladies who are conceited and fickle and lovely and everything that defines an educated, confused, romantic upper middle class woman) so I was shocked to read that this novel would not take place inside the mind of one Sagan’s lovely ladies. Instead, Sagan writes from the point of view of an omniscient narrator who focuses on more than just the emotions and thoughts of one person – how refreshing!
Now, on to the plot:
Lucile is a thirty-year-old “kept” woman who lives a luxurious and carefree life thanks to her much older sugar-daddy / boyfriend, Charles. Lucile has her life made – she has her own room separate from Charles, the freedom to come and go as she pleases in her new convertible, plenty of money, and the unyielding love and affection of Charles. Now, I don’t want to paint the wrong picture of Lucile, she does live a very shallow life void of troubles or pain, but she is a very simple and sincere woman. All she wants in life is pleasure. She does love Charles, but she does not want to be contained in any way.
“”I’ve never understood anything about anything,” said Lucile. “Life seemed logical enough until I left my parents. I wanted to take a degree in Paris. I dreamed. Since then, I’ve looked for parents everywhere, in my lovers, in my friends. I’m content to have nothing of my own, not the smallest plan, not the tiniest worry. I’m in tune with life. It’s strange; I don’t know why, something in me harmonizes with life the moment I awaken. I shall never change. What can I do? Work? I’m not talented. I must fall in love, perhaps like you.”” (15)
Charles is madly in love with Lucile for everything that she is, no matter how shallow or naive she may be. He loves her with all of his heart, but he fears constantly that she will leave him one day…which she does…but that comes later.
Enter Antoine, a thirty-year-old editor at a small publishing house who is dating the much older and much wealthier Diane. Diane and Charles are in the same social group and as fate would have it, the young Lucile and Antoine meet, laugh at the same joke, start an affair, and OF COURSE fall in love.
“What happened to them is what happens when a man and woman are consumed by a flame. Soon they lost any recollection of former pleasure; they forget the limitations of their own bodies and terms such as “modesty” or “audacity” become equally abstract. The idea of having to part with in an hour or two seemed revoltingly immoral. They knew, too, that this moment was exceptional in their lives and that nothing better could be afforded a human being than the discovery of his complement.” (30)
The two continue their affair while dating their significant others, but when Antoine makes Lucile chose, she cannot bear the idea of hurting Charles and ends her affair with Antoine. A heartbroken Lucile convinces Charles to take her to the south of France where she spends her days drinking excessively on the beach.
I think the rest is pretty predictable. The two are heartbroken without each other and eventually leave their suitors and get back together. Antoine has no trouble leaving Diane, but Lucile has more trouble leaving Charles because the two actually love each other. Charles allows her to go, but promises that she will be back and he will be waiting. He also claims that Antoine only loves Lucile for what she is with him, but once he realizes who she really is, he will hate her.
The two spend a glorious summer together making love, eating, drinking and site-seeing. However, once the summer ends and Antoine goes back to work, Lucile has nothing to do. Antoine is considerably poor and Lucile cannot afford the same luxuries that she is used to enjoy in her life with Charles. Although the two love each other, they cannot see eye-to-eye. Lucile wants nothing more than to enjoy life, and when she tries to work, only becomes miserable. Antoine cannot understand how Lucile can live her life without a job and be content with doing nothing all day.
The two try to make their life work, but…well…here’s a spoiler…
Lucile gets pregnant. Antoine wants her to keep the baby and start a normal life, but Lucile is repulsed by the idea of caring for someone else and even more repulsed by the idea of raising that child in poverty. The rest gets depressing…Lucile needs money for an abortion and has to ask Charles. He, of course, obliges and urges Lucile to come back to live with him.
The rest is predictable. Lucile goes back to Charles and eventually marries him. Antoine becomes a successful editor and reaches the ranks of Charles and his contemporaries. The two meet again at a dinner, but the love that was once between them is gone.
Now, although the plot is pretty simple, the writing and the way the subject is treated is wonderful. I loved the way that Sagan describes the love between Lucile and Antoine and more specifically, I really loved the way that Lucile is described and characterized. She’s just a woman who desperately wants to live her life devoid of pain and trouble. She does not want to own anything and she does not want to complicate matters, she just wants pleasure and although that is a huge character flaw, for some reason, on her, it’s endearing. You want her to go back to Charles and you want her to be happy. The ending is pretty depressing, because you saw how much the two loved each other at one point, but essentially, the two got what they wanted. Lucile has her perfect life and Antoine is successful is his profession.
So, all in all, I would say, give the book a read. It’s powerful and it’s short and gives you a perspective on life that I never thought about before. Oh, Sagan, you have done it again.