Simone de Beauvoir, published posthumously Sept 2021published in France in 2020 as Les Inseperables

I’ll preface my review with this disclaimer: before reading Inseparable I had never read anything by Simone de Beauvoir, so I have no context. With the exception of a quick peak at the final published edition to see if the format has been altered from the ARC, I am purposely not doing any research on her other work or her life until I’ve finished this review. I’d rather write as a complete de Beauvoir virgin than as one who scrabbles around online in an attempt to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

I haven’t read a lot of French fiction, so I appreciated the glimpse into family life in France in the early 20th century. Although both Sylvie and Andrée are expected to conform to the conventions of familial duty and Catholic dogma, there is a little warmth too. On Sylvie’s first day of school; she is hugged by the “young ladies” (Older students? Teachers?) on the first day of school, and the students’ mothers stay with their children, knitting as they sit in the back of the room. The teacher, as per the usual ritual, kisses each student on the forehead as they leave for the day.  What a lovely tableau – an oasis of affection in a life that later becomes cold and filled with obligation, especially for Andrée.

This short novel would have been more pleasant to read if it hadn’t been divided into only two very long chapters; with no visual pauses in the narrative, it was a chore to read what was basically a wall of words.  I also would have appreciated footnotes at the bottom of the page rather than asterisks referring to notes at the back of the book, but perhaps this was addressed in the final edition.

The excerpted letters at the end of the book are a pure portrait of the soul-level intimacy the two women shared. Both were eloquent – Zaza (the real Andrée) in particular. Without the layer of pretense inherent in the fictionalized account, their heart-to-heart connection is so much more bare and true. If the book consisted of just the letters between the two, I would buy it.

I can’t say the same of the actual novel, but I don’t presume that my opinion is relevant to de Beauvoir scholars. I’m sure this wasn’t presented as a frontlist title, and I know I am not the target audience. Inseparable, as a previously unpublished work by an author whose devotees assumed they’d read everything, will naturally appeal to de Beauvoir’s loyal readers.

Thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollins for an Advance Readers Copy of this book, which I received in exchange for my honest review.

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