Paperback review: Ignorance, By Michèle Roberts

 

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The Independent Culture

Ignorance tells the story of two French girls whose friendship is interrupted by the Second World War.

Jeanne and Marie-Angèle are educated together in a provincial French convent, but when the Germans arrive they are forced down different paths: bourgeois Marie-Angèle takes up with a louche black marketeer, while Jeanne, from a poorer Jewish family, is forced into prostitution.

Roberts writes beautifully, evoking the irruptions of history in prose of great economy and compression: "War fell out of the sky. Planes nosedived, dropping bombs. The local bakery blew up, rose in the air, collapsed." The narrative alternates between the two protagonists, and the reader anticipates a cathartic reconciliation. It never happens – but that only makes this moving novel seem all the more true.

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