Sylvie Lavigne hardly speaks. When she does, it is in literary allusions and strange tenses. She is there in her small footprints in the snow and her scent in a room, but otherwise she is nearly invisible.
Sylvie is a pale, subtle masterpiece of a character. From being a mere "hook on the memory, slight as a Velcro claw", she becomes "a voice with a catch in it, a faint sweet cloudiness at odds with its quietness". Her voice grows into a mouth, full, hurt and beautiful. Gradually, she insinuates herself into Richard and Lelia's lives.
It is Richard who first realises he has been sucked into the lacuna that is Sylvie. He sees the world in terms of himself and how it reflects him, and Sylvie's absence seems a perfect fit for his boisterous presence. It doesn't occur to him that there may be others trying to fill her void. As he falls for her, guiltily, he compares her with his beautiful, fleshly Lelia - real and physical and disturbingly pregnant. Sylvie smells of "extreme cleanness... like that very pure almond and milk soap". Lelia is "deeper tones of warmth and skin: the Lelia smell".
Scents and smells and perfumes and stinks are all over this novel. The obsession would start to whiff a bit if it didn't come to a delicious, witty climax on the night of Richard and Lelia's hasty wedding, and if it didn't chime with the almost synaesthetic sensuousness of the language. The author's descriptive powers are intoxicating: "the ice-sneeze of champagne", a name that is a "pig-ugly, thumping anachronism", and a woman "cow-sick in love" with the baby inside her.
Curiously, Richard is more believable - in love, in the pub and in bed - than Lelia. As Sylvie pulls them both towards an astonishing denouement, Richard floats and sinks and groans, while Lelia is stiffly "taken to higher levels of pleasure". But in its contrasts, the novel has it all: its climaxes are climactic, its jokes funny, its sex thrillingly sexy. Its conclusion, on the other hand, is intriguingly inconclusive. That only makes this clever, sexy novel all the more human and real.
- More about: