I am back to my ‘Reading Gym’ as based on the idea of the ‘List of Betterment’ by Andy Miller in his book ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously.’ Check out my list in November’s blog post. This is the 2nd book in my list and so far I am on time and enjoying it enormously. Fatigue has not yet had the chance to set in.
I wanted to re-read this book which I studied for A level French, as I remember loving it. I was delighted to discover that the French was easier than I remembered, and I didn’t have any trouble in understanding it – always helpful.
Published in 1947, there was also a film version made, staring Micheline Presle and Marcel Pagliero.
A short deceptively simple story, Pierre and Eve are both killed in different circumstances. Pierre is a revolutionary and is killed by his friend Lucien whom his mistreats. Eve is poisoned by her husband Andre, who wishes to get his hands on her money. He is also having an affair with her younger sister Lucette. Pierre and Eve both arrive in the afterlife, and despite the differences in their backgrounds, they fall in love – rather too quickly and too easily for my liking, but with a genuineness that is quite touching.
They then find themselves back in front of the lady who ‘signed them into the afterlife,’ who tells them that there has been a mistake in the paperwork, and they were destined for each other in life, but didn’t meet in time. They have 24 hours to go back to earth, and if they can maintain their love on earth, they get to stay there.
Without giving away any further plot points, the novel deals with the themes of freedom, responsibility, and whether our lives are predestined or not. These were the themes and questions that intrigued me as a naive young 18 year-old, and I find they are still the themes that preoccupy me this time around. Eve and Pierre seem to take a very fatalistic approach both to how their lives have ended, and what is happening to their loved ones who they have left behind. However when they return to earth, they waste no time in taking their opportunities and trying to change their fate.
It is the age old question – how much control do we actually have over our own lives? Whatever the answer, Sartre makes one thing abundantly clear. We always have the freedom to choose, and we owe it to ourselves to take responsibility for our lives – predestined or not.
For such a short simple story, it packs one hell of a punch. There are enough life questions within to keep any philosopher amused for years.
As another couple gets the chance to return to earth, the young man asks Pierre and Eve:
‘On peut essayer de recommencer sa vie? insiste le jeune homme. ‘We can try to to start our life again? insists the young man.
Pierre et Eve se regardent, hesitants. Ils sourient gentiment aux jeunes gens. Pierre and Eve look at each other, hesitant. They smile kindly at the young people.
‘Essayez,’ conseille Pierre. ‘Try’ advises Pierre. ‘Essayez tout de meme,’ murmure Eve. ‘Try all the same,’ murmurs Eve.
Perhaps this is the ultimate message at the heart of this novel. There is always hope if you are willing to try.
The novel has been translated into English with the title ‘The Chips are Down.’
If you fancy a bit of philosophical contemplation, there is much to admire in this novel.