The Company
Of Ghosts

Lydie Salvayre
Christopher Woodall

(Dalkey Archive)
Louisiane is eighteen-years-old. She was named for the state of Louisiana. She lives with her mother in a trash-strewn, smelly, run-down apartment in the town of Crétiel, France.

Mother has gone buggy. She seems to have had a moment-of-truth in 1979. It was then that she started to mourn her brother Jean who had been kicked to death by neo-Fascists associated with the Militia of the Vichy government of the early 1940s. Jean was eighteen, with "those eyes that were so gentle it almost hurt you to look at them."

All this is revealed to the reader by mother's mutterings, rants, whispers, and screams delivered during the visit of process-server Maître Echinard who comes to the apartment to appraise their possessions (Mama Rose is seven months late on her rent).

Process-server is unmoved by her speeches, as he is unmoved by what he thinks of as seductive advances on him by Louisiane, who he later describes (to a meeting of process-servers) as a "little slut ... with her red hair, black nails and sexy little skirt, hoping to excite me and make me fall for her charm, and so forget the job I had come to do."

A woman deranged by the events of WWII, standing there in her dirty nightdress (with "an ugly fanny-pack.") A chilly process-server who reports, at the end of everything, that he was, actually, rather an admirer of Maréchal Pétain, "the man who governed our country with dignity from 1940 to 1944."

And throughout, our narrator Louisianne, trying her best defend the family's doubtful territory in the only way she knows how: charming the pants off the man "who was observing my mother with the same cold look as though she were a footstool or a cheese dish."

It is a No Exit in spades, with the additional dollop of national shame (the Vichy government being for all intents and purposes the French version of the Hitler's Germany, deportations and all). Process-server and reader are saddled with a lunatic who conceived her daughter with a deranged Spaniard in Sainte-Anne Asylum; the girl is now caught in the unenviable position of trying to hush up Mama while placating the man who wants to turn them out of their miserable, bug-infested, trashy apartment.

In strange inversion, the process-server becomes confessor to the two people in their cage. At one point Louisanne tells him, "One day I decided, Monsieur, to become my mother's mother ... Mama your drops, fifty, and your three tablets, you say they knock you out, not enough, they don't! Mama don't go out in that outfit, you're grotesque, Mama, don't do this, don't do that. What would you have done in my place?"

It is all a wallop, but after 167 pages of being shut up in the trashy apartment with looneycakes mother, her borderline daughter, and M. Echinard (the process-server with his definite chill might be crackers as well), I begin to wonder if it was worth the candle. A hermetic situation is a fine and private place to build a novel --- look at Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, The Plague, Notes from the Underground --- but there must be an exit somewhere: love, death, Christopher Robin's WayOut.

God knows there is none of that here.

--- Leumel Doré
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