Liesl Schillinger Reads Albertine Prize Finalist ‘Couple Mechanics’
Couple Mechanics , a novel by Nelly Alard, translated from the French Adriana Hunter, (Other Press/US, Gallimard /Fr.), is long-listed for the Albertine Prize, a reader’s choice award. Albertine booksellers have selected ten of the best French novels translated into English in the past year; US-based readers can vote between March 16 and April 30th here.
LIESL SCHILLINGER on Couple Mechanics
“Couple Mechanics will fascinate anyone who has ever endured infidelity, or who has struggled with a passive partner. Juliette has a curious detachment; she is not self-pitying, she is clear-eyed about what she’s up against. Whether or not she loves Olivier, she does not want to lose him through the accident of his own irresolution—or through her own inattention. As a first measure, she steps up their sex life. She makes it clear she will fight to keep him. Is she being sexist to herself, by humoring him? Does she have no pride? She doesn’t care.
Does Olivier really want out of his marriage? Or had he just wanted more attention? It is up to Juliette to safely shepherd Olivier through this affair, to save herself, him and their family from the woman wolf. Only after she’s got him back in the fold, if she can, will she turn her thoughts to whether he’s worth keeping in the flock.
This novel feels very now, and very embraceable by American readers. The translation, by Adriana Hunter, is perfect, which is to say, you feel like you’re reading something not-in-translation. I will say that there is more emphasis on the role of sex in marriage in Couple Mechanics than I’ve seen in American novels about husbands and wives since, oh, the 70s. Even in the depths of dysfunction, Juliette and Olivier’s sex life survives and thrives, woven in a completely no-fuss way into the narrative. To which I say…vive la France.
It’s not all that often that a novel from France makes it quickly across the Atlantic to us, and when one does, there’s often something political or experimental about it. Couple Mechanics feels different; universal and knowable, it arrives like a friend, not a stranger from abroad, feeling already known.”
Liesl Schillinger is a New York–based critic, translator, and moderator. She grew up in Midwestern college towns, studied comparative literature at Yale, worked at The New Yorker for more than a decade and became a regular critic for The New York Times Book Review in 2004. Her articles and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, New York, The New Republic, The Washington Post, Vogue, Foreign Policy, The London Independent on Sunday, and many other publications. Her recent translations include the novels Every Day, Every Hour, by Natasa Dragnic (2012, Viking), and The Lady of the Camellias, by Alexandre Dumas, fils (Penguin Classics, 2013). Wordbirds, her illustrated lexicon of necessary neologisms for the 21st Century (Simon & Schuster), comes out in Oct. 2013.