A Partisan’s Daughter

Louis De Bernières’s new novel confirms suspicions of his narrative gifts. In a good way.

Book Digest Though I dipped into Louis De Bernières’s Colombian Trilogy (The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman, Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord) it was not until Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (the basis for an awful film by the same name) and a hilarious account of the Spanish tomato festival, La Tomatello in the August 1995 issue of Harper’s (“Seeing Red: In a Spanish Tomato War, Catharsis”) that I was convinced of De Bernières’s narrative gifts. His next novel, Birds Without Wings, is an epic masterpiece set in early 20th-century Anatolia, which confirmed my earlier judgment.

Now comes De Bernières’s latest opus, A Partisan’s Daughter (due out in October). Here’s one of the protagonists’ matter-of-fact view of marriage:
…but the trouble is that sooner or later, at best your wife becomes your sister. At worst she becomes your enemy, and sets herself up as the chief obstacle to your happiness. Mine had obtained everything that she wanted, so she couldn’t see any reason to bother with me anymore. All the delights with which she had drawn me in were progressively withdrawn, until there was nothing left for me but responsibilities and a life sentence. I don’t think most women understand the nature of a man’s sexual drive. They don’t realise that for a man it isn’t just something quite nice that’s occasionally optional, like flower arranging. I tried talking to my wife about it several times, but she always reacted with impatience or blank incomprehension, as if I were an importunate alien freshly arrived from a parallel universe. I could never decide whether she was being heartless or stupid, or just plain cynical. It didn’t make any difference. You could just see her thinking to herself, “This isn’t my problem.” She was one of those insipid Englishwomen with skimmed milk in her veins, and she was perfectly content to be like that. When we married I had no idea she would turn out to have all the passion of a codfish, because she took the trouble to put on a good show until she thought it safe not to have to bother anymore. Then she settled in perpetuity in front of the television, knitting over tight stripy jumpers She became more and more ashen-faced and inert. She reminded me of a great loaf of white bread, plumped on the sofa in its cellophane wrapping…. I sometimes wonder whether the reason that puritanical religious types are so keen on marriage is their certain knowledge that it’s the one way to make sure that people get the least possible amount of sex.
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