When I was nine years old I was a good little girl, though this hadn’t always been the case.
Have you ever noticed that the books you really enjoyed reading – a lot – and would like to read again, are the ones you find the hardest to write something about? The Inseparables has been one of those books for me.
Written in 1954 but only published and translated into English in the last couple of years, The Inseparables is the story of an intense friendship between two young girls. The girls in the story are named Sylvie and Andrée, but they clearly stand in for Simone and her own childhood friend, Zaza.
Elisabeth Lacoin, known as Zaza died on the 25th November 1929 just before her 22nd birthday. The girls had been friends since they were nine years of age. Deborah Levy in her Introduction tells us that “de Beauvoir’s readers know that this friendship had long haunted her, not only in her books, but in her dreams.” In some ways Simone spent her entire life trying to write Zaza’s story in a way that would honour her life and their friendship.
Levy also reminds us that “childhood is the beginning of everything we experience most deeply.” For Simone, this intense friendship with Zaza was the cornerstone of her life, and something she returned to in her writing again and again.
The book also includes Translator Notes from Lauren Elkin and an Afterword by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir (the author’s adopted daughter and literary executor) plus several pages of Archive Materials – black & white photos of Simone and Zaza as well as a few of their letters. Each of these sections only adds to and confirms the attention to detail and the great affection that all these people involved in publishing this book have for Simone de Beauvoir and her writing.
I will leave us with a comment from Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir that sums up Zaza/Andrée’s life perfectly.
Zaza died of being exceptional….Zaza died because she tried to be herself, and because those around her believed that this was inherently bad…her singularity was crushed. Therein lies the crime.
- Written in 1954 but not published until 2020.
- A few articles have suggested that de Beauvoir did not do so because Sartre thought the story was rubbish.
- Others have suggested she was constantly trying to write the story of Zaza and was never satisfied with her results.
- Some suggest the story was too personal or too intimate to publish.
- The Inseparables may not be perfect but all the qualities and themes that de Beauvoir spent her life exploring are here – love, loyalty, loss of faith, loss of self, injustice, freedom, and the historical and social oppression of women.
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But what I admired most about her were the little habits she has that I never understood. Like when she saw a peach or an orchid, or even if someone just said one of those words to her, she shivered, and gooseflesh stood out on her arms. It was in those moments that I was most troubling aware of the gift she had received from heaven, which I found so enthralling: her personality. Secretly I thought to myself that Andrée was one of those prodigies about whom, later in, books would be written.
Favourite or Forget: A haunting story, memorable and moving, elegantly translated. This one is a keeper.
- Bill @The Australian Legend read The Inseparables last year and is far more familiar than I am with Sartre and de Beauvoir.
Title: The Inseparables | Les Inséparables Author: Simone de Beauvoir Translator: Lauren Elkin ISBN: 9781784877002 Imprint: Vintage Classics Published: 2 September 2021 (originally published 7th October 2020) Format: Hardback Pages: 147 Dates read: 16 July 2022 - 20 July 2022
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.