The Inseparables | Simone de Beauvoir #FRAfiction

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.

Facts:

  • 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.
  • Read for Paris in July
  • Book 11 of 20 Books of Summer Winter

Favourite Quote:

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.

More Reviews:

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.

20 thoughts on “The Inseparables | Simone de Beauvoir #FRAfiction

    1. That is my impression too, but I was curious to see how many different ways of thinking about it were out there. Some claimed the book was ‘lost’ or ‘forgotten’, others ‘suppressed’.

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      1. Well, I’m just speculating, but deB was a serious person, and I think she may have put it aside as something of less compelling urgency than her master work The Second Sex.

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        1. This was written after she had published The Second Sex (1949) and The Mandarins (1954). One train of thought suggested that writing a novella was like a palate cleanser or gentle change of pace after writing two such hefty, serious tomes. By the by Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter was published in 1958, so it’s possible Les Inséparables was the bridge between her major works?

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  1. In fact, Lisa, it is my understanding that it was Sartre who first suggested to de Beauvoir that she put herself in her writing.

    And Brona, I’m afraid it’s the books I enjoy most that I find easiest to write about (including The Inseperables)

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    1. I certainly enjoyed all the additional material, mostly because my knowledge of SdeB is so slim but also the letters were really lovely insights into the girls. Seeing someone’s handwriting feels like a very intimate thing these days, with text being so prevalent.

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  2. I see what you mean about finding it hard to describe. You didn’t really tell us about the plot or much about why you liked it (I often have that problem, although I never have a problem explaining why I don’t like something), but you still convinced me that I should try it. Also, I haven’t read anything by her, and that’s a big hole in my reading experience.

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    1. Ha ha – that’s just me Kay at the best of times! I rarely summarise the books I’ve read, my posts are more about my reading journey and things I found out along the way. But I did forget to write about why I liked it.

      The writing (and the translation) were sublime. Sylvie was the narrator, so we only ever got to see Andrée through her eyes. Female friendship is a topic that fascinates me, SdeB captures the uneven emotional experience that both girls went through beautifully. I enjoyed the time and place that formed the backdrop of the story (post-WWI Paris), it was not elaborated on extensively, it was just there if you know what I mean. And I loved the philosophical journey that young Sylvie in particular went on. Her loss of faith and religion and her growing sense of the social and cultural expectations on men and women will be something to think about more with a reread.

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  3. I still have some de Beauvoir (in French) on my shelves in my Atlanta house but not this one. From what I understand Simone did not want to have it published because she thought it was too intimate – her feelings were too intense, so she kept it in her files. Like you, I keep books to read later and they accumulate. I still have several de Beauvoir (and Sartre) to read like La Force des Choses and Les Mandarins.

    Moving to Nashville, I stopped clearing all the books on our shelves back in GA – I must have given away a couple thousands so far, but when I found several valuable first signed editions my late husband had collected I stopped. I think I’ll try to box the last 3 or 4,000 books and place them in a warehouse until I can look at them. But I am keeping many of my French books, as it is not so easy to find them here.

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    1. Lucky you being able to read it in the original!

      Downsizing and moving is hard, although I now have a pretty good idea of which books I really will reread and which ones I won’t, or even which books I’d like to keep on hand because I might just want to dip into them again rather than read the whole thing. The sentimental or emotional response is a completely different thing though. When something reminds you of a loved one, of course it has to stay. It’s the only way.

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