Trysting by Emmanuelle Pagano (translated by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis

“Illness has made her so thin that making love has become painful. Painful for us both. I wish she could be blooming again, bursting with health, big, full of life. But she’s dying and I hurt her. But she’s dying and she hurts me.”

Just when you think there is nothing more to be said about love, along comes Trysting and blows that expectation apart. Trysting exposes love in all its glory and pain, all its wonderful anticipation, its eroticism, its consuming and threatening nature. Told as a series of vignettes, there’s no connecting story just a collection of little stories exploring love in all its multifarious forms. It makes for a hypnotic read.

“She often went walking. She always had a rucksack packed and ready to go. I bought walking boots so I could follow her. She didn’t want me to go along. I stare at these boots that don’t take me anywhere, brand new in my cupboard. My stupid boots.”

Trysting isn’t about anything, except love. Love is its theme. Love, the unifying force. Love which punctuates everything we do, even hatred which has its origins in love. Love makes us vulnerable, afraid; love makes us hopeful, love fuels desire. In love we become different people: exposed, jealous or replete. Losing love is painful. Being given the illusion of love is painful. Love is wonderful. Love creates grief, but it also creates joy.

 “Trysting_B_Format_LoRes_RGB_120DPILoving him means worrying about him. The air solidifies in my throat. My stomach is full of heavy objects. I try to find things for my body to do. Walking, cooking, washing clothes, cleaning the floors. I try to think about mundane things, to crowd out this anxiety that’s so full, full of him, and replace it with light, inoffensive preoccupations. But the worry takes me by the throat, or by the stomach, as soon as I stop. Then my body reminds me of the weight in my stomach, in my throat, this weight of loving him.”

Trysting is a strangely powerful book, reminiscent, in many ways, of Renata Adler’s Speedboat or Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet (which I have never managed to read all the way through on account of the sheer, unforgiving depth of melancholy it evokes). There is something in this style, the vignette, the way it builds and shapes, it grows and reinforces whatever its unifying subject matter is until it is amplified, until all you can feel is the emotion running like blood through your veins. If you read Trysting, be prepared to be suffused by love. You will dream about love. Love in all its power and complexity.

“When I penetrate her I feel her organs and intestines, her muscles, tendons and bones, as if they were live animals in a cage. That cage is me; she is enclosed by my skin wrapped around hers.”

The vignettes range from the sad to the erotic, from intimacy to desire. They are beautifully written. Each one has a distinct voice, though there’s a reflexive tone throughout the book which gives it an almost dream-like feel. There are blurred edges, muted sensations followed by raw, brutal anger or erotic desire. It’s love by a thousand cuts, each one stripping you back and back until all you’re left with is this powerful feeling, the knowledge that whatever you thought about love, however much it is seen as a cliché, that it has all been done before, it has not. Love is an individual experience, it is based on individual, unique moments which are non-replicable, which speak only to those who experience them but reveal something to those who watch. Recently I’ve been reading about transference, the idea from psychology, transference and mirroring, and I think this book is a beautiful example of how that works. Through viewing love, I feel love. Through viewing sadness, I feel sadness. Through viewing rejection, I feel rejection. These little stories, these tiny captured moments all show me something truthful about love, and through it I know what it is and what it means to love. That doesn’t mean that love has a template; rather it is more the case that love is a revelation. Which is a good description for this enchanting book. A revelation of love.

 “In the middle of this siesta, this high-summer laziness, I feel thirsty but won’t get up. He rolls out of bed and leaves the room and I hear him turning the tap on in the kitchen. He comes back with his cheeks bulging, his eyes wide with a laugh he can barely hold back, He leans over me and gives me a drink from mouth to mouth and from laugh to laugh.”


Trysting is published in UK by And Other Stories


About bookbii

I'm an ordinary woman living an ordinary life in an ordinary place, and it is quietly wonderful
This entry was posted in And Other Stories, Love, translation. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Trysting by Emmanuelle Pagano (translated by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis

  1. Lovely review, Belinda. This sounds like a remarkable book. I particularly like your last quote – love needs laughter to sustain it.

    • bookbii says:

      Thanks Susan. It is a lovely read, quite powerful. Kind of like a trickle of water wearing away at stone, it ingrains itself in you, forcing you to think amorous thoughts. It’s easy to forget how varied and marvellous and terrifying love is.

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