Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Age of Discretion by Simone de Beauvoir

Is there such a thing as a "long story"? Because this seems like one. My experience reading it was a little odd. I had never read anything by Simone de Beauvoir and this was in a collection we've had on our shelves for many years. I read about half of it and found myself annoyed with the protagonist, who seemed spoiled, whiney, and a brat, even though she's a mature, successful, happily married literature professor. So I put it down for quite a while, several months. Unfortunately, it's pretty common for me to put books aside these days. Some I end up finishing eventually and others not. But they all stay on my bedside table for months, just in case I get the urge to return to one of them.

Yesterday morning, I thought I'd give the woman another chance (the character in the story, not necessarily Simone de Beauvoir). And unexpectedly, I could suddenly relate to her. The first part of the story, the part I read several months ago, is about how disappointed and angry she becomes with her adult son when he decides to change his career to something she and her husband disapprove of. She stops speaking to him completely. Then, when her latest book comes out and the reviews are bad, she goes through some serious doubts and self-reflection. In the last part, which I just read, she is despondent and starts to feel like everything is doomed, including her marriage. Her husband helps her out of this despondency, though not deliberately, and the end is pretty uplifting.

During part two of my reading, she seemed like an honest and complex woman. I wonder if my expectations were different each time. Maybe at first I was hoping to learn something from an older female character in a story by a famous feminist author, and then later, when I returned to it, I didn't expect that anymore, so I could read about her inner life with less judgment and expectation. And then I appreciated the brutal honesty of her thought process. After all, I'm fairly sure if someone recorded my thoughts with great detail, I'd come across as similarly moody, maybe even a bit crazy.

I also really liked the depiction of her marriage. She and her husband support and love each other, but they still have misunderstandings and arguments that they work to resolve.

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