There are words, I suspect, that some publishers or editors or agents don’t like hearing when applied to a book. Dark is definitely one of them; I speak from experience regarding a dark novel I wrote once that failed to find a home–with hindsight, thankfully. Another one may be quiet. Which could so easily bleed into boring, or slow, or dull, fair enough; but there is a fine line, and the book that manages to stay just this side of boring, slow and dull is, for the discerning reader (some people find all books dull by definition in this day and age), a gem. Because with such a book you feel like you are rediscovering something you thought was lost forever.

I’m even finding it hard to come up with examples–Penelope Fitzgerald springs to mind, but she belongs to an earlier generation–because really, I set out to write this promotional blog about a book I translated some years ago and which is finally out in the world, La Dame blanche, or, The Lady in White, by Christian Bobin. Bobin belongs to what might be a last generation of quiet authors in France; he started publishing his short volumes of lyric essays and novels in the late 1980s, when it was still possible to retreat to a small town in Burgundy and avoid the mêlée in Paris. And he established his reputation early on, so his loyal followers respect his need for solitude and tranquility, because they know how much it contributes to his work.

Only natural then, that at some point he might be drawn to Emily Dickinson, similarly reclusive, though I would hesitate to call her quiet, or only up to a point. Her way of life, definitely, but not her explosive way with words. Perhaps Monsieur Bobin would also take issue with the term applied to his own work; perhaps it is more that reading his words brings on a sense of gentle well-being, a falling away of all the unnecessary beeping and pinging and outright roar of the outside world. Perhaps he feels that sense of quiet on reading Dickinson.

So in a roundabout way this is an invitation to you to read The Lady in White. (Order here in Europe). Enjoy it for its privileged incursion into the life of a beloved poet who knew no fame in her lifetime, and for the gentle homage a French recluse has paid to her, as if in thanks. I thank them both.

February 2015