Monday, 26 December 2016

Sofa Spotlight - Strait is the Gate, Andre Gide

Ages ago EG and I said that if we read enough books we would go to Hay on Wye as our prize. Neither of us succeeded in that, but it didn’t stop us going to Hay on Wye anyway. In fact we went twice.

This last visit I was commissioned to find a copy of Straight is the Gate for a friend. Being a book by an author I had never heard of I was intrigued. My one disappointment was that rather than this being a whole day quest I found it within the first five minutes. As it didn’t look like a long read I decided to check out the first couple of pages. Mistake! Four weeks later my friend has only just had her book delivered.

It might only be a short book but there’s some deep themes.

In essence it is a story about two cousins who had developed an attachment in their teens but as you would expect problems arise. Jerome wants to marry Alissa, but Alissa has a sister who is also in love with Jerome. And so the complications begin.

Alissa tells Jerome that she will not marry until her sister is married. Her idea is that her sister will marry Jerome, but what she doesn’t count on is that her sister is prepared to sacrifice herself for Alissa. For the rest of the book you have to work through Alissa’s religious thinking and Jerome’s response to each twist and turn.

Maybe it’s just me but French romance novels seem to have someone dying as a result of love and I had the feeling all the way through this book that one of the pair would drop down dead.

What I did like is that at different points in the novel you get inside both Jerome’s and Alissa’s head. Jerome is the easiest to understand – he wants to win the love of Alissa so for the most part goes along with her religious fervour. At the beginning it is genuine but the motivation is very different from Alissa’s.

For me Alissa was a frustrating and flawed character. But I think that was intentional. Her perspective is skewed. Devotion to God is admirable but it does not necessarily follow that you must have a miserable life. It is sad that she has spent so long studying her religion and has missed the point. The Bible she was reading did not forbid her marriage in fact it would have taught her that marriage was a good thing.

There was a good amount to think about from this book, short as it was. But not only that, it was beautifully written. I like to be able to think about why I believe what I do, but that experience is enhanced by good story telling to go along with the thought provoking narrative.

As for the ending – you will have to read it for yourself to find out what becomes of Jerome and Alissa. 

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