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All My Friends

All My Friends

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All My Friends

3.5/5 (7 valoraciones)
125 página
1 hora
May 21, 2013


A moody and beautiful reflection on relationships, and how our idea of the world too often fails to match reality, All My Friends delivers five stories that probe the boundaries between individuals to mediate on how well we really know anybody, including ourselves. Written in hypnotic prose with characters both fully fleshed and unfathomable, All My Friends opens with the fraught love story of a man who has fallen for his housekeeper, his student of many years ago. Losing his grip as he feels his own family turning against him, he plots romance between the housekeeper and an old friend, whom he thinks is perfect for her. Later NDiaye gives us the harsh tale of a young boy longing to escape his life of poverty by becoming a sex slavejust like the beautiful young man that lived next door. And when a woman takes her mentally challenged son on a bus ride to the city, they both know that she’ll return, but he won’t. Chilling, provocative, and touching, this is an unflinching look at the personal horrors we fight every day to suppressbut in All My Friends they’re allowed to roam free.
May 21, 2013

Sobre el autor

Marie Ndiaye was born in 1976 in Pithiviers, France. She is the author of around twenty novels, plays, collections of stories, and nonfiction books, which have been translated into numerous languages. She’s received the Prix Femina and the Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary honor, and her plays are in the repertoire of the Comédie-Française.

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All My Friends - Marie Ndiaye


The next time I see Werner, once all this is over, a nervous snicker will be his only greeting. He’ll back a few steps away, cautious and, for once, unsure of himself.

I ask Séverine to tell me about her husband, which she does, at first sullenly and reluctantly, and then, seeing me so curious, curtly and parsimoniously.

Here I chide myself for letting my eagerness show. Take it one step at a time with your maid Séverine, I say to myself, she can read you like your own mother.

But Séverine is a full fifteen years my junior, so why all this interest in Séverine’s husband, obscure young man that he surely is, just as she is a commonplace charming young woman I pay to come to my house every day and do the tasks I find tedious?

Be patient, be careful with Séverine, I admonish myself, and slink through the tallest grass, and always stop short of your mark.

Because I’ve sensed from the start that this job does not mean so much to her that she’d hesitate to walk out on me should something displease her, for example my inquisitorial manner, and since I often feel uncomfortable and contrite to see Séverine doing some chore I could easily deal with, I accuse myself of attempting to abuse her to the fullest by thrusting these honeyed questions on her every time she looks up, for I’m quite aware that she can scarcely have the presence of mind to weigh her words, or hold her tongue, or change the subject when I confront her so unexpectedly that she jumps on her way out of the bathroom, still flushed and tousled from bending into my deep tub.

Little by little, inside me, a knowledge of Séverine’s husband is taking shape. I know the rudiments: he works in the post office, like Séverine he’s thirty years old, his hair and eyes are such-and-such a color, and so forth.

It takes me a good while to work up my courage and ask her if…

I come serenely to Séverine, give her my caring, courtly smile, part my lips, but certain forthright words stay stuck in my throat. Séverine looks at me with her narrow golden eyes, surprised, then shrugs and goes on her way, tactfully sidestepping me.

I position myself in the hall, arms outstretched to block the way. Séverine comes out of my bedroom, empty-handed, as if she has nothing to do. In a loud, husky voice I blurt out:

Do you love your husband, Séverine?

For those are the words I couldn’t bring myself to speak before.

Séverine’s eyebrows come together, knit in anger. She stares into my eyes. But I hold her gaze, and after an awkward moment she finds herself forced to look away.

Do you, Séverine, love your husband?

My pleasure at saying this makes my voice slightly shrill.

Séverine slowly comes toward me. Her arms swing back and forth, her chin is raised, lips clenched in indignation. I’ve never seen my maid Séverine so angry with me. Could it be that she doesn’t dare answer? She keeps coming till she’s standing against me, her very round breasts touching my chest, compressing it slightly with their heavy, unyielding weight. Séverine outstrips me, not by her height, which is close to my own, but by the density of her muscles, the solidity of her flesh. Again I cry out, enchanted by the words:

Séverine, do you love your husband?

Séverine’s gleaming eyes darken, and between two lashes a tiny teardrop appears, quivers, then falls onto my shoulder. But, although I believe I can feel a caustic substance eating into my skin at that spot, I see that Séverine is still enraged and surprised.

Séverine answers that, for one thing, she does love her husband (Oh, she loves him, I tell myself, downhearted), and for another, she’s leaving me here and now, as I had absolutely no right to ask such a question.

My maid Séverine was a student of mine in junior high, and I chose Séverine to come work in my house precisely because I recalled how she tormented me with her absurd, arrogant, self-absorbed behavior as a beautiful teenager, lazy and bold, one among many, though none terrorized me like this Séverine, with her bird-of-prey stare—direct, yellow, unwavering.

Séverine clearly took great joy in fixing me with her cold, piercing gaze from the back of the classroom, eyeing me with relentless disdain as I stood exposed and frantic at the blackboard, until, exasperated, afraid, I let out an acerbic laugh and threatened her with sanctions if she didn’t look down at her workbook at once.

Séverine never obeyed. She’d raise one mocking eyebrow, still observing me. Sometimes, in a murmur, she answered: But I’m not looking at you, which set off such an explosion of hilarity inside me that I had to hurry out of the room, gasping, wretched, while she stayed just where she was, the imperturbable Séverine, perhaps even, who knows, taking my place at the board until, many long minutes later, my laughter and turmoil finally abated.

Now I have to beg Séverine’s forgiveness, and convince her to come back.

Before I do, I stop by the post office. I’ve had dealings with that round-cheeked boy before, perfectly pleasant and sharp, I remember his little wire-rimmed glasses and thick black hair, but I had no idea he was Séverine’s husband.

Now I know. Emboldened by this vital information, I hold my head high, and at that very moment some sort of mirror mysteriously hanging in the very atmosphere of that cramped post office reflects a new image of me: slender, well-dressed, distinguished profile, straight nose. Flustered but secretly pleased, I say to myself: still a fine figure of a man.

I gently rest my forehead on the pane of glass that separates me from Séverine’s husband.

How troubling it is to remember the loathing I felt for my student Séverine, and to think of the affection I feel for my maid Séverine. Are they even the same girl? I sometimes wonder.

The very young Séverine mistreated me horribly, despite all the pains I took with her, all the efforts I devoted to seeing her succeed, all the special warmth I might have seemed to feel for her, though that’s not how it was. It was my fear of Séverine that made me seek out her favor, her blessing. But there was no indulgence, no pity, not even coherence. How many times, in this very house that Séverine now halfheartedly cleans, saving her strength for activities unknown to me, how many times did I await her in vain, to give her, free of charge, the supplementary lessons she so sorely needed, and how many times did I drift off to sleep as I waited, beside the window where I’d been watching for her, and such a bitter, lost sleep it was? One morning I found the courage to scold her for failing to show, and in the soft, slightly breathless voice Séverine liked to use with me, she answered: But I did come, and I shuddered to think that, if she truly had crept into the house then she’d seen me in the anguish of my sad sleep, towering over me, perhaps tempted to…to what? This Séverine, who knew nothing of anxiety, who was all reproval, pitiless judgment, disdain—this Séverine, I said to myself, oh, what Séverine? In my vulnerable state, in my solitude, what might this girl have done to me? I had no idea.

I still hoped to teach Séverine all I knew, but, intelligent though she was, Séverine shoved my lessons aside, with the discreet but unambiguous gesture that pushes away a dish of questionable food. My idea is that Séverine had chosen to sacrifice her education simply so as to receive nothing from me, and when a rational voice, rising from some spot in my empty house, assures me that this scarcely seems likely, I remain convinced all the same, however powerless to prove it.

Nothing I said was to stay inside her. I was a passionate man, and I was a passionate teacher, and that girl with the gaze of stone, that Séverine, disapproved of such passion. I had acquired a certain mastery in the art of beguiling my students. In the junior high school, in the high school, my enviable popularity had long been a matter of record. And that was precisely what Séverine condemned, never saying so outright, and so she coldly resisted it, preventing any intrusion of my knowledge into her clear, empty mind, sparing herself any commingling with me.

I tried to force her. I put my arm around her broad shoulders to help with an exercise she refused to let her mind even touch. In my turn, I stared into her yellow eyes, smiling deliberately, insistently, and I snapped my fingers before her closed face as if to invite her to dance, and I murmured:

Séverine, I’m going to lend you some books, and you’ll read them, and then you’ll tell me about them.

But not one of the many books lent to Séverine was ever returned, was ever the subject of any discussion, ever revealed that Séverine’s character had been affected by it, or her hatred for me reduced.

Tell Séverine I’m sorry for being so curious, I whisper

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7 valoraciones / 8 Reseñas
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  • (2/5)
    When it comes to novels, I like getting dropped into the middle of a story and having to collect clues along the way to get the whole picture. However, with most of the short stories in this collection, I could not pick up enough to clues to really get the whole picture and felt I had to make assumptions or guesses. And sometimes I felt like the object at the centre of the picture was too obtuse for me to grasp. Perhaps that is my reading, perhaps the writing. There were times when I found the sentences so long and full of so many phrases that I lost the thread -- I felt like a high school student trying to make sense of Dickens. Other times I could not determine pronoun antecedents and thus was left with an ambiguous sense of the action. She may be a good writer, but she's not for me.
  • (4/5)
    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The characters in these stories express many of the thoughts and feelings we've all experienced ourselves but they analyze them in ways we rarely bother to, and it's fascinating. Another excellent collection from Two Lines Press.
  • (4/5)
    With great anticipation I began reading All My Friends by Marie Ndiaye. A short book of 5 short stories should have only taken me two or three days maximum to read but it actually took me over two weeks because I had to keep putting it down because the stories barely could hold my interest. Only one of the stories kept me turning the page, "The Boys" to find out what happened to the boy. These are not happy stories and that is okay except the plot should at least be interesting (the first two felt like there was no conclusion) or I should at least empathize with the characters. It is obvious that Ndiaye is a fine linguist, her use of words is exemplary, although at times I found it a bit of overkill when conveying the scene or mood - sometimes less is more. Although, this was not a strong collection, I do plan on picking up her previous work.
  • (3/5)
    I wondered while reading this book whether something might have been lost in translation - that isn't to say that the translation is inelegant or imprecise, but I can see how these stories might be more meaningful in French than in English. The stories are bleak and remind me, for some reason, of Sartre or Camus (which is probably the most pretentious thing I've ever said in any of my LibraryThing reviews). There's a very rigid distance between the stories and the reader - one isn't let in too closely. Initially I was going to say that the strongest story was the third one, The Boys, but now what I really remember is the ending of the fifth and shortest piece, Revelation. These stories are all about people not connecting. While not a happy read nor an easy read, it is an interesting read and different than many of the other short story collections I've read recently.
  • (5/5)
    In All My Friends, Marie Ndiaye presents five stories about people losing their grip on reality. I expect I will remember each one, though except for the final story, “Revelation,” they were disquieting reads. They left me with a sense that I’d missed something, something that would have made each story more understandable, but not with a sense that rereading would have cleared up my confusion. They are all revealing but still ultimately and purposely mysterious. Ndiaye wants me to be uncomfortable when I look inside the mind of the unhappy schoolteacher in the title story or the aging minor actress in “Brulard’s Day.” I’m glad to have read these stories, but am ambivalent about wanting to read another one much like these five. Maybe Ndiaye and her translator Jordan Stump have done their jobs too well. They have put me off balance in ways that make me look instead for fiction that is more grounded.
  • (4/5)
    Add Marie NDiaye to your list of talented contemporary French authors. She has a stylistically unique voice that hints of Kafka and Philip Roth (especially in, The Breast and Portnoy's Complaint). NDiaye stretches our psychological perimeters by probing the boundaries of sanity. Loneliness, hatred, revenge and disillusionment haunt her characters, who deal with their problems in eccentric or disturbing ways. I was thoroughly hypnotized by the quality and depth of Ms. NDiaye’s five short stories. I am eager to read, Three Strong Women, and will follow her work in the future.“If no one ever sees you, where do you find the courage to tell the world you are there.” The Boys
  • (5/5)
    The five short stories in this excellent collection all deal with ordinary people facing the shortcomings of their lives.The narrator of the title story is lost and lonely. He tries to connect with his maid (a former student), his estranged wife, an old acquaintance, and the maid’s husband (a former student of his). His attempts fail. He tries to enter a conversation, “But no one hears my wispy voice, and no one pays any mind. I'm nowhere at all anymore.”In “The Death of Claude François,” an office visit from childhood friend Marlène Vador prompts Doctor Zaka to visit the neighborhood of her childhood. She finds that things are not always the way we remember them.“The Boys” is the most sinister of the five stories. An impoverished family sells a son into some sort of servitude. A neighbor boy witnesses the transaction and the apparently beneficial results for the family. He decides that he, too, should be sold.Minor actress Eve Brulard faces fading career hopes, a failed marriage, and a difficult relationship with her daughter in “Brulard’s Day.”“Revelation” a story of a mother saying goodbye to her son who is about to be institutionalized is the shortest, but most poignant of the five stories.For the most part, Marie Ndiaye treats her subjects with gentle understanding. We can feel empathy with these troubled individuals trying to deal with life’s disappointments. There are things left unsaid and it is not always easy to fill in the blanks. But that’s life and these stories are intriguing slices of life.Book is from my personal collection.
  • (4/5)
    In this collection of five unrelated short stories, which was originally published as Tous mes amis in 2004 and will be released in English translation by Two Lines Press in May, Marie NDiaye portrays the lives of several ordinary but deeply flawed and emotionally distant individuals who are at crises in their relationships with those closest to them. In the opening story, "All My Friends", a divorced schoolteacher employs one of his former students as his housemaid and becomes infatuated with her, her Arab husband, and another former student who vows to reclaim the woman by any means necessary. "The Death of Claude François" concerns a woman who leaves her privileged existence in Paris to return to her impoverished childhood banlieu, where she confronts an old friend over a man that they both loved intensely. "The Boys" is set in a rural village, in which an abandoned boy seeks to escape his hopeless plight by following in the footsteps of a neighbor's handsome son, who was sold for profit to a mysterious woman by his mother. In "Brulard's Day", a former bit actress returns to the setting of one of her most famous movies, but she is treated with indifference and scorn, as she loses grip with reality. Finally, "Revelation" describes a woman and her "appallingly stupid" son as they prepare to take a bus trip, for which she buys a round trip ticket for herself and a one way pass for him.The characters in these stories are generally unsympathetic figures, due to their emotional frigidity and, in some cases, mean-spirited behavior toward those closest to them. Each story lacks a definitive denouement, similar to the stories in her 2009 Prix Goncourt winning novel Three Strong Women, which often leaves the reader suspended in mid-air and filled with a sense of foreboding. All My Friends isn't as accomplished a work as her later novel, but it effectively features NDiaye's compelling and unique writing style and is definitely a worthwhile read.