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Book of the Week: A Nail, A Rose by Madeleine Bourdouxhe

Updated: Jun 14, 2019

« Madeleine Bourdouxhe is one of the more remarkable literary dicoveries of the last few years » - Jonathan Coe

“The stories here reveal a poetic imagination which combines the startling imagery of the surrealists with intensely female preoccupations . . . a singular, resonant voice.” – Literary Review

These are stories of longing and dissatisfaction, of daily life ruptured by strange currents of feeling. A woman, wandering alone and heartbroken, is first attacked and then romantically pursued by a stranger. A maid wears her mistress’s expensive coat to meet her lover, but finds herself more preoccupied by fantasies of intimacy with ‘Madame’. A woman gives birth on the day foreign troops invade the city, and must flee with her newborn on the back of a truck.

Written in the aftermath of the Nazi occupation of Europe, and admired by the Existentialists and the Surrealists alike, these stories are now translated with extraordinary clarity by Faith Evans. With piercing insight and candour, Madeleine Bourdouxhe illuminates the conflicted hearts of the housewife, the mother, and the maid. These unforgettable tales of ordinary women are suffused with desire and melancholy, memory and fantasy, and lit by the furnace burning just beneath the surface of everyday life.

“These are the stories of a very gifted, very honest writer, who moves quite naturally between fidelity to fact and fidelity to the furnace beneath it, of memory and fantasy and bereavement.”  TLS

“Her lonely, fantasising women call up Rhys and Mansfield.” – Hermione Lee, Observer

A Nail, A Rose is published by Pushkin Press and it was translated by Faith Evans.

Madeleine Bourdouxhe was born in Belgium in 1906. La Femme de Gilles (1937) was her first novel. The outbreak of the Second World War interrupted her writing career, and her second novel, A la recherche de Marie, wasn’t published until 1943. In the mid-1980s her work was rediscovered, and translated into many languages. A volume of short stories, A Nail, a Rose, first appeared in English in 1989, followed by translations of La Femme de Gilles and Marie. Bourdouxhe died in 1996.

Initially a literary agent, Faith Evans was a founding member of Women in Publishing and also works as an editor and freelance translator. She notably worked for Weidenfeld and Nicolson in the late 1960s, for who she edited translations of Simone de Beauvoir and Française Sagan. She then worked as an editorial director of André Deutsch, commissionning Alix Kates Shulman's Burning Questions and Ruth First's biography of Olive Shreiner. As a freelance editor, she wrote reviews for the Observer, edited books for Cape, The Women's Press and Virago. She is the main promoter of the works of Belgian novelist Madeleine Bourdouxhe by translating her and promoting her to a new audience.

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