Belgian author Amélie Nothomb has once again brought to life an old french literary folktale about the Bluebeard from the author Charles Perrault.
Bluebeard is a wealthy and aristocratic man that had several women who have disappeared without a trace. Now, he has a new wife and he is putting her through the same test as all the rest. He gives her a freedom of roaming through his castle and entering all the rooms with one exception. She may not enter one small room that harbors his secret. The wife finds herself in a serious dilemma, will she uncover the great secret or will she keep her life.
Nothomb's modern version.
Saturnine is a Belgian young woman who answers an add posted by don Elemirio Nibal y Milcar where he is looking for a female roommate. The apartment is luxurious and located in a Parisian seventh arrondissement and the rent is quite cheap. She learns from the other female applicants why this man is surrounded in so much mystery and why he is only looking for a female roommate.
Apparently, he had eight previous young female roommates who disappeared without a trace. They were all young, vibrant and pretty. The owner and landlord don Elemirio hasn't stepped outside of his residence for twenty years but everyone seems to know him. Well, he does belong to a Spanish line of noblemen which are referred to as grande in Spain and he is beyond wealthy.
Saturnine decides on taking the offer despite the mysterious circumstances. She will enjoy in all the luxury she can for as long as she can endure not falling for the noblemen's charm. Saturnine is convinced that this is the best way to save all the other possible future roommates and stopping don Elemirio in committing another crime.
As the time flows and the two protagonists engage in many conversations along the way, Saturnine's curiosity grows and she finds her resolve weaken as she uncovers the truth that she is slowly falling for the ominous don Elemirio.
Amélie Nothomb’s version is fast-paced and short but with abundance of beautiful dialogues between the protagonists. I believe this version to be too short for I'm convinced that the author had much more material stored away.
Although this version just as the original one seems to not have much in common with the reality. In both versions none of the women's disappearance has ever been questioned by the police. Nonetheless, this story has depth and layers which we uncover with each progressing dialogue.
Dialogues are of all kinds, shapes and sizes, so to say. They vary from the religious and aristocratic themes to colors and photography, love and feminism, moral and duty. They made me think, research, argue - but most of all - they made me laugh.
This short book really is a pleasure to read.
(Btw, I haven't read much of Nothomb's works yet but I have some kind of weird feeling that she either really enjoys champagne or is paid to advertize them. She mentions champagne so much, one would think she is making an encyclopedia about it.)