HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Ignorance: A Novel by Michèle Roberts
Loading...

Ignorance: A Novel (edition 2013)

by Michèle Roberts

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
696173,491 (3.75)26
Member:JGoto
Title:Ignorance: A Novel
Authors:Michèle Roberts
Info:Bloomsbury USA (2013), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 240 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:Historical fiction, France, WWll

Work details

Ignorance by Michèle Roberts

None.

Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 26 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
This book reminds me very much of the only other book by Michele Roberts that I have read: Daughters of the House. Both are set in a small French town and are presented from the point of view of two different women looking back on their shared experiences as children. Both look at the French experience in the Second World War in general and the treatment of Jews in particular. In both the memories of the individual and the collective memory of the community are seen to be flawed. But whereas Daughters of the House was a carefully constructed book with a satisfying conclusion, this book, although beautifully written, seemed to drift in its second half and in the end was slightly unsatisfactory.

Ignorance tells the story of Jeanne, the daughter of a widowed charwoman and Marie-Angele, the daughter of more prosperous shopkeepers for who Jeanne's mother works. Thrown together by the illnesses of both their mothers which causes them to become temporary boarders at the convent school which they attend (Marie-Angele paying, Jeanne a charity case and not allowed to forget it) they become almost friends. And although their subsequent lives follow very different paths, they continue to be intertwined. And through their lives we see the day to day reality of the German occupation of the two small towns of Ste-Madeleine and Ste-Marie-du-Ciel: the compromises and adjustments and betrayals which the townspeople make to survive.

Ignorance is the key theme of the book: ignorance of infidelity, of a mother's love and above all the collective ignorance of the population at large who prefer to close their eyes rather than see what is going on around them. But the characters felt a little stereotyped and one dimensional and so overall Ignorance didn't quite seem to live up to the promise of its ambitions. ( )
7 vote SandDune | Apr 26, 2013 |
“She and I had been sort-of friends once. No longer. She had too much of everything, and I didn’t have enough.” (186)

In WWII, in the German-occupied village of Ste-Madelaine, France, Marie-Angele Baudry and Jeanne Nerin grow up side by side – “sort-of friends.” Marie-Angele is the daughter of the local grocer, her family relatively prosperous. She is righteous, pious, and entitled about the life of comfort she believes to be her right. Jeanne, on the other hand, has only her mother: a laundress and a Jew, who converts to Catholicism when her own faith becomes too dangerous. Jeanne has no rightful place in the world, particularly not this world. Survival will require all of her resourcefulness.

When war falls out of the sky, Marie-Angele falls easily for Maurice Blanchard, finely dressed, well endowed with “business contacts,” and smelling of money. In pursuit of life’s finery, Marie-Angele marries Blanchard, choosing to believe that he is an employee at the town hall. For Jeanne, life’s opportunities appear very differently. She becomes a maid at a nearby brothel, and, as are so many like her, she is eventually reduced to selling her body in the hope of living through the war:

“When, at school, I cried in public, the nuns used to command me: pull yourself together. So I did that. My unraveled self. I picked up my dropped stitches. Hands piled with emptiness. I wanted my mother. I wanted kindness wrapping round me soft as new knitting wool. Everybody in this house needed so much kindness but they didn’t get it and never would.” (188)

Ignorance is very lyrically, sensuously written: biting cold, ravenous hunger, the stench of mold; and, conversely, fine silk, oil paints, lily-of-the-valley cologne. The title is perfect in its ambiguity: most glaringly, the “ignorant” Marie-Angele fails to draw the obvious parallel between herself and Jeanne: each prostituting their bodies, one for finery, and the other for survival. Roberts explores guilt, faith, desire, and judgment, and always there is the sense of hope – the sense of what will be “after the war.”

“I climbed into bed. After the war I’d return to Ste-Marie, take proper care of my mother. After the war I’d find Emile again. After the war we’d live together with our child. After the war I’d try to find out what happened to those lost ones, whose names I could not speak.” (198) ( )
7 vote lit_chick | Apr 25, 2013 |
Two girls from a French village during World War II are reluctant friends when they briefly become the only two boarding students at the local convent. Jeanne Nérin's widowed mother, an impoverished cleaner and washerwoman, is a convert from Judaism, but she remains a Jew in the eyes of the villagers, and Jeanne is treated suspiciously by the nuns and most of the neighbors.

Marie-Angèle Baudry's father is a grocer, and her mother puts the petty in petit bourgeois. Madame Baudry congratulates herself on her generosity, but criticizes and gossips about the objects of her charity, especially Jeanne and her mother. To Marie-Angèle, Mme. Baudry speaks in a stream of cautionary adages as if they will propitiate some angry god.

The story is told largely from the points of view of Jeanne and Marie-Angèle. In flashes, as if through half-closed curtains, we see the girls' paths diverge. Marie-Angèle, sheeplike, follows her mother, grasping for security and possessions. She creates a mythology of rectitude about her life; choosing to believe that her husband, Maurice, is simply an employee at the town hall who earns enough to pay for his elegant cashmere coat and the gifts of gold jewelry he brings to her and her parents.

Jeanne's ancestry and poverty limit her options in an already-difficult wartime economy and she becomes a servant in a brothel in the next town. There, she meets Marie-Angèle's husband, obviously a black marketeer, and learns of the price he exacts on those he claims to help.

"Ignorance" is the perfect title for this tale illustrating many forms of ignorance--including willful ignorance--and the irrevocable harm that can result from it.

The ignorance of young girls about sex, which makes them prey for those who would exploit them; the ignorance and prejudice of the villagers about Jews, which makes it easier for them to ignore what happens to their Jewish neighbors under the Nazi occupation; the villagers turning a blind eye to the real price of luxury items in the World War II black market; and the willful ignorance of a wife about who her husband really is and what he does.

But, Michèle Roberts is writing about all of France, not just one village, in this novel. There are no graphically violent scenes in the book, but it is full of brutality and fear. Nobody talks about the neighbors who are disappearing around them. Most are more than willing to compromise everything, including their humanity, for their own material gain. The occupying Germans are little more than an excuse for the residents to become predators.

Roberts's writing style is economical and blunt, yet also sensuous and lyrical. She makes the reader feel the dreariness of the war years: how the cold and wet raise chilblains; the smell of people who go unwashed in the frigid, unheated rooms; the combination of revulsion and ravenousness over soup made from moldy potatoes or cabbage; the thrill and shame, pain and pleasure of sex and childbirth. Characters deal with a too-brutal reality by seeing events and themselves in fantastical, fairy-tale terms; flying above themselves and watching from the ceiling, turning into a mythical beast who can lash out and demolish a foe. Roberts's writing sometimes turns from the fantastical to the everyday, but with the same searing effect:

>

I only wish Roberts had limited her storytellers to Jeanne and Marie-Angèle, rather than having a couple of (short) chapters told by other characters. Those other chapters didn't add much to the book, but more of Jeanne's and Marie-Angèle's stories would have.

This is a difficult and painful book, but the reader is rewarded by the richness of the writing and the flickering, hopeful spark of humanity that persists in spite of everything.

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book. ( )
1 vote Remizak | Apr 7, 2013 |
Ignorance by Michele Roberts

Basically a home front story of WWII in a French village, Ignorance is a story told about two young girls who are friends of a sort and who both, for different reasons, are sent to live for a time at the convent. Marie-Angele is the daughter of a grocer and Jeanne is the daughter of their laundress. It takes them from this age through to middle age and tells of the differences in their lives.
This tale is told in a beautifully descriptive manner but it is not a beautiful story. It is the story of what people are driven to do to stay safe and alive when living in wartime and during a Nazi German occupation.
As I read this book I was at times enthralled and at times appalled. While good, I didn't find it to be consistently good. It was told from the POV of several different characters and that didn't endear it to me. I found myself floundering several times while reading the book. But still I found it very interesting and when I wasn't lost in the book I thought it quite good.
I rated it 3 1/2 stars and guardedly recommend it. ( )
5 vote rainpebble | Mar 26, 2013 |
Dreamlike and evocative, Ignorance tells a story of life in WWII France. Although it is told from the points of view of several characters, the main focus is on Jeanne Nerin, a young girl whose status in society had fallen drastically with the death of her father. Jeanne's mother became a laundress and they moved to a poor neighborhood and lived at the mercy of those that choose to help them. Jeanne's mother is a Jew who converted to Catholicism to protect herself and her daughter from the horrors of the Nazi regime. The reader follows Jeanne through her days at the convent boarding school where she is a charity student, her encounters of love with an older man and her job as a maid in a brothel. The reader must gather her story in bits and pieces, as her thoughts weave back and forth and nothing is clearly stated. The events of those years are also shown from the points of view of Jeanne's rival, Marie-Angele, her illegitimate daughter, Andree, and one of the convent's nuns. Again, in those chapters, the story is not directly told, but is revealed in bits and pieces. I wonder if the title, Ignorance, comes from the fact that even with close physical contact at times, when all is said and done, the characters have no idea about the lives the other characters are actually living. Ignorance is a beautifully written novel, but not recommended for those who dislike ambiguity. ( )
  JGoto | Dec 9, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
This tragic period of history has taken many decades to be absorbed into France's understanding of itself – if, indeed, a coming to terms is truly possible. Roberts, daughter of a French mother and an English father, is neither harsh nor lenient in her view of what happens in small towns when the population faces hunger, terror, coercion and bribery. No extraordinary acts force open the trap that holds her characters. For all the poetic richness of her writing, Roberts is a realist, and Ignorance is a novel of considered maturity.
 
In a novel rich in moral ambiguities, Roberts's compliant citroyens are soon implicated in the kind of horrors that Jeanne recognizes from her childhood reading. Maurice in particular embodies the contradictions to be found in both towns, at one point risking all to hide a family of Jewish refugees, at another fleecing them of their savings. When both young women end the war as mothers, the fates meted out to them are poles apart.

Despite the underlying brutalities of the narrative, fans of Roberts's work will relish a return visit to the joys of Gallic rural life. As ever, her descriptions of meals and interiors pass by as a series of beautiful still lifes.

In this poetic and measured work, Roberts once more hits out at bourgeois smuggery and religious righteousness.
 
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Dedication
To Richard
First words
The first time I tried to use paints, in his studio, I didn't know where to begin.
Quotations
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English

None

Book description
In every war there are stories that do not surface. You can try to forget, but sometimes the past can return: in the scent of a bar of soap, in whispers darting through a village after mass, in the color of an undelivered letter.

Jeanne Nerin and Marie-Angèle Baudry grow up side by side in the Catholic village of Ste. Madeleine, but their worlds could not be more different. Marie-Angèle is the grocer's daughter, inflated with ideas of her own piety and rightful place in society. Jeanne's mother washes clothes for a living. She used to be a Jew until this became too dangerous. Jeanne does not think twice about stealing food when she is hungry, nor about grasping the slender chances life throws at her. Marie-Angèle does not grasp; she aspires to a life of comfort and influence. When war falls out of the sky, the forces that divide the two girls threaten to overwhelm those that bind them together. In this dizzying new order, the truth can be buried under a pyramid of recriminations.

Michèle Roberts's new novel is a mesmerizing exploration of guilt, faith, desire, and judgment, bringing to life a people at war in a way that is at once lyrical and shocking.
Haiku summary

No descriptions found.

"In every war there are stories that do not surface. You can try to forget, but sometimes the past can return: in the scent of a bar of soap, in whispers darting through a village after mass, in the color of an undelivered letter. Jeanne Nerin and Marie-Angèle Baudry grow up side by side in the Catholic village of Ste. Madeleine, but their worlds could not be more different. Marie-Angèle is the grocer's daughter, inflated with ideas of her own piety and rightful place in society. Jeanne's mother washes clothes for a living. She used to be a Jew until this became too dangerous. Jeanne does not think twice about stealing food when she is hungry, nor about grasping the slender chances life throws at her. Marie-Angèle does not grasp; she aspires to a life of comfort and influence. When war falls out of the sky, the forces that divide the two girls threaten to overwhelm those that bind them together. In this dizzying new order, the truth can be buried under a pyramid of recriminations" -- from publisher's web site.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
7 wanted2 pay

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (3.75)
0.5
1
1.5
2 1
2.5
3 3
3.5 4
4 7
4.5 1
5 2

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 94,393,599 books! | Top bar: Always visible