The Inseparables by Simone de Beauvoir

"They called us the Inseparables"

Lasting friendships that were formed in early childhood are a fascination for me. What is it that brings individuals together, keeps them together and makes them inseparable? And for me, as an avid Francophile, add to that the “mystery” of why a novel by French writer Simone de Beauvoir should come to light years after the celebrated author’s death then I’m hooked.

I had first learned of this book having spotted it on NetGalley, a site that sends pre-publication copies in eformat and sure enough I applied to read it and was duly sent a copy.

Of course I had been much aware of Simone de Beauvoir, her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre but I had been more used to reading about her rather than her work. I am so sorry that I didn't start sooner because I just loved this book. 

I was grateful for the introduction by Deborah Levy who rightly pointed out that her foreword contained spoilersI decided to stay with that however as it helped provide context and has prompted me to read some of de Beauvoir’s other works. Then on to the novel itself, translated from the French by Lauren Elkin, only confirming the intention to read moreThe text was accompanied by helpful footnotes explaining this or that term or historical background.  And what about that mysteryThe afterword, written by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir, explains how the work was found among de Beauvoir’s papers and came to publication. The afterword includes photographs of the people aliased in the book and some facsimiles of the original handwritten draft.  

So in this small volume we get the story, the literary legacy and social context of the workThat impressed me and I liked it very much. 

The book recounts the story of two young women, Sylvie and Andrée, who meet in primary school at a very young ageWe learn from the opening dedication For Zaza that the story was inspired by the relationship between the young Simone in whose name Sylvie speaks and Elisabeth ‘Zaza’ Lacoin represented by Andrée.  The two become friends and rail against the prevailing orthodoxies of the time; they discuss God, religion, philosophy and then ultimately face a final reckoning. 

I was captivated by the language in the book. Yes there were all those discussions but they were essential to a sense of movement in the text; a dramatic tension drawing us to an anticipated but nonetheless abrupt conclusion that still leaves a sense of inseparability. 

Looking back over the text, there are several places where I have highlighted phrases and sections that stopped me short and made me thinkI love it when a book does that. I have had a longterm aversion to writing on books and one of the advantages of an ebook is the facility to highlight text and make notes, all of which can be easily removed. Anyway back to those highlights: This one for example stood out.  Sylvie/Simone is describing one of the adults and writes “His silky hair and Christian virtue feminised him and lowered him in my estimation.” That from a central figure in FeminismAnd from the socially engaged woman describing their respective freedoms, Sylvie writes that she ‘had often envied Andrée her independence, but suddenly she seemed much less free than I was’.  A sense of foreboding comes in a section where there is a description of a sculpted wooden clock, ‘which held...all the darkness of time’Foreboding reprised when ‘Andrée placed the violin in its little coffin’ after practising her music during which,’she seemed to be listening prayerfully to the voice of the instrument on her shoulder’.  There are many such examples, skilfully inserted throughout the text.  


Having read the ebook version I made two decisions.  First, I felt that the book was one that I would definitely like to reread and therefore wanted a physical copy to keep on my bookshelf. I have done just that and am glad for it is a well made book, hardback and with dust jacket. An advantage of a physical book of course is that it can be presented as a gift. The ebook came with compliments of NetGalley, this physical one which has just arrived? Well that's a gift to myself. 

And the second decision?  Resolutions for the New Year really: to read the orignal in French and to read more of Simone de Beauvoir. 

I have a feeling this author's works, new to me, will rapidly become inseparable.


The Inseparables - The newly discovered novel from Simone de Beauvoir

Published 2 September 2021 by Vintage.

Translated from the French by Lauren Elkin 

with an introduction by Deborah Levy and

an afterword by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir

ISBN: 978-1784877002

Also check out NetGalley to find this and other titles.


A Sunday in Ville d'Avray


I very much enjoyed A Sunday in Ville d'Avray by Dominique Barbéris and found it an atmospheric read. The story unfolds in an area close to Paris where I once stayed and I felt transported back to that time and place. That's one sure way to get involved in a story - to have a sense of sharing a part of it.

At the time of reading the nights were on the turn with the new season bringing earlier dark evenings. The book matched the weather and this was perfect autumnal reading with descriptions of "sodden leaves macerated in heaps" forecasting the outdoor reality.

I picked up my copy by chance at a favourite bookstore where the owner seeing my intended purchase asked me to wait a moment as he had some bookplates signed by the author. He returned a short while later with the plate and positioned it on the title page for me.

Brilliant, I'm grateful to the author and the bookseller for their little acts of sharing.
I'm even more invested in the book now.

A Sunday in Ville d'Avray by Dominique Barbéris
Translated from the French by John Cullen
Published August 2021
Daunt Books Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-911547-96-9

New CfB programme

Le Cercle français de Belfast has just published its new season programme for 2021-2022. Some events will be streamed, others held in place when health restrictions permit and some will be in both formats thanks to live streaming. Participation in Cercle events has widened considerably over lockdown as many new members from further afield than Belfast have been able to join in its virtual presentations.

For more details see

Caprice des Dieux


Spotted it straightaway on the cheese shelf of my local supermarket. Caprice des Dieux.
It might be new here but I tasted it for the first time decades ago. It was one of those introductory tastes to the French cheeseboard and I would often eat it sandwiched in a baguette. Yes it's industrial and at a remove from the artisanal varieties I enjoy these days but it still holds a special place in my taste memories - a first embrace in this amour de fromage. 

Bonne fête nationale 2021

 A Bastille day breakfast to start the day right. Couldn't find my French flags so improvised with fruit bowls of blueberries, yoghurt and raspberries. Croissants and apricot jam to follow, love it!

Bonne continuation !

Surréalisme 1971 - together and apart

"Make sure," advised the museum art curator, "to always buy the catalogue of important art exhibitions you attend." She explained that a great deal of time and effort would have gone into bringing the various items together from different collections or galleries around the world. It would be fairly certain that those pictures would never again be together in the same exhibition.

Since that talk to our French Cercle around 15 years ago I've heeded her advice as often as interest and wallet would allow. Pity I wasn't aware of her good counsel for one exhibition I attended when I had just turned 20 and when such advice was beyond my maturity.  Still, that exhibition left an indelible mark and an enduring appreciation.

Surrealist exhibition

It was 1971 in Bordeaux on a free day away from summer camp duties as moniteurs a group of us visited the Galerie des Beaux-Arts which was hosting an exhibition on Surréalisme. We recognised of course some of the artists' names such as Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso and were introduced to René Magritte but it was the effect of those paintings that left the indelible mark.

Two in particular.  One a large picture of the Madonna spanking her child over her knees, a halo lying on the ground and three men looking at the scene through a small window.  The other was of Saint Anthony being tempted, pursued by ominous clouds and sensual demons.

Of course I didn't take the details of the artists at the time much less buying a catalogue. Nor did I take the titles of the works.  But decades later and having heard the art curator's advice I thought it would be interesting to track down those images.

Tracing the artists

Where to begin? Books on Surrealist art naturally and internet search engines. It was amazing and daunting to see just how many times Saint Anthony was tempted. Poor chap! And as for the Madonna and Child?  Une aiguille dans une botte de foin - a needle in a haystack.

What about checking the site of the Gallerie des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux? Yes, some interesting pointers but then a moment of inspiration. If the art curator was right and the done thing was to purchase an exhibition catalogue then maybe there would be a copy online. I knew exactly where and when the exhibition took place, Bordeaux 1971 and it was worth a try. 

Surreal ! There it was - a catalogue for sale from Galerie Artima in Paris. 

Yes, you're right. I did buy it and here it is...

The exhibition catalogue all the way back from the past. It's in a remarkably good state, with wear mostly on the spine.  A colourful cover, La main fertile by André MASSON designed specially for the exhibition  and with mostly black and white pictures inside.

The curator was definitely right - the provenance of the artworks from individual collections and galleries was widespread: Anvers, Bâle, Bandol, Bordeaux, Bruxelles, Charleroi, Dortmund, Gand, Genève, Hambourg, Helsinki, Ixelles, Knokke-Le Zoute, Londres, Limoges, Marseille, Nantes, Neuilly-sur-Seine, New York, Paris, Prague, Saint-Denis, Seillans and Strasbourg. That must have been some task; a labour of love to reach out and coordinate all those places over several months, if not years. Confirmation that those pictures were most unlikely to ever be under the same roof again.

But at least now I had the catalogue!

Sure enough, one of the colour plates was Item #96 Max Ernst's La Vierge corrigeant l'enfant Jésus painted in 1926. Its dimensions were recorded as 196 x 130 cms and was contributed by Mme Jean KREBS, Bruxelles.

Saint Anthony was there too.  The sensual horror of the scene muted by its reproduction as a small black and white image. It's La Tentation de Saint Antoine by Dorothea Tanning. Item #221, it was painted in 1945 - 46 with dimensions 121,5 x 91 cms.  So smaller than the Max Ernst but large in my memory. It was supplied by the Galerie François PETIT in Paris.

Those two pictures, separated by 20 years in their production, were not only connected in my memory but it turns out that their artists were also connected.  In a biographical note the catalogue records that Max Ernst went to the United States in 1941, staying there for twelve years.  While there, he connects with American, Dorothea Tanning and they marry.

Where are they now?

So nearly 50 years on, where are the pictures now?  Well, I've spent some fascinatingly, fruitful hours tracking them down and meeting other great pictures that they have created on the way.

The Max Ernst now hangs in Museum Ludwig in Köln while the Dorothea Tanning is in La Salle University Art Museum, Philadelphia.  So together in Bordeaux in 1971 and today continents apart - that art curator knew what she was talking about. 

I have become quite a fan of Dorothea Tanning who lived to over 100 years of age from 1910 to 2012 and who in her later life became a novelist and a fine poet. 

But what if a reader wanted to know more about those artists and pictures?

Well I was coming to that...

These links should help:

Spend a while at the Museum Ludwig in Köln for Max Ernst and then spend 5 minutes with Dorothea Tanning with superb commentary on the Temptation of Saint Anthony by Impressionist and Modern Art specialist Vanessa Fusco of Christies art auctions whose New York house managed the sale of the picture back in 2018 for well over $1,000,000. And you can read there too about the art prize in which the winning picture of Saint Anthony being tempted in the desert would be featured in the 1947 film of The Private Affairs of Bel Ami based on the Maupassant short story.  Dorothea's Anthony didn't win but Max's Anthony did and just as in my catalogue his picture is presented in colour in an otherwise black and white film. 

Hope you enjoy.  I would love to know what you think.

And if I could leave you with a piece of advice?

When you are next at a major exhibition, don't be tempted not to, BUY the catalogue!