Hello! I’m the last stop on the @VikingBooksUK blog tour for “Women” by Mihail Sebastian. It’s part of the Penguin European Classics series which celebrates forgotten stories by European authors of different nationalities, bringing them to a wider audience.
And it’s just as well that the series exists because before it, I’d never heard of Mihail Sebastian and that’s a crying shame because his prose is so beautiful and evocative. The book might be called “Women” but it’s really a collection of stories about lust, longing, loving and sacrifice. It tries to be optimistic but there’s a great deal of sadness within the pages.
“Women tells the story of Stefan Valeriu, a young Romanian student, holidaying alone in the Alps. He soon becomes entangled in romantic relationships with three different women who pass through his guesthouse. We follow Stefan after his return to Paris as he reflects on the women in his life, at times playing the lover, and at others observing shrewdly from the periphery. This nuanced and passionate story will be loved by readers of Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Albert Camus and Hans Fallada.”
When we first meet the central character of Valeriu, he’s constantly eyeing up the new residents of the guesthouse seeing if any take his fancy, it doesn’t matter if they’re available or not, causing heartache and sometimes indifference along the way. But as the book continues, he grows up. He’s not always at the centre of the story, in “Maria” he’s the recipient of a letter from the titular character. He’s made a declaration of love to her but she cannot return it. I felt that her’s was the saddest tale of all, she’s trapped in a relationship with a man who wants to live with her but isn’t committed to her. She’s home to him really, a useful place to return in-between lovers but she can’t leave him because she loves him too much.
I loved the descriptions of the apartments, neighbourhoods and nightlife in Paris in the late twenties and early thirties. And the cover illustration instantly transports to you to the Lakeside guesthouse from the beginning of the book.
“Women” by Mihail Sebastian is out now.
Disclaimer – I received a copy of the book from Viking Books in return for an honest review.