Proust through the eyes of three hairdressers. A book

Proust through the eyes of three hairdressers.  A book

The microcosm of Clara read through the "Recherche". Stéphane Carlier's novel reminds us that literature is by its substance capable of speaking even to those who are not prepared to welcome it

Clara reads Proust (Einaudi, 2023) is a divertissement which, having to imagine - in a game with no claim to scientificity - whether it is signed by a woman or a man, would appear to the writer to be the work of a female pen.

Perhaps because it is set in a hairdresser's salon, or because the protagonist, Clara, is a smiling young girl, or perhaps rather because - daringly - the book could be ascribed, in its own way, to the "chick lit" (literally literature for pullets, but – of course – this is a novel with a certain literary depth) in which the protagonist looks at life and love with irony and lightness.

It is the story of Clara who works in the hairdressing shop of Mrs. Jacqueline Delage aka Jacqueline Habib (“she never forgave her husband for that surname”), a bizarre fifty-year-old in a “tobacco-colored or leopard-print silk blouse, bracelets that sparkle at every slightest movement and Shalimar, so much Shalimar, so much Shalimar that it has permeated the place”. With them also “Nolwenn, the other employee of the salon. Her face doesn't exactly have contours and it's rare that she changes expression. Whether she's telling about her sister-in-law's miscarriage or whether she's handing Clara a little present for her birthday (…) ”. This, then, is the scenic setting of the story – almost theatricalindeed – and above all this is the light-hearted tone that accompanies the reader in following the story of the three women of Cindy Coiffure and their clients.

In that microcosm existence unfolds with its tragedies and, on the other hand, they find the ease of being told the funny moments that every life contains, even in its darkest hour. “I didn't fit into any box,” Claudie says. “Everyone entered their good box, I tried but it was never the right one, I felt like a cat being asked to solve an equation with two unknowns (…). I wrote a letter explaining everything, took a tube of Lexomil and washed it down with a Cointreau, lay down on the bed and fell asleep. (…) I woke up in the hospital very annoyed to be alive”.

The “adventurous” gimmick of the author of Clara reads Proust – who is instead a man: Stéphane Carlier, son of a well-known French television correspondent and brother of an equally well-known actor – was indeed that of find as a mediation tool between Clara's life and thoughts one of the greatest works: the Recherche. Betting on the apparent oxymoron of "the hairdresser who reads Proust", Stéphane Carlier wants to show how literature is by its substance capable of speaking even to those who are not prepared to welcome it. “Proust. Previously this mythical name was for her like the name of certain cities – Capri, St. Petersburg… – where it was understood that [Clara] he wouldn't set foot." And instead: “(…) Nolwenn had mannerisms that reminded her of Françoise in Searching for her. Then it was Mrs. Habib's turn (…) and finally she understood: (…) any little thing becomes a Proustian thing. A bunch of wisteria (…). The fine particles suspended in the blade of light that cuts through the darkness of a room. And Annick, her mother, who every time they take a picture of her, she slightly turns her head and parting her lips as if someone, someone who is not the photographer, was calling her right at that moment ”. Carlier's can be considered a challenge that is won if, after reading his novel, even a single reader will take the trouble to open (or re-open) the Recherche. If the writer also counts: the challenge is won.

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