Discussion location: Las Iguanasdouble bill

Chosen by: Rachael

Reason for choice: Lent it by a friend as love all of his books and Latin American authors.

Which female celebrity did we imagine as Roza?

Christine Bleakley, Catherine Zeta Jones in Chicago, Helena Bonham-Carter.

Review:

A Partisan’s Daughter, published in 2008, was Louis de Bernières third publication following his most successful novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.  Unlike the complex, distant and long-spanning Mandolin, the novel is an easy read, and but a brief glimpse into the conversations of two characters in late 1970s London.  The novel focuses primarily on the characters of Roza, a self-proclaimed prostitute, father-seducer and daughter of one of Tito’s Partisans; and Chris, a dull salesman with a grubby Allegro and an unfulfilling life.  Their conversations, which are detailed in the novel generally involve Roza telling Chris stories about her past, whilst Chris becomes increasingly infatuated with her.

There are also several characters featured or alluded to in the novel, such as Roza’s ex boyfriend’s Alex and Francis, Chris’ wife “the big white loaf” and The Bob Dylan Upstairs, to whom entire other novels could have been devoted to.  Furthermore, through Roza’s stories about her father, her childhood in Yugoslavia, prostitution and illegal immigration; with the backdrop of London during the winter of discontent, the novel touches on a wide range of topics without ever really becoming fully involved with them.  In particular, the descriptions of Yugoslavia and its history are evocative, clearly a strongpoint of de Bernières, and the novel is technically well written.

However, the truth of Roza’s stories is questionable throughout, particularly when Chris finds Roza in the library researching Yugoslavia; and the sometimes ludicrous nature of her stories, such as seducing her own father, suggests that she is fabricating the stories to keep Chris interested in her.  The notion of truth is uncertain throughout, as the novel is split into chapters of Roza’s perceptions followed by Chris’; such as their initial meeting where Chris picks Roza up believing her to be a prostitute, and Roza believing that Chris must be a man who usually picks up prostitutes.  The only character in the novel who seems to be true to himself is The Bob Dylan Upstairs, and in the spirit of deception, even he is given a false name.

Alone, the unreliable nature of truth in the novel would not be a criticism, however as the Roza’s stories progress, the reader cannot help but feel an increasing disdain for both of the characters.  In particular, the questionable nature of Roza’s stories make her appear contrived, and her persistence to continue telling them seems to be borne out of egotism rather than any genuine desire to spend time with Chris, indicated by the fact that she rarely asks Chris anything about himself or his life.

Despite this apparent misuse of Chris, the reader is not encouraged to feel any sympathy for him as he appears to be a spineless, wet man who blames his wife for his unhappy life and does nothing to improve it.  Moreover, his motives for maintaining conversations with Roza are also dubious as he is more interested in observing her than listening to her stories,  and his feelings towards her amount to little more than lust as he frequently focuses on her physical attributes; her breasts, legs and even her crotch, rarely on her personality.

Chris’ lust is emphasised by his persistent saving towards the five hundred pounds which he believes is the price she requests for sex, culminating at the end of the novel with him drunkenly throwing the money at her and drink driving home.  He later returns to find that she has left without a trace, and there the novel ends. Although the lack of closure is a welcome departure from the clichéd happy ending, Chris’ inability to do something about his feelings is frustrating, and Roza’s dramatic response seems unfair considering it was her stories which led to Chris’ error.

In general, the two main characters lack any real passion and the possible relationship that could have developed through their conversations fails to arise and then ends abruptly.  Similarly, the novel fizzles from potential to disappointment of what could have been so much more.  Perhaps this reflection was de Bernières’ intention, as it is otherwise difficult to believe that this novel was the same author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

Overall rating: 6/10

An excerpt from two people’s lives who collide briefly amongst political unrest,  which had potential but ended up being the most likely fabricated stories of an unlikeable drama queen trying to string along a pathetic, grubby middle aged man.

Plot synopsis:

In late 1970s London, a middle aged man named Chris picks up a young woman believing her to be a prostitute.  He is unhappy with his life and marriage, and although he has never picked up a prostitute before, he decides to proposition her.  Roza, born in Yugoslavia, has recently arrived in London, and although she is not a prostitute, she gets into Chris’ car.  Realising his mistake, he gives her a lift home, a crumbling house that she shares with a man known as The Bob Dylan Upstairs, though they are effectively squatters.  They spend the night talking, primarily with Roza telling Chris the shocking stories of her life.

Over the next few months, Chris frequently visits Roza to hear her stories, though he is often focused on his sexual desire for her and continues to save towards the £500 she tells him she used to charge.  Roza tells him stories about her father who was one of Tito’s partisans, that defected to the communists, how she seduced her father in order to lose her virginity, her university days and boyfriends, how she sneaked into England on a fishing boat, works as a stripper and prostitute and is kidnapped and tortured by a customer.

Throughout his visits, Chris becomes more fascinated with Roza and her physical attributes, and one night after he has been drinking, goes to Roza’s house and asks her to sleep with him, producing his £500. Roza is disgusted and kicks him out, and Chris returns the following day to find that she is gone, to which he states he never lost “the pain in [his] chest”.

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