2008, Ilura Press, 978921325052
It’s a shame to read a story that feels as though it has been wrestled into the wrong medium. Aileen La Tourette’s Late Connections might have made a good dramatic play with its style, overt exposition, and historical setting. We begin in Paris, where seamstress Annie Doulard works on the dress of Marie. Marie’s husband, Gilles La Tourette had once made the mistake of not paying enough attention to the seamstress when he was studying under Charcot (along with Freud) years before, and Annie was a patient. Annie (whose real name is Rose) decides to dress as a widow to be pitied, and approach Dr La Tourette (the real man who unveiled Tourette’s syndrome) in his office with a demand and a gun.
Strong motivation and a strong focus are confused by other motivations that pop up (and continue all through the novel) of Rose/Annie actually committing crimes as part of a ‘sisterhood’ thing, feeling empathy for the repressed wife and the sad, unseen daughter living in her dead brother’s shadow. Rose/Annie’s characterisation is all over the place. Her ambitions and motivations are confused and skewed. If it is deliberate (to display her mental unbalance) it is not handled deftly enough, probably because knowledge of early 20th Century fashion, psychology, feminism and cultural movements are too often flaunted and too obviously interjected. I can see the spirit of the age, and the sense of movement and revolutions in thoughts and aesthetics that the author is trying to get across. In a play this could have been done visually – a simple Chanel suit on a character, instead of a whole ridiculously distracting subplot with Chanel herself, and with writer Colette thrown in for good measure.
The author also switches voice many times during the novel. We have Rose, Marie, Gilles La Tourette, the daughter Genevieve, and even Freud. Again, in a play, all these voices could have taken on their own characteristics, aided by actors. On the page, their drippy over-analyses of self and situation (and they all cry so often) are annoying – except for the first Freud chapter, which actually compelled me suddenly and drew me into the world. It is completely, stylistically different, and could have even stood alone as a short story. Freud sits on a train, knowing that the letter he has received is not from the man whose signature is on the page. Yet he is compelled to go to him. His mind is driven again and again to this notion while he also observes other passengers, his past and present, and the world outside. Aileen La Tourette obviously does know a lot about all of these true historical characters, but it seems that it is with Freud that she is most comfortable, and the writing flows much better and much stronger than anywhere else in the book.
La Tourette is trying to show the revolutionary natures of the women in the book, against the patriarchal doctrines of professionals, husbands, and fathers. This is probably why she also chose to include the Chanel/Collette subplot, where there is also an erotic tension between the women. The problem, here, is that all the women are so aware of being revolutionary. The thoughts and spoken lines seem so contrived and far-fetched it had me groaning instead of going ‘yes!’ in celebration of womanhood. La Tourette needs to trust her readers’ knowledge of history and culture more – we know a woman living alone, a woman writing, a career woman or a woman raising skirt hems is a revolutionary in this context.
Also, there is a distinct lack of drive and conflict – Rose runs away from the Salpetriere and finds friends, finds work, then when that ends very flatly and suddenly she just becomes a seamstress again – oh and how convenient that Madame Raymonde can provide her with a few clients! What does Rose want? First revenge, then escape, then to be like Chanel, then redemption (did the revenge just fly out the window? And where was the urge for redemption while bathing in the sea and spying on Chanel in a graveyard?). The ending comes abruptly, where another character suddenly goes from angry to forgiving in the blink of an eye. It all comes much too easily and I felt cheated, as I had read on confused about what I wanted resolved, but wanting something resolved nonetheless, and I didn’t feel as though I got anything satisfying.
I feel it’s a shame, as this book really had potential in its ideas and style, but needed more direction before it was published. It needs less cheekiness and flippancy, and more focus and flow. I’m also adamant it would have worked much better as a play, or perhaps a few short stories, each with interesting historical characters, not all squashed in together just because they were in Europe at the same time. Obviously the author is a descendant to some of the characters, and their stories are of course interesting, but I didn’t feel she had really gotten to know them. There are only some parts of the world she knows, others she has sensed, and others she is guessing. By this I mean her fictional world, the world of her making, not the actual history. I didn’t feel she had clarified and solidified her fictional world and characters, and the exact way she wanted the reader to engage with them, before she set out writing. If rendered in a way that transports the reader, draws them in, and leaves them walking away with a real, coherent feeling for this revolutionary world and admiration for its characters, it would have succeeded.