Throughout my reading of this novella, I could not get Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Miss Brill” out of my mind. It is not a similar story but still, the love that the old woman has for her little fox fur reminded me of the feelings that Miss Brill had for her little pieces of finery; the imaginary worlds that both create sustain them in an otherwise fairly prosaic life.
Violette Leduc’s novella was published in English in 1967 and has been republished as part of Penguin’s European Writers series in 2018. Deborah Levy in her introductory essay makes connections with Becket and Camus with the moments of dark humour that enliven what otherwise could have been a very depressing story of a lonely, hungry, old woman living in Paris. She wakes one day craving the taste of an orange but does not have the money to feed that craving. She lives a tough life, scraping together enough money to pay for her miserly room that is too close to the metro. Instead of the orange she finds the fox fur and although it does not address her cravings it definitely counteracts her loneliness. He becomes her companion of sorts and ‘listens’ to the description of her days. Like Tom Hanks’ character in Castaway, her ‘Wilson’ allays her fears of being on her own. However, the old woman is not alone on an island but rather within the confines of the large city where her isolation seems more profound.
She is invisible and ignored. Her voice is barely recognisable and so the conversations that she has with her little fox fur are the more sad for the fact that often they are the only conversations that she has.
Although this sounds miserable, it’s really not. There are moments of light in the otherwise dark novella. There are moments of laughter in the otherwise sombre story. It’s short and it’s an easy read and the little old lady stays with you. I know I reflected on the difference between being alone and lonely. Once she has her little fox fur, the woman no longer seems lonely but rather she comes to life. And even though this might seem sad, it’s not. It’s quite lovely and worth the hour or two that it would take to enter this world and follow this tale.