Clara Reads Proust

Novelist Stéphane Carlier's Clara Reads Proust, translated from the French by Polly Mackintosh, opens as Madame Habib looks at the window of her hair salon "as if she is trying to solve its mystery." Though she concludes the problem is the name (Cindy Coiffure, a truly terrible name), her employee Clara knows it doesn't matter: "Someone will come in, the salon will come to life with the sound of murmured conversation, whirring hairdryers and the old hits on Radio Nostalgie...." At first, Clara is more observer than protagonist; it is from her perspective that readers see the salon and hear its noises and meet its characters, each finely drawn with easy gestures, such as Madame Habib's habit of "weighing up her earring in her left hand as if it were a marble," after removing it to answer the phone.

When a customer leaves behind the first volume of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, Clara tucks it away. Months later, when she opens it to read it, she's smitten, seeing it as something which, "for a reason she still cannot understand, will make her stronger." She's right, of course. As she reads, the shape of her desires begins to shift, and the steady accrual of pages matches a gradual unfurling within Clara that readers will love. A testament to the power of a great book, Clara Reads Proust is also a reminder of the power of time and attention and a willingness to step into the unknown, to let your life be changed for the better. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian

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