Thursday 27 October 2022

Abominable addiction

Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman I'm always on the lookout for fiction that's set on the French Riviera and came across a reference to Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman in a local newspaper. The article said it's a story about loose women and gambling, and best of all, some of the scenes take place in Monte Carlo Casino. What's not to like?

It's set in the early years of the 20th century in a "little guest-house on the Riviera". A group of bourgeois residents are shocked when one of their party, a wife and mother, runs off with a man who arrived just the day before. Everyone has an opinion about the affair, and a heated discussion "threatened to degenerate into frenzied argument, even rancour and recrimination". The narrator professes he would "rather understand others than condemn them". Mrs C, the reserved English lady, decides to unburden herself to him. For years she has kept quiet about a 24-hour interlude spent in Monte Carlo.

The story is an easy read, the translation is fine, the style a little old-fashioned, but then the book was published in 1927. In our guilt-free era of erotic pleasures, one night of abandonment is not so shocking, indeed losing money gambling is much more shameful these days. The book distinguishes between the problems of addiction and of the passionate impulse.

And what of Monte Carlo? I've toured the Casino before the tables are opened to punters, which reduces it to a building of historical and cultural interest. What of the players? Another time I spent an evening in the public salon amongst young Asians and American tourists who risked no more than a couple of chips. I believe there's a very different class of people engaged in more serious endeavour in the private Salle Blanche.

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