Stories are ten a penny… it’s the truth that gets lost.

I started reading 13 rue Thérèse last night and I know it’s going to be a frustrating read. Not because of its literary worthiness – on which I don’t yet have an opinion – but because of the subject within.

Shapiro, the author, acquired a box of treasured items (see them here) as a child when an elderly lady who lived in the same Parisian apartment block died. No relatives came to plunder her possessions so the landlord gave the other residents free-reign to help themselves in order to clear out the apartment. Shapiro’s mother chose the box containing love letters, photographs and other memorabilia belonging to the dead woman, Louise Brunet, and gave it to her daughter.

The story behind these items haunted the author into adulthood. She realised she was never going to be able to find the truth and so decided to invent what had happened as best she could. This novel is the result.

But already I’m finding this intensely frustrating. A zillion stories could be told from a small collection of personal items and there must be many, many old people with such boxes of special things… who have also told nobody of the story which lies within. And it’s this I find sad, and frustrating. It’s this which plagued my dreams last night and caused me to wake hideously early, remember another old lady – one I once knew – who also had hidden stories which would never be shared.

I think too often old people are dismissed as purely that – they are old, alone, needy and ill and close to their end. And somehow it’s easily forgotten that once they were younger, had dreams, excitement in their lives – enough to be represented by little items, collected and stored in a box as special. But unless they tell their story, it’s gone, lost and forgotten when they die. All that remains are those things – detached from their truth – and a great big endless question mark.

This book will not satisfy on one level – this I know already – because even if Shapiro has concocted the finest of stories to accompany the items it will not be the truth. 

All I want to know is what really happened to Louise Brunet? 

But nobody will ever know. That story has been lost forever.

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5 Replies to “Stories are ten a penny… it’s the truth that gets lost.”

  1. absolutely correct, sandie, unless we tell them ourselves, the truths behind our treasured trinkets can never be approximated by a zillion stories. yet, as a writer, it must have been fulfilling for shapiro to be able to craft stories about Louise's box of special things.

  2. Hi Sito,Yes, I guess there would be creative satisfaction in weaving a story out of those objects… but somehow I imagine there'd also be extreme frustration in knowing it wasn't the *real story*.I don't know. I should save judgement until I've finished the book. I just have a doom cloud over the rest of the read because I'm consciously aware that this story is just one interpretation and the real truth is lost…But perhaps that's the case with all stories – even the truthful ones we think we know ourselves… perception again – leaving out the bits we don't want, emphasising those we do.

  3. Like you say …But perhaps that's the case with all stories – even the truthful ones we think we know ourselves… perception again – leaving out the bits we don't want, emphasising those we do.* * *We sure leave out the bits we don't want, or can't see or understand, but also the bits we don't need. Other's pick up the strands,add their perception, historians for once, but novelists more so. Aren't novelists also sculptors of feelings, creating experiences, making them real for themselves and the reader? Picasso said, 'Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth.' Inspiring lines of thought, I may write something on truth and perception for my blog 🙂 BTW, I left a comment re: your query on the unreliable narrator on you thread.

  4. I know exactly what you mean – and I think a big part of the tragedy in death, something which is about as natural as it gets, is that it is the end, nothing new can be said unless perhaps hidden missives are found – but I don't find the premise of the book frustrating. Instead, as a concept, I think it's wonderful.(I should say that I haven't read it although I'm now compelled to do so!) Yes, the lady left behind stories which will remain secrets and it's sad that nobody will know the truth of them but how wonderful that she inspired a novel. Her imprint on this strange old place that is life will be greater than many people's! GREAT POST, Sandie and I'm off to Amazon…

  5. Sandie, just clicked over to the site and notice that another neighbour from the block has got in touch with author due to the promotion around the book! She also talks of the sadness around the way the belongings were handed out but has sent her story around the artefacts. Who knows, maybe the truth will come out eventually, precisely because the story was written! Right, I got distracted, back to Amazon…

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