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.