CBR13bingo – Book Club; My local book club is reading classics this year, and our July read is Jules et Jim, the source material for the French New Wave movie Jules and Jim.
The introduction and afterword of my edition of this book, and other reviews, told me that it is a celebration of a deep friendship between Jules and Jim and a love triangle where “all parties are free and equal, always loyal to one another”. That what “only counts for the three of them is la joie de vivre”.
This is certainly how the books starts, in Paris “about the year 1907”. Jules and Jim move in the same circles of artists, intellectual and pleasure seekers. They quickly bond over literature and intense conversation, and the more attractive, socially skilled Jim helps lovestarved Jules to meet women. A pattern emerges of attraction to the same women, who always seem to prefer Jim, which is not surprising given Jules’ passivity and occasional wanderings into outright misogyny.
When Kate arrives, she bears an “archaic smile, at once innocent and cruel” that Jules and Jim had been entranced by on the face of a Greek statue. At one point the novel muses that “if Kate and Jim had met at the cafe, things might have turned out very differently”. But I think they would have all been better off it Jules and Jim had never laid their eyes on that archaic smile.
At first I saw Kate with Jim and Jules’ rose-colored glasses, as a free spirit who loved Jules solid dependabilty, but was also drawn to Jim’s … (Hmmm …. to Jim’s what? As the main point of view character, Jim’s attractiveness is never really explored. Why do women flock to him? )
As the story progresses, I liked Kate less and less, and became increasingly less interested in the book. Time after time she became angry at some real or perceived slight and commited an act of performative betrayal, to get even. Well before the irreperable ending, I just wanted them all to go their separate ways and stop torturing each other.
Is my frustration with Kate due to the novel’s point of view, with Jim clearly the fictionalised author? Kate’s transgressions and the pain they cause they are in clear focus, while Jim’s own bad behaviour is mostly alluded to, or justified as honourable. Even when he hits her, it’s her fault, and she welcomes it. Jules mostly just fades into the background and looks after the children and other inconvenient commitments.
Their intense happiness is also more told than shown, with long time jumps over periods of peace and calm, to return to another battlescene. I didn’t believe it.