Click here to read reviewer Sharlene Tan's take on That Mad Ache / Translator, Trader.
It’s not hard to imagine having to choose between two lovers. It’s not hard to find a book that one may consider the epitome of chick lit. What is hard is to find a story so poignant that it simply cannot be put down. Francoise Sagan’s That Mad Ache is that story.
The reader is instantly transported to 1960’s France, though there are few references to the time period and it would be easy to imagine the book being much more contemporary. Lucile is a rootless thirty-year-old woman, driven by her heart and nothing more. She lives with her lover, fifty-year-old Charles – a strong, gentle businessman whom she loves in a calm and quiet way. While he works, she is left to do whatever she pleases: exploring the French countryside, dining in the finest Parisian restaurants, or simply staying home with a good book. Her life is quiet most times. She’s free and she’s young and she simply loves her life. Charles is in love with her, but while Lucile loves him, she is certain she’s not “in love” with him.
Part of her life as the lover of Charles, she goes to all the best Paris society parties. At one such party, she meets the lover of Diane – a thirtyish young man named Antoine. Instantly, Lucile and Antoine are drawn to one another like moths to a flame. Antoine is tall, blonde, chiseled - everything Lucile thinks she wants. What she feels for him is pure passion, white-hot and strong as steel. But where does that leave her relationship with Charles?
After a life-altering experience, Lucile explores her true self. She answers the questions that are hardest to answer in anyone’s own life. She figures out who she can turn to when it all falls down, who she loves, and who is a true friend. At the age of thirty, she finally finds herself… and she likes who she finds. In the end, Lucile’s choice will surprise some. The ease of walking away from one life to take on an entirely different one will be a foreign concept for some readers, but Sagan’s eloquent prose will guide every reader through it with her gentle hand and perfect explanation of Lucile’s feelings.
That Mad Ache is truly one of the best coming-of-age stories I’ve ever encountered. Sagan’s descriptive style and quiet romanticism fully immerse the reader in Lucile’s life and love. Some credit must, however, be given to Douglas Hofstadte,r as he translated That Mad Ache (first published under the name La Chamade) from the original French. Anyone with any experience in a second language knows that things don’t always translate perfectly. It’s doubtless that Hofstadter had to take some amount of artistic license. Upon reading Hofstadter’s essay “Translator, Trader,” the reader will find that this translation was a labor of love. He literally translated the novel because it touched him in such a profound way that he had to become that intimate with it.
Bottom line: That Mad Ache is a quick and easy read, coming in at only 209 pages. Hofstadter’s essay “Translator, Trader” rounds in another hundred pages, but the book is complete without it. The essay gives the reader more insight into how the book found its way to the English language and possibly a deeper understanding of just how much Hofstadter is a part of the finished product. I sincerely doubt that anything was lost in translation, but That Mad Ache may be just enough reason to learn French. I dreaded putting this book down and I will certainly rush to find my way to another Sagan novel in the future. That Mad Ache is pure beauty – cover to cover.