Nina is a woman looking of her place in the world, a place she has never found with her demanding mother or her critical best friend. Nina seems fated to always be the one looking in on life, just as she watches in the windows of the father who was never even told of her birth.
Feeling “transparent, an invisible little woman,” she thinks she has found her substance when she marries Roger, the owner of a newspaper kiosk on the shaded side of a Parisian street. But she quickly discovers that Roger is lacking in form himself, and she despairs to find her life again one of routine and stagnation.
Although Nina describes herself as quiet and mousy, she notices that she can have an effect on strange men that she can not have on her husband. Desperate to make her husband see her as these strangers do, she recreates herself into the exotic Oriental woman who seduces her man in a darkened movie theater. Although her role is successful, she is horrified to realize that her husband has lost his heart to this character she has created.
This is a story of the passion to stay in love and be loved, no matter how undesirable it may appear to others. Roger is neither a substantial character nor a likable one. Nina’s strong yearning for him is not understandable, but her need to be part of a whole is universal. It examines the concept of betrayal as, ironically, it is Nina’s attempted affair with her own husband, not strangers, that is the catalyst to the couple’s destruction
“Now I understood the deep seated need for a clandestine situation to be able to let go without any shame or fear of predictable reactions: other people’s attitudes or disapproval, their pity, their indulgences, the conviction of those who say ‘if I were you…’ When it came down to it, my husband and I needed the same things, just not together.”
This edition of The Woman in the Row Behind by French playwright Francoise Dorner is a recent translation of the winner of the 2004 Goncourt Prize for a first novel.