This novel by Alessandro Baricco, best known for ‘Silk’ was released in French last year thus making it onto my 2016 Italian reading list.
Barrico tells us that in his last book Mr Gwyn, there is at one point a reference to a short book called ‘Trois fois dès L’Aube’, an entirely imaginary book and He decided out of pure pleasure to follow an idea and write the book.
Barrico describes three meetings of two characters, that are impossible except in a book, first of all a woman that enters the lobby of a hotel.
‘..a woman entered, straight from her taxi, at this odd time of night, apparently lost in her thoughts. She was only wearing a yellow evening dress with a low neckline but without the hint of a shawl to cover her shoulders: this gave her the puzzling look of someone who has experienced something noteworthy. There was an elegance in her movements, maybe like an actress returning back stage, freed from the need to act and becoming herself once again, but more earnestly. Thus she advanced with precision , a little tired, holding her tiny bag close, ready to let it go. She was no longer very young, but this suited her, this is sometimes the case with women who have never doubted their own beauty.’***
And then the man she meets,
‘….no one would have seen the woman enter the hotel had it not been for a man wedged into the back of an armchair back in a corner of the lobby – hardly reasonable at this time of night-, who saw her, and crossed his left leg over his right, whereas until then the right was resting on the left, for no reason.’***
We sense Barrico’s precision in his descriptions right from the start, he is enjoying himself with these character studies. The woman is then sick and the man lets her use his room to freshen up. We learn that she has had a child when she was seventeen years old and he tells us of a fire at his home when he was ten years old. We learn that he has a gun on him. Is this meeting fortuitous and why were they up just before dawn? The first story ends revealing sides of the two characters which then appear in the other two stories.
In the second story, a night porter (was it the same man as in the first story but years later), helps a young girl to escape from her violent boy friend. Again Barricco works the colourful descriptions,
She was a particularly young girl, and her woman’s clothes made her seem even younger. Her makeup had the same effect : her red lipstick and the grey markings around her pale eyes like those of a wolf.***
The man reveals to the girl that he had spent thirteen years in prison for murder and that he had been arrested in a hotel room at dawn. This again is a crossing of the same two characters, he many years older and she much younger.
Then finally in the third story, the same two characters appear as a young boy of ten who has just witnessed a fire at his home and has been lead to a hotel room for the night by an ageing policewoman as Barrico further develops traits of their characters.
First published in Italian as Tre Volte All’Alba by Feltrinelli in 2012
Translated into French by Lise Caillat as Trois Fois Dès L’Aube and published by Gallimard in 2015