« En attendant demain » by Nathacha Appanah (Gallimard, 2015) revolves around Adam, Anita and Adèle. Adam and Anita are 24, the latter being of Mauritian origin. They’re in Paris for studies. They fall in love. Adam has given up painting for architecture while Anita has abandoned creative writing in favour of journalism. They move to a region of Adam’s childhood in the countryside. They’ve a daughter, Laura.
Routine settles in their lives. One day Anita comes across Adèle, a woman from Mauritius, whose husband and son have died in an accident. Adèle is an illegal resident and performs odd jobs for survival. Moved by her tale, Anita brings her home to look after the house and the child. One day, Adam comes home depressed as his Afghan friend Imran is suffering from cancer. Adèle is alone in the kitchen. He bursts out in tears. She offers him comfort. He makes love to her. She soon discovers that husband and wife have been using her as inspiration to revive their lost interest in painting and novel-writing respectively. She resents this. In the course of a row over the issue, Adèle falls to death in a lake. Adam is imprisoned.
Adam carries on an affair in his own house for six months, perhaps more, with Adèle, yet his wife knows nothing about it. There surely can’t be greater betrayal than this. Adam has to seek sexual fulfilment with Adèle rather than with his wife. Roles are here reversed. And the institution of marriage takes a farcical turn. They’ve everything to make them happy yet there’s something missing. « Je n’arrive pas à savoir ce qui me manque exactement, c’est étrange » Anita confesses (page 115).
Adèle reveals her personal life to Anita without knowing that the latter will use it as material for a novel. Instead of thanking her, Anita at one key point in the text insults her: « Tu te prends pour qui? Tu n’existes pas, tu es sans papiers, sans famille. Tu n’es rien! » (p 191). One can imagine the impact of these mischievous, cruel words on Adèle’s mind. Later on, when she’ll fall in the lake, these words will echo in her mind. It’s just to tell us the extent to which she has been hurt by the rejection.
On his release from prison, Adam, and his wife (they’re 39 now), both think that « les pensées, les souhaits et les regrets se referment comme les nénuphars pour la nuit » (p 212) and they don’t have, at night, too much time or energy for Adèle, but the truth is that Adèle’s death will haunt them for a long time to come. Some people are like this: long after they’re gone, they leave, like snails, traces behind them to remind you of their presence.
Characters are often in the present physically but their thoughts are not. When the novel opens, we see Adam and Anita celebrating with friends but he’s thinking of his father back home and wondering if it has snowed in the valley or how the waves look like. He imagines himself painting. His mind leaps from one idea to the next, exposing his incapacity to adapt to the situation. Besides, he finds that « Je ne suis pas à ma place ici » (p 23). Anita also cannot adapt. Her mind is filled with past experiences. And then, she moves to her family. Are they missing her? She thinks of her country. She, too, finds that she’s not in her proper place here. Both are in quest of something. They know not what.
When Adam comes out of prison, his mind is taken up with past events – « le lac vient tout à coup s’immiscer dans ses pensées » (p 207) – the incident at the lake… his friend… the prison. He seems confounded. The present and the past are blurred. Thus, flashback allows us to reach the deepest and the secret places of a character and enables us to understand him from psychological and emotional perspectives.
It’s been 4 years, 5 months, 13 days since Adam was imprisoned. We see Anita waiting for the day to break « d’un coup sec comme le ferait une coque de noix solide et ridée » (p 12). Adam is surrounded by friends who are celebrating but he stays alone in a corner «dans sa bulle, comme un étranger qui ne parlerait pas la même langue que les autres, qui ne comprendrait pas leurs rites, leur culture» (p 21). He leaves the group and «trouve sa place sur ce canapé, le cou tordu tel un canard s’abritant sous ses plumes» (p 22). Anita has a « chignon serré comme un nœud marin » (p 25).
When Anita’s father, Philip, dies in an accident, she comes to Mauritius. She tries to understand how it could have happened and doesn’t cry. Adam and her mother, Sarita, wait « que coulent les larmes comme on attend d’un fruit qu’il tombe de lui-même » (p 37). At night, the mother hears a discreet sound « comme les pattes d’une sauterelle sur une feuille de manguier » (p 37). It’s Anita silently going towards Adam’s room.
Anita is 3 months pregnant. She wants to forget everything to concentrate solely on what she visualises as « un haricot rouge » (p 38) in her womb. Night falls on the forest and the house breathes lightly « comme un gros animal profondément endormi » (p 50). Adèle finds that her new home is « chaude comme l’étreinte d’une mère » (p 78). It’s a nice way of putting across the idea of warmth, affection and bonding.
Just before the accident that will kill her husband and her son, we see Adèle waiting when it starts to rain. Heavy raindrops fall on her umbrella like « du riz cru tombant dans une casserole vide » (p 156). We see and hear the rain in a surprisingly new way. Precise, sharp and lively images in the text enhance our appreciation of the writing.
Role of Adèle
Adèle comes into the lives of Adam and Anita as a whiff of fresh air. Tension between them decreases and their lives change for the better (and for the worse later). She’s the perfect maid and nanny. Unknown to her, she ignites the flame of creativity in them. « Depuis qu’Adèle est là, Anita écrit » (p 126), « Depuis qu’Adèle est là, Adam a commencé une autre série de peintures inspirée de l’histoire d’Adèle » (p 127). Through Adèle, we understand the motivations of Adam and Anita. She also has much to do with the themes of change, exile and rejection, identity, betrayal of trust, and marriage. She has a significant place in the dramatic and tragic aspects of the novel. Her death will compel Adam and Anita to question themselves.
Adam has been leading a promiscuous life with Adèle, yet when the female characters are struggling in the lake, Adam thinks of saving his daughter first. Adèle means nothing to him. He’s under the impression that she is here to reveal to his wife their secret and sinful relationship when indeed she has no intention of the sort. She only wants answers to her questions about why they used her as inspiration without her permission. How could they have dared to invade her personal space?
To the police, Adam and Anita decide not to reveal the whole truth about their complex relationship with Adèle. They’ll say nothing about the novel or the paintings. They’ll say, with the complicity of their lawyer, that it was « juste une banale histoire de moeurs qui tourne mal » (p 201). Here we see the capacity of people to lie to get out of a nasty situation.
Anita is in the kitchen when her 2-yr-old daughter wakes up. Immediately, she becomes « cette femme légère et efficace, cette femme qui nourrit, lave, nettoie, brosse, astique, fait briller, range, cuisine, rit, fait rire, joue, jardine, fait des courses, aime son mari, sa fille, sa maison » (p 47). The author, through a series of action verbs, skilfully condenses the concept of domesticity in a single sentence. The sentence conveys a feeling of gathering momentum culminating in an emphatic assertion of love for and attachment to the family.
« Les saisons passent, les couleurs changent, la lumière tombe, le froid l’entoure, le vent la pousse, les échafaudages se montent et se défont, un mur est abattu, un grand arbre tombe avec ses racines larges et ouvragées comme une dentelle… » (p 85). Not only do the short statements produce a pleasant rhythmic effect, they are also visually appealing.
On meeting Adam and Anita, « Adèle entrevoit une autre façon de vivre, une autre manière d’aimer, d’offrir, de pleurer, de vivre, de travailler, de recommencer » (p 113). The rhythmic movement here won’t fail to arrest the attentive reader’s attention.