... an exciting surprise ... Margaret Atwood...has written a lively and inviting introduction ... Beautifully translated by Sandra Smith, Inseparable is torturously delicious and consuming in the way doomed love stories often are ... Brief and exuberant, Inseparable amplifies the canon of a titan of twentieth-century feminism, and reveals her in an unexpectedly tender, unguarded mode. More than that, it’s a touching iteration of the female bildungsroman. De Beauvoir evokes the landscapes, activities, and companions of her adolescence in a vivid and refreshingly unaffected way—bringing Sylvie and Andrée to life, as she hoped to do, 'through literary artfulness.'
The drama...lies in the tension between these competing and imperfectly requited loves for Andrée: first the loves of Sylvie and Madame Gallard, then the love of Pascal, a joyful Catholic philosopher (the Merleau-Ponty figure) who allows Andrée to imagine that she might reconcile duty and happiness—at least until he begins to delay proposing marriage to her. The problem that preoccupies the novel is not who loves Andrée best but what kind of love would grant her the freedom she craves ... The novel leaps from one glorious tableau to another of Andrée in divine solitude, praying or playing her violin in a park. Alongside Sylvie, we, as readers, stop, stay, and bear witness to an outpouring of reverence ... The unpretending beauty of passages...derives from an aesthetic of distance ... The novel restores Zaza to her rightful place as a subject, presenting her as a singular being, incomparable and ultimately unknowable to the narrator herself. It is propelled by the jealous, curious, melancholy, and blissful contractions of eros without any expectation of reciprocity. The Andrée / Zaza figure is permitted to live and die on her own terms, her story untethered from the future fame or philosophical rationalizations of the narrator, who is, in these pages, nobody of note at all ... What Beauvoir...calls the 'pure literary artifice' of speaking to a mute, inglorious reader points to the sincere friendship and queer love tangled deep in the heart of her writing.
Fluidly translated by Sandra Smith ... Beauvoir the novelist allows us to feel the suffocating weight of an entire society ... Most disturbing are the ways in which Andrée, who remains fervently devout and unsparingly devoted to her mother, internalizes the destructive impulses of a culture that consumes and constrains her ... Simone, at least, would not be sacrificed on the altar of convention and domesticity. Inseparable makes the terms of this commitment on her part crushingly clear.
Andrée’s bold and playful tone is captured perfectly in Lauren Elkin’s translation from the French, which conveys, in pared-down prose, Andrée’s beguiling sensibility and the ways in which Sylvie is enraptured by her ... Sylvie is endearingly vulnerable because she risks loving Andrée. The idolised subject of her affection does not reciprocate the strength of her feelings, nor does she believe herself to be lovable. What I find most touching...is the description of Sylvie losing her faith.
A piñata’s worth of surprises bursts from this novella of just 128 pages ... The bigger surprise here, at least to me, is Beauvoir’s genius as a fiction writer ... Tender and wicked, Beauvoir uses everything here: nature, families, poverty and wealth, and the material world of things—clothes, décor, pots and pans. Beauvoir pledged her art to the promise that one day Zaza would live on. This last, unpublished novel seems a miracle of raising the dead from icy memory, of conjuring the openness of youth, its all-consuming love and loss. Beauvoir’s glittering words reward us by remembering how we were.
It's a book that unfolds through a series of intense, intimate scenes, saturated by the sensory world of childhood ... vividly evoked ... It's as though Beauvoir had to find a form that allowed her readers, too, to have this experience of profound, ingenuous readerly identification. As in Elena Ferrante's novels, adolescence is honored on its own terms—we can feel how devastating it is for Sylvie when she feels let down or unseen ... There's a defenselessness to Sylvie's pain, a preparedness to write openly about excruciating adolescent embarrassment, that Beauvoir couldn't allow herself in the more staidly retrospective memoirs ... so quietly realistic, so full of curiosity and open to the future ... Beauvoir's talent here was for full-blooded description of young women lurching between poised intelligence, wistful godly leanings and coquettish charm ... There's a fresh kind of writing present in the novel—a spontaneous, ecstatic side of Beauvoir that was reined in by the more dutiful side of her existentialism ... Sandra Smith has more than done the novel justice in her stylish and readable translation.
The book...is heavy-handed, schematic, and thin. It’s about the length and scope of de Beauvoir’s novellas but has been packaged as a complete novel, padded with a laudatory introduction, a defensive afterword asserting the project’s significance, and selected letters between de Beauvoir and Zaza. Still, it has obvious merits: most of all the prose and the psychological insights, which are wry and movingly direct in turn ... as a work of art, Inseparable is too aware of its own ideas, which are conveyed gracelessly through symbols ... its characters feel at times reduced to props, instead of full, round actors ... political...observations, because they come naturally from the characters, constitute the book’s more artful scenes. But Inseparable’s ending is especially reductive; de Beauvoir lands on the moment of highest drama ... For anyone hoping to better understand de Beauvoir as a figure—a brilliant thinker who, in her personal life, tried to reconcile individual desires with values of openness, devotion, and community—Inseparable is simply more information, or the same information dressed up in the gauze of fable. As a work of art, it’s a reminder of her talents, which are on fuller display elsewhere.
This bildungsroman...runs on verve, wit, and pathos mediated through the lens of an enigmatic friendship ... The trailblazing feminist writes bracingly of the complexity of female friendships. Beauvoir’s mastery of fiction further demonstrates her bravura.