Thursday, 25 March 2010

Breathe by Anne-Sophie Brasme

A minor publishing phenomenon in France, Breathe was published when the author was seventeen and went on to sell stacks. Inevitably translated into English, this novella finds itself in the teenage-fiction section of the Barbican Library (confusingly labelled ‘Skills for Life’) looking a little forlorn without the attendant hoopla that greeted its arrival back in 2001.


Charlene Boher is a typical teenager: grumpy, hormonal and full of existential angst. She reads Camus and realises that the part of Meursault was written for her. Unfortunately, she takes the whole L’Etranger thing a bit too far: the story is narrated retrospectively from prison.

After she tries to kill herself when she is thirteen, Charlene is befriended by Sarah, a gregarious red-headed girl at her school. Charlene shares her life with Sarah, but when she takes Sarah on holiday with her family, Sarah carelessly tosses her aside for the attentions of a local boy. Charlene’s response is to get more than a little clingy...

Despite being bestowing her with the title of ‘best friend’ Sarah persecutes Charlene and treats her like dirt. Away for New Year, she bosses her around in front of her mates and the depressed Charlene decides to get drunk:

I was bored silly. I reckoned if I knocked back a lot of booze and got pissed then Sarah and the others might notice me. I started drinking. Glasses of spirits, white wine, cherry liqueur, red wine, beer, it all went down the same way. I was enjoying losing control. I let myself slip slowly into an almost comatose sort of happiness. The more I drank the more I enjoyed myself, so I carried on drinking. And suddenly Sarah noticed.

Uh oh. Sarah’s none too pleased that her little friend is acting up. Charlene carries on regardless:

One more drink, let’s see what happens... Then I drank that one too many.

Usually, and I speak from experience here, the adolescent reaction to mixing alcoholic drinks is to spend the rest of the night talking down the big white telephone in the bathroom. Charlene should count herself lucky that she only gets locked in a cupboard by Sarah, and doesn’t even appear to wake up with a hangover...

As for Sarah, she should have run while she could. Charlene goes from needy to obsessed in little over a year and by page 117 is suffocating her best friend with a pillow.

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