Anne Marsella's Remedy is an exceedingly bizarre, extremely amusing and, in the end, exceptionally rewarding book, although its true worth may not be immediately obvious. Perhaps this is partially because the publicity blurb misrepresents the content. Remedy is not "one girl's adventures in love, faith, and hemlines" so much as everywoman's antidote to chick lit.
On the face of it, the novel is a diary of sorts - each entry is dedicated to a (usually obscure) Catholic saint - written by one Remedy O'Riley de Vasca, a thirty-something American woman initially hailing from Florida, where her mother plays golf and invites the bishop over for highballs, but currently living in Paris, where she works for some sort of internet fashion magazine, diligently writing reports on unlikely fads and accessories and soaking up journalistic wisdom on alternative health and spirituality, feng shui and Adult Sex. She has a dope-smoking neighbour, Jeronimo, who calls round for the odd toilet roll, but also sends over his French cowboy-in-training brother. Her well-to-do American girlfriend introduces her to a Marquis, who unfortunately only likes white underpants, whereas Remedy usually favours colourful, skimpy rayon or polyester affairs. During lunchtime she attends Mass with a blind nun and her farting dog, whilst contemplating a pilgrimage to Rome. A couple of evenings a week she learns belly dancing, spending Saturday afternoons with the wife of the office janitor, a larger than life Algerian matron who teaches her sewing, cooking and unwittingly finds her the man of her dreams in the shape of a pizza delivery boy who also happens to be an Arabic scholar. The plot is a loose adaptation of Cinderella, culminating in a magical ball, complete with makeshift carriage and rushed exit.
Behind the lush, crazy extravagance of the plot, there are a few pointers even early on that Remedy is not intended as a tale of love, fashion and singleton silliness. To start with, Remedy is surprisingly erudite in her choice of saints (as if it were not surprising enough that she should bother dedicating each day to one) and dogged in her pursuit of peculiar Catholic ritual and iconography. Her visit to the incorrupt body of Saint Catherine in a chapel underneath a Parisian department store suggests a rare enthusiasm for religious oddity and excess. Secondly, Remedy may read articles on Adult Sex by day, but she is just as likely to be found ensconced in Moby Dick, a great and resoundingly strange literary undertaking if ever there were one. Other signals between the lines, such as Remedy's ancestor bearing the name of a radical French feminist philosopher, suggest that while Marsella may be having a lot of fun, she also expects to be taken seriously.
Anne Marsella is a Paris-based writer who teaches literature and has a university background in French literature and philosophy. As a writer, she first found acclaim with an award-winning volume of short stories described by the New York Times as erudite, incantatory, fanciful, sly and funny, all adjectives which could equally apply to Remedy. Unfortunately for Marsella, the most apt word may well be unclassifiable: it is difficult to think of any author, male or female, displaying her peculiarly light-hearted gusto for excess in its different guises - in religion, sex, romance, metaphor, social status, fashion, popular psychology, idÃ???Ã??Ã?Â©es reÃ???Ã??Ã?Â§ues... Her writing chuckles. Gently, knowingly, appreciatively, it chuckles.
Marsella's gleeful amusement at everyday life, and at the linguistic and romantic clichÃ???Ã??Ã?Â©s which inhabit it, combines with a complete refusal to lay judgment. Remedy is happy to converse with aristocrats, delivery boys and janitors alike. Indiscriminately, she enjoys food, she enjoys Catholic ritual, she enjoys dancing, she enjoys lyricism and making love. Since she admires extremes, she has no reason to perceive bad taste. It is possible that what amuses Marsella most is the shock created when opposites collide. What happens when a belly dancing outfit is worn to a debutante ball? When a Parisian decides to become a cowboy? When the lyrical prose of, say, Joyce or Melville, turns its hand to journalese, and an amused, appreciative gaze on the absurdities of contemporary culture? Remedy is far from the chick lit narrative the blurb on the cover implies. Remedy is no forlorn, neurotic singleton yearning for satisfaction in the shape of consumer commodities and a lifelong sexual partner, fuelled by a hapless search for antidotes to her condition in the pages of women's magazines. Remedy is not really on a quest at all. On the contrary, she is herself the solution, as her name makes clear. No wonder she never goes on the pilgrimage to Rome: she has too much to give. To begin with, she has the whole of Paris, with its fickle nature and startling contrasts, to offer as an exuberant potlatch for us to enjoy. But more than that, while the rest of us are busy consuming indiscriminately or turning up our noses, Remedy has the gift of savouring what life offers, with delight, amusement and gleeful, Joycean affirmation. Yes! Yes! Yes!show more
by Sue Nicho