This month, I am participating in The Bout of Books Readathon challenge (organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple) which was recommended by Wordsandpeace. The challenge ended in August, but I am continuing on my own. I love the idea setting a Daily Reading Goal (75pgs) and keeping a Reading Log of my new-found treasures. I posted a blog last week of my first Readathon book, Constellation, a literary non-fiction novel, and today, I will feature my second book, Red is My Heart.

In Red is My Heart, French Author Antoine Laurain collaborates with a contemporary Parisian artist, Le Sonneur, to produce a powerful collection of verse and images taking us through a journey of unrequited love.

Even though it has been over 40 years since I experienced my first, and only, broken heart, I was immediately drawn in on the first page: “Today I posted you a letter…my hand trembled…An address that does not exist…You will never read it.” I felt the same pit in my stomach as forty years before. This was not a work of fiction for me. Not since Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther have I seen the suffering of a broken heart expressed so poignantly.

Laurain’s verse in Red, by itself, would be compelling enough to take one through this journey of heartbreak. However, Le Sonneur’s powerful images in just three colors—red, black, and white—strongly illustrate and provide a partner to the effects from a spurned love, abandoned in a city of lovers, Paris. As a student of the visual arts, I am learning more and more how images can communicate as effectively as words. Le Sonneur’s art is a great example of this. His work can be found in public spaces with “an invitation to passers-by to interact with the work (Jacket)”.

This story is a little tongue-in-cheek, misery combined with whimsy, as we are taken into the mind of a heartbroken man who reflects on such nostalgia as what jacket he was wearing the day his lover broke up with him and how, possibly, it is the jacket’s fault that she left. He will soon abandon this jacket on a meter outside of his apartment to prove to her that he is over her. Of course, she will never see this jacket, just as she will never read his letter.

Another musing in Red is how the narrator wakes up at 4:15 every morning in order to establish a new routine, to move on with his life. This is also known as “adjustment insomnia” which is associated with a stressful event: “waking at three in the morning is said to happen after a bereavement, four after a break-up, and five o’clock when you have money worries”. This reminded me of the work of another French poet, Paul Valéry, who in his book Alphabet assigns significant events for every hour of the day [see post].

In an effort to mend his broken heart, our narrator is reminded of Dante and his love for Beatrice, a woman he met one afternoon and never saw again. His life was consumed by love for someone he had “never kissed, never held in his arms…a woman he knew nothing about.” Our protagonist will roam the streets of Paris, hoping to find a new love, someone who will help him forget about his broken heart. C’est possible? No spoiler alerts here!

Most of my experience in reading French novels of romance comes from the works of nineteenth-century authors Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, etc. I see that in the past one hundred years, the experience and effects of love, heartbreak, and relationships in Paris has not changed much: nor for the rest of the world. Relationships are still complicated, exhilarating, heartbreaking, and a vital part of our human experience!