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La Femme de Gilles

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  542 ratings  ·  84 reviews
A haunting, slim novel which has the mesmeric inevitability of a classical tragedy." --Independent on Sunday
La Femme de Gilles
tells the story of a fatal love triangle written on the eve of World War II.
Set among the dusty lanes and rolling valleys of rural 1930s Belgium, La Femme de Gilles is the tale of a young mother, Elisa, whose world is overturned when she
Paperback, 144 pages
Published November 15th 2016 by Melville House (first published 1937)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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May 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eros shook my mind like a mountain wind falling on oak trees.

(Sappho, Fragment 47, translation Anne Carson)

The wound she carries in her heart, the latent suffering she feels welling up in her, is there to remind her of the fragility of this moment. It must surely be possible for a whole life to be made up of moments of such sweetness, of such significance – but would there be room in the heart for so much happiness?

Intending to read women authors from the European Union this year, for Belgium I
If you've ever been unfaithful to anyone, this book will give you bad dreams.
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is a type of tale called Patient Griselda. It basically goes like this – high ranking man marries lower class woman, he then subjects her to all types of “tests”, such as saying they are divorced, hiding their marriage, sending her away, - the final “test” is to request that he marry his own daughter by the woman. Of course, he doesn’t go through with the marriage. The point is to test the woman’s obedience, for she agrees to everything without a whimper making her the perfect wife.

Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit
I wonder how many people would not have lived the part of one character or another in this brief discourse on betrayal? The husband who suddenly discovers an overwhelming passion for his sister-in-law. The sister-in-law who takes what she can from this whilst insolently uncaring about the devastation she wrecks. And the central character herself, the wife, who suddenly realises from the most trivial of information, that her husband and her sister are at it.

Rest here:

May 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This beautifully written, sensual novella concerns the love a young wife has for her husband. Elisa, is a young working class wife, her husband Gilles; a factory worker, is her absolute world. She has two small daughters, twins, and is expecting her third child. The novel opens with Elisa anticipating her husband’s return, there is no doubting her continued passion for her husband, theirs is certainly not merely a day to day existence of chores and exhaustion. Elisa’s happiness is so soon to be ...more
I can't seem to write a review of this that I'd actually want to post on GR, but as there are a few of you on my friendslist who, in some comment or other, have mentioned an interest in fiction about marital infidelity, it seems worth drawing attention to this beautifully written novella from 1930s Belgium with a working class setting. (It's not the twee middle-class affair the cover and Daunt Books imprint might imply.)
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Elizabeth☮ by: Houston Library
Elisa is completely in love with her husband, her children and the life they have together. The only problem is that her husband begins an affair with Elisa'a sister. And, well, life gets turned upside down.

This is a story set in the 1930's, but really it could take place at any time. Elisa, unlike the vengeful women we see in 2017, accepts her husband's affair because she knows it won't last. He loves her. But things become increasingly complicated once he admits to his feelings for Elisa's
Samir Rawas Sarayji
A good story; the outcome at the ending fitted the story, but the suddenness of the event was jarring, the novella would have benefitted more with a build up to reflect the change in the protagonist's pain.

Technically antiquated with several point of views other than the protagonist, which makes it convenient in the scenes where the protagonist is not present; however, considering there is much interior monologue as well, and the brevity of the book, the author could have executed it
Kobe Bryant
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Insanely emotional
Kiera Lucy
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was such a beautiful and well-written novella, I really enjoyed this! The language was gorgeous and I really connected with Elisa. This was a story in which a woman’s selfless love for a man ends in absolute despair - tragic but brilliant.
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Alicia Drake
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. It is powerful and claustrophobic. It has a marvellous sense of place. Human desire, both physical and psychological, escalates into a ruthless and obsessional love.
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Marital martyrdom at its most devastating. Elisa’s husband Gilles has fallen in love with her sister Victorine. Elisa bears this all and observes everything in a gracious manner. Witnessing this courageous or foolish acceptance (having the husband confide in her his callous desire) is brutal. The trapped emotions feels excruciating like a hose tied up in a knot.
Jul 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very moving story and nice prose - and terrible outcome which in insight is predictable. But also such a dated story - I mean, who reacts in the way she does in the face of such betrayal? A few generations ago perhaps, when a woman’s sacrifice was oh so inconsequential. And when a man could trample on their rights, their body and their dignity and still be portrayed as this handsome blond young man who is entitled to both his wife and his mistress.
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read in one perfect cloudless day, perched uncomfortably on the warm edge of my seat overlooking the ocean, and this book still managed to devastate me.
Sarah Dawidowski
A surprising ending
At times was a little difficult to follow due to it being translated
Lisa Serrano
May 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic find from an Independent Book Shop, Malvern Books in Austin, TX.
Jonathan Cantor
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Enthralling book that I was able to finish in a single sitting.
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly nuanced and heartbreaking study of both a rich character and a society that privileges male conflicts/needs/etc. Really great.
Nov 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-extra
Elisa loves her husband Gilles deeply and passionately, he is the only thing which matters to her. When Gilles falls for her tarty younger sister, both Elisa and Gilles are unhappy. It is not the thought that Gilles no longer loves her which completely devastates Elisa however, it is when she realises that she no longer loves him.
Belgian writer Madeleine Bourdouxhe was a member of the artistic elite in Paris after the WWII, but was almost forgotten until rediscovered in the 1980s. Some of her
Jul 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
La Femme de Gilles was Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s debut novel, first published in 1937 when the author was in her early thirties. It centres on a ménage à trois involving Gilles, his wife, Elisa, and her younger sister, Victorine, a timeless story of desire, selfless love and the pain these things can bring. Bourdouxhe was a contemporary of Simone de Beauvoir, who praised the novella for its subtle portrayal of the differences between male and female sexuality. An English translation first appeared ...more
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gender, favorites
I am so in love with this book. I'm left awed. What a perfect, all-consuming tragedy.
Nov 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Elisa is married to Gilles; Gilles conducts an affair with Elisa's sister, Victorine. The story is really focused on Elisa, who is hopelessly devoted to her husband and has her happiness and peace of mind destroyed. Simply written but no less powerful for that.
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This goes on my list of books every woman should own. The most gut-wrenching and lyrical portrayal of suffering.
May 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novella, set between the wars in a small Belgian town, has one focus, the intense, undivided love of Gilles, a big strong handsome man,by his wife Elisa, which she sustains despite him being lured into an equally intense affair with her sister Victorine. It's all about internalised feelings, the dialogue is limited.

Daily life on the edge of an industrial town is lovingly portrayed, it seems almost idyllic . They are
reasonably well off, presumably his steelworker job wasn’t too badly paid.
Oct 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written story about a rural housewife who loses her sense of self through a love so consuming that when that love is under threat, her identity and existence is as well.

La Femme de Gilles brings into question what true love really means for a person, how a life can be destroyed by infidelity and makes you question how far you would go to preserve what you perceive as everything.

Bourdouxhe's use language is besotting and poetic and she paints a beautiful picture of misery, betrayal,
J. Travis Moger
Gilles’ Frau (La Femme de Gilles, 1937) by Madeleine Bourdouxhe is a heartbreaking story about a young, working-class couple in a small Belgian city whose happy little world is torn apart when Gilles is seduced by his wife’s younger sister, the coquettish Victorine. The affair becomes his obsession. Heartbroken, Gilles’s wife Elisa, who is pregnant with their third child, works to win back her husband’s affection and becomes a martyr to love. Full of pathos and dramatic tension, Gilles’ Frau is ...more
Oct 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all those who can read in French
Shelves: classics, favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Laurie Notaro
Nov 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book of devotion, love, utter betrayal and despondency. A pregnant woman discovers her husband is having an affair with her sister and the very odd way she copes with it. Very thorough character study, but hard to read.
Jane Metter
Jan 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bourdouxhe is an extraordinary writer - she manages to squeeze below the skin of every woman - she shows what pain and disappointment feel like and has the audacity to address her characters directly when she lacks the words to fill her narrative - a wonderful discovery of early feminist writing.
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Madeleine Bourdouxhe moved from Liège to Paris in 1914 with her parents, where she lived for the duration of World War I. After returning to Brussels, she studied philosophy. In 1927 she married a mathematics teacher, Jacques Muller. The marriage lasted until his death in 1974. Her daughter was born the day the Germans invaded Belgium in May 1940. She fled with her husband to a small village near ...more