As short as “Mousse” and as sharply assembled, “On with the New in France (1981)” presents an itemized list of grievances from a frustrated citizen.
In just under a thousand words, the story opens with a nod towards “La Vie Parisienne”, with a complaint rooted in the resident’s lodgings. But, not, however, the resident’s fault. Obviously not.
“The new minister of the Interior has announced that no more phones are being tapped. Mr. Police Commissioner, my phone is still being tapped. The tapper is Mlle. Delphine Véhicule, aged 43, living at No. 79 Avenue de la Dislocation de l’Empire Carolingien, Building D, Staircase Z, third floor, second door to the right, between the elevator and the hot-water pipes.”
If the resident cannot deter Mlle. Delphine Véhicule from misuse of her telephone, presumably a man who lives elsewhere can make the necessary arrangements. And not just a slap on the wrist for Delphine: the letter-writer expects an arrest is imminent.
It’s unfortunate, in some ways, that law and order will be preoccupied with such efforts, when there are clearly more serious conspiracies afoot. After the first complaint, the spectrum broadens.
“I noticed that while he was reading the news tonight, Firmin Roman-Fleuve deliberately mispronounced the name of the Minister for Wormwood Control. One could tell it was deliberate from the way Roman-Fleuve paused and looked in a conspiratorial way into the camera.”
Somehow, the nation must soldier on.
“On with the New in France (1981)” is the sort of story one can imagine appearing on the back page of a magazine, designed to make one smile a little before setting the volume aside.
It’s a stark contrast to a sad summer in Cannes, but a light breeze which is greatly appreciated amidst that July heat.
s is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the twenty-eighth story in Going Ashore. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story; I would love the company. Next week’s story: “The Burgundy Weekend”.