The name of a novel in which a woman treats her lover badly
February 9, 2019 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Another name-that-book-title question. The twist is that usually people want to know the name of a book that they loved; I want to know the name of this particular book because I disliked it so very much.

I read the book in 1983; it was in the library at my university. I know that it said "a novel" on the cover, as many books do. I've considered that a bad sign in a book, ever since. It set me against reading non-genre fiction for years.

The story followed a feckless sort of couple. The man's name was Charles. The woman's name might have been Maria or Marla, or maybe not. The woman treated the man badly, and he wanted her to.

Towards the beginning of the book, when they were staying in a hotel, the woman was musing to herself about the way he would run the water when he was using the toilet, so that there would be no untoward sounds in the room. "It must be so hard to be Charles," she thought, "always having to be perfect."

I didn't have anything else to read, or anything else at all to do, so I kept reading, hoping the book would get better, but it got drearier and drearier, I seem to remember. Drugs and alcohol may have been involved in the story.

The woman leaves Charles behind for a time, to engage in self-destructive behavior, including sex with men she didn't much like. Along the way she unintentionally becomes pregnant. At some point she cleans herself up to go to lunch with someone, but it has been so long since she's done so that when she misses a spot while shaving her legs, it leaves a noticeable strip of hair, which the book describes as "the dark fur of neglect." This was back before the removal of public hair became a fashion requirement, but leg hair on a woman was regarded as shameful and disgusting.

At the end, she comes back to Charles. When she tells him that she's pregnant, instead of berating her as she thinks he ought to, he gets down on his knees and kisses the hem of her garment. She's going to stay with him and continue to torment and abuse him.

Any idea what this book may have been?
posted by chromium to Writing & Language (8 answers total)
Sounds a lot like Madame Bovary to me.
posted by Dashy at 12:08 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

The pitiable husband in Madame Bovary is named Charles, but the ending is quite different, so I think it has to be something else. To me, the protagonist sounds a bit like a Francoise Sagan heroine, but I couldn't name a specific title.
posted by sohalt at 1:52 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Do you know what era the book was set in? And do you feel like it was written around the time you read it, or much earlier?
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:13 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

To follow on sohalt's suggestion, Fran├žoise Sagan's La Chamade has couple (Lucile and Charles) with that dynamic. (I'm only familiar with the movie version, where Lucile takes up with one other guy in particular; Charles pays for an abortion, and welcomes her back in the end.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:28 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

It seemed to me to be set in the 1970s. Probably in the US, I think. Certainly a twentieth-century setting.
posted by chromium at 2:36 PM on February 9

Thank you for the suggestions. Reading about La Chamade, I was almost convinced that it was the right novel, but when I checked it out from the Open Library, it turned out to be a different book. La Chamade is much more French, less squalid, and lacks the scenes involving the hotel toilet, the unshaven strip of leg hair being shown as disgusting, and the hem-kissing. Also, in the unidentified book, there is no abortion; as the book ends, the woman is pregnant, and her lover decides to treat this as a miracle.

It's interesting to see how much the story sounded like the first part of Madame Bovary. The book I recall was not at all like it in style or location, though, and, as sohalt noted, its ending is very different.
posted by chromium at 11:44 AM on February 12

I should have used some emoji or irony-tag or wink in naming Madame Bovary; it was clear to me that the book you were describing was not that, but I felt the amount of overlap was surely worth a post despite its uselessness.
posted by Dashy at 12:55 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]

Oh, I certainly thought it was worth a post. Thanks.
posted by chromium at 1:55 PM on February 12

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