I received an advanced review copy of this title from Pushkin Press through Edelweiss. This book was originally written and published in French in 1941 and this English translation has been done by Euan Cameron.
Pierre has been in a hurry for all of his life. He does multiple tasks at a time in order to speed up his life. He shaves, gets dressed and brushes his teeth simultaneously; he drives too fast and he takes stairs three and four at a time. There is no task for which Pierre will slow down. The parts of the book that describe his lightening fast lifestyle are humorous. For example, there is an incident in which his car breaks down after an accident and instead of waiting for help, Pierre abandons the car with his friend in it and proceeds to his destination on foot.
But Pierre’s fast life has not allowed him to slow down and forge any true or lasting relationships. His closest friend and partner, the one whom he abandons with his care, decides he has had enough and severs their business relationship. His manservant who has worked for Pierre for many years is tired of being yelled at and almost run over by Pierre so he quits. Pierre is essentially alone in his life until he meets Hedwige.
Hedwige, her two sisters and her mother are the opposite of Pierre. Their favorite activity is lounging around on their mother’s bed; they are never in a hurry for anyone or anything. When they meet Pierre they are amused by this quirky man and his swiftness. Pierre is immediately attracted to Hedwige and proposes marriage. But can the love of a good woman really slow Pierre down and make him appreciate his life?
When Hedwige marries Pierre, the most beautiful gift that he decides he can give her is to delay the conjugal relations on their wedding night. Pierre arranges for separate bedrooms in their apartment and decides to wait six weeks to get to know Hedwige before he has sex with her. What better gift can he possibly give her than his patience, especially when it comes to putting off one of the most basic human drives.
When Hedwige becomes pregnant, the old pull of always being in a hurry starts to draw Pierre back in. How can he possibly wait for nine months to see his child? Hedwige begins to find comfort again in her mother’s bedroom with her other sisters and she slowly shuts Pierre out. The matter comes to an ugly head when Pierre wants Hedwige to induce labor when she is only seven months pregnant.
This book has a humorous side as we read all of the ridiculous things Pierre does to hurry up. But there is also an important social commentary about appreciating what we have and living in the moment. If we are always in a hurry and worrying about what is happening next then we don’t appreciate those who are most important to us.
He was a graduate of the Paris Institute of Political Studies (better known as Sciences Po). During the pre-war period, he wrote many short books which are noted for their elegance of style, erudition, narrative concision, and for the author’s observation of the countries he visited combined with his middle-class views.
Morand’s reputation has been marred by his stance during the Second World War, when he collaborated with the Vichy regime and was a vocal anti-Semite. When the Second World War ended, Morand served as an ambassador in Bern, but his position was revoked and he lived in exile in Switzerland.
Post-war, he was a patron of the Hussards literary movement, which opposed Existentialism. Morand went on to become a member of the Académie française; his candidature was initially rejected by Charles de Gaulle, the only instance of a President ever exercising his right to veto electees to the academy. Morand was finally elected ten years later, though he still had to forgo the official investiture).
Paul Morand was a friend of Marcel Proust and has left valuable observations about him.