Tuesday, November 01, 2022

The Blouse by Bastien Vives

Severine is a college student in Paris: mostly quiet, mostly diligent, fairly pretty. There's nothing extreme or outré about her: she may not be bland, exactly, but she doesn't really stand out. She sits quietly while her boyfriend's friends chatter around her, about computer stuff and gaming stuff and random stuff. We assume she has big dreams and ideas, because everyone does, but we don't know what hers are. She studies classical literature, and is getting close to her big final exams: we get the sense she is doing well, that she has always done well, but that she has always been overshadowed by other people.

But one night she's working as a babysitter for the Marguet family. The parents come home early, angry with each other - and the kid, a girl of eight or so named Eva, wakes up right then, throwing up all over Sandrine. She borrows a silk blouse to wear home, expecting to return it quickly.

That's The Blouse. It changes her life. Or her life changes when she wears it - however you want to put it. She starts wearing it all the time, after it first supports her in a major class presentation and then is instrumental (we think) in other dramatic moments in her life.

Bastien Vives tells his story subtly: we don't see Severine act all that differently wearing the blouse than she did before. Not at first, at least. But it makes her seen, it puts her at the center of things, and she commands attention and interest.

I'm not sure if I should add "from men" to that last sentence. The attention of men is central to The Blouse, and Severine, eventually, revels in it and goes ever further to get more of it. But I'm not sure if that's the blouse, or Severine, or just how this story turned out. My guess is that it's the story: the blouse would have driven whatever attention its wearer wanted, or needed.

You may ask if The Blouse is fantasy, if the blouse itself has some power or if this is entirely psychological. You may ask. Vives will not tell you. I won't venture an opinion here, either. It does this for Severine. However it acts, whatever the reason, is not important. What matters is how it catalyzes this change in her.

Vives keeps his focus tightly on Severine here, but never brings us into her head. We see what she does, and we come to thrill with the changes along with her, but we never really know how she feels about any of this - not from the inside. She is ultimately unknowable, just as other people are always unknowable, and the unexpected and surprising things she does only underlines that thought.

There's a lot to think about in The Blouse, a lot to unpack. It's worth reading, if any of the above has intrigued you. It lives up to the questions and ideas in your head right now. And it ends very well, in a moment that puts huge swaths of the story into a different light.

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