Review: The Truth About Marie

The Truth About Marie

by Jean-Philippe Toussaint

Translated by Matthew B. Smith

Reviewed by Judith Reveal | Released September 6, 2011

Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press (168 pages)

In The Truth About Marie, Jean-Philippe Toussaint introduces Marie as an ethereal character living her life behind a thin, gauzelike veil. Grasping Marie’s spirituality is like picking up mercury: The reader chases it around the table, unable to fully seize it, yet knowing that capturing it could be disastrous.

The story opens with a first person narrator, Marie’s ex-lover, recounting an event—the death of her current lover—that draws him back into her life after a brief separation. The connection between Marie and the narrator is the backbone of the story, as Marie’s personality unfolds through the narrator’s eyes.  

Marie lives her life as an open book, innocent, curious—and yet she can turn on a dime, pushing people away until she is ready to reel them back into her being. Her relationship with lovers and with family always seems to be standoffish and she gives of herself, in some instances, only after death. Her curiosity draws her to daring activities and yet when confronted with crises, she draws into herself, dealing with the crisis almost as an out-of-body experience.

Jean-Philippe Toussaint uses words as a painter uses his palette, the colors carefully chosen and applied to the canvas, evoking emotions, perhaps raising questions, but always luring the patron back for another look. And so Mr. Toussaint applies words to his blank piece of paper with the same results. He gives color to the five senses, allowing each to stand alone, and yet to blend across one another until the reader stands in the middle of the story, living it, breathing it, tasting it—totally immersed in the events played out through his skilled application from his palette of words. 

In the hands of a less skilled writer, several of the techniques Mr. Toussaint’s uses such a transitions between first and third person point-of-view, and almost 100 percent narrative, would cause the reader to put down a book. Under Mr. Toussaint’s guidance these techniques are unique and creative, providing the reader with a moving, well-paced experience.

The Truth About Marie is not a plot or a situation; it is not a story that follows a direct line; it is the truth about Marie, and the reader will happily follow the narrator’s lead from one event to the next, chasing that elusive mercury, but never capturing it.

This book review was prepared for the New York Journal of Books and is reprinted with their permission. Please visit their website: for a complete listing of book reviews.

Reviewer: Judy Reveal lives in Maryland. She is the author of Around Greensboro and the Lindsey Gale Mystery series including Cheating Death, The Music Room, A House to Kill For, and historical fiction (2013) The Brownstone.

© Roy Bartels 2012