An Hour of Ardour
Original title: Une heure de ferveur
If Muriel Barbery’s sentences were stones, her books would be cathedrals. One enters her latest novel as if in religion. Her voice is a song, a prayer that rises up. She speaks the language of the stars. […] Une heure de ferveur is a magnificent novel, between mourning and rebirth, on otherness. — Alice Develey, Le Figaro Littéraire
Imbued with the Japanese soul in the same way that the colours of a butterfly’s wings are imprinted on the fingertips, the author has written a novel that is as much something to contemplate as to read. —Pierre Vavasseur, Le Parisien Week-end
Muriel Barbery, with delicacy and love, paints the portrait of a man who loves beauty and others. He has only been missing one person, Rose. — Bernard Babkine, Madame Figaro
A novel of delicacy… and love. […] Once again, with this man who is all about beauty and the other, the author has written a novel of rare elegance. — Serge Bressan, Le Quotidien du Luxembourg
This novel tells the life story of a Japanese art dealer in Kyoto who for nearly forty years keeps the most outlandish of promises.
He is a lonely man – despite being constantly surrounded by friends and women at evening gatherings of artists and privileged intellectuals – who is sensitive to the beauty of objects and gardens, as well as to the silence of forests and the play of shadows. In Kyoto, he has a house built on the banks of the Kamo River, which acts as the metronome for his life.
At one of the evening gatherings, 30-year-old Haru encounters a stranger who unsettles him emotionally more than anybody has ever done before. Maud is French and is just passing through Japan, and he is at once fascinated and troubled by her incredibly distant and cold gaze.
A great seducer of women and elegantly discreet, Haru spends ten nights of pleasure with her and then lets her leave without a word. It is only later on and quite by chance, that he learns that she is expecting a baby. Through his connections, Haru manages to obtain Maud’s address and writes to her, but she replies with the starkest imaginable threat: ‘If you try to see me, I’ll kill myself.’ He promises not to try.
Nothing in his history indicates that this flighty man could undergo such a metamorphosis. On the surface, his life remains the same but in reality he is devastated at the prospect of never being allowed to see his child. Haru respects the injunction while at the same time finding a way to watch his daughter grow up in France. He retains the services of a discreet professional photographer, whom he asks to capture every possible instant of her life.
Rose is told nothing about her Japanese heritage, but this does not stop her father nurturing a secret, deep and authentic love for her.
This novel is also the story a Japanese man who lives for beauty and the invisible; someone with an intense inner life surrounded by male friends who constitute a kind of family of contented, party-loving people with whom he experiences all the setbacks, despair and new beginnings in life.
In her poetically precise prose, Muriel Barbery consistently captures the darker, unspoken sides to her characters, bringing to light ancient flaws that they feel obliged to bury deep within themselves in order to maintain an apparent lightness of heart in this emotionally restrained country.
- Initial print run: 50,000 copies
- Longlisted for the Prix Goncourt 2022, the Prix des Ecrivains du sud 2022 and the Prix Jean Giono 2022.