An Hour of Ardour
Original title: Une heure de ferveur
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.