This is an archived issue of Belletrista. If you are looking for the current issue, you can find it here
Belletrista - A site promoting translated women authored literature from around the world


by Céline Curiol
Translated from the French by Sam Richard
Reviewed by C. Lariviere

She is invisible but we are all familiar with her voice. During the day, her voice is static, calm and dedicated to her job at the Gare du Nord station. As she announces times, destinations, and train platforms she watches others rush to far off destinations or return to a loved one's embrace. She leaves her desk at the end of her shift and steps out of the office, walking past those lost travelers who have no destination. A young, single Parisian woman, she returns to her apartment alone to await his call, the man she loves but who belongs to another woman—an angel—Ange. He is the only one she wishes to share her voice with, but past emotional baggage makes her journey towards him difficult. She dwells on a single, shared alcohol-driven kiss, and questions why he would ever leave his Ange to come to her.

In her attempts to erase him from her mind, her evenings turn into a series of meetings with strange men in bars, drag shows and coffee shops. These are not encounters based on seduction or desire. Engaging with these men is simply a means by which to pass the time. The scent of these places lingers. Her body leads her to their apartments as her mind searches for an escape. But when she comes home, his voice on her answering machine brings her back to life.

When the object of her obsession finally approaches her, beginning to contemplate her role in his life, she, despite her desire to be his, is simply unable to use her voice to speak of her true feelings. Ultimately, she is left behind, lost to self-sabotage.

Reading this book is like re-experiencing those moments in your life when you walk through your home letting your fingers drag along the textures of a wall, trying to feel something tangible and concrete, something that has a purpose. It's like the time spent in a bistro, stirring the melting ice cubes that remain at the bottom of your cup, contemplating your place in life while watching others with a mission to accomplish walking past you.

Throughout Voice Over, the characters remain anonymous. This ambiguity, countered with intimate and detailed descriptions of the unnamed woman's thoughts and actions in an urban, de-romanticized Paris, involves the reader in her journey. In fact, it becomes nearly impossible not to relate. As readers, we want to intervene, but we know the train-wreck is coming, inevitable in its irony. Céline Curiol's deft reflection of the protagonist's mood, with her ambivalence and feelings of emptiness, is captivating. Everything comes down to the last paragraph; reading it is a tense and emotionally haunting experience.

And that experience is excellent.

Having read this unusual debut novel, I can only hope that Curiol will write more soon.

Download this page as a pdf