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The Inseparables by Simone de Beauvoir

At nine years old, Sylvie meets her one great love at school in Paris: her best friend Andrée. The two girls could hardly be more different from each other, but they become inseparable almost immediately. Sylvie is serious, studious, opinionated. Andrée is much more emotional, unafraid and idealistic, rebellious of sorts though entirely devoted to her mother. As they grow up together they from and challenge each other’s views and fight to make their own place in a world that knows exactly where women belong. Their changing views on France and its post-WWI society are the centrepiece of this short novel. Marriage and love, social class and especially religion, belief and the power religious institutions have over women’s lives are constantly evaluated and re-evaluated as the girls’ life experience offers new insights. Though the intensity of their friendship fluctuates as other people, boys, become more interesting, their loyalty towards each other remain central to their lives.

In The Inseparables Simone de Beauvoir offers a fictionalised account of her childhood friendship to Zaza Lacoin. A friendship with such an intense impact on her mind and person, it continues to live on long after its tragic end. As predicted by nine year old Sylvie: it is the kind of relationship and Zaza was the kind of person she would want to write a book about. Considered too bold to be published in her lifetime, this beautiful novel remained unread until 2020 when it was newly discovered. De Beauvoir’s writing has an interesting effect. Especially in the early parts of this short novel, its simplicity resembles childhood experience. Yet the dialogue seems to be that of two, quite serious, grown women. But that does not feel out of place. It distances the reader just enough to take in the social context in which they learn as well as the girls’ hopes and fears. Our narrator’s voice changes as she does, moving from phases of childhood wonder to adolescent despair. In this slim book, really a novella rather than a novel, Simone de Beauvoir achieves so much – a passionate picture of female friendship, a meditation of religion, a heart-rending coming-of-age story – and proves that her fiction is just as searing and impactful as her theoretical work.

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