When the unnamed narrator was a boy -- about 1925, in Pau, France, near the Pyrenees -- Saint Martin's Fair was held every November, with lights, noise, candy, a carousel and other more exotic rides, and a Pierrot Noir (a clown dressed in black). In ANOTHER NOVEMBER, the narrator looks back on his life from the perspective of yet another Saint Martin's Fair, where he is accompanying the older sister of his boyhood friend, Charles Merlin, while she takes her grandchildren for rides on the carousel. Back when he was a boy, he started asking himself, "What is my life, what am I going to do with it?", and he continued to ask that question as the years passed. By book's end, however, he has stopped asking what he is going to do with his life. "Rather, I ponder what I've done with it." He then adds, "I've given up looking for a meaning of our era, never having found a way to justify it." That's a poignant comment, because the defining event in his life and those of his generation was World War II, which for him meant military service followed by participation in the Resistance during the Nazi occupation, whereas for his friend Charles Merlin it meant collaboration.
One aspect of ANOTHER NOVEMBER is the contrast between the lives of Charles Merlin and the narrator. Charles came from a family of wealth and high social status, the narrator from a family that operated a laundry with fading economic viability. The narrator often played second fiddle to Charles Merlin. Two girls to whom the narrator gave his heart opted instead for Charles, although one eventually married the narrator on the rebound (actually, a double ricochet). At one point, the narrator expresses a certain kinship for the back-up horse once used on the horse-drawn tramway to get up to Ménilmontant in Paris. Yet during the Nazi occupation Charles ended up a collaborator and the narrator in the Resistance. The narrator realizes in retrospect that with Charles collaboration was not a matter of ideology, but "only stupidity and cowardice". In other words, it was an accident of life, just like Charles and he coming from different social backgrounds. Contingency, rather than volition, has defined the narrator's life from November to November.
ANOTHER NOVEMBER is a wonderfully crafted miniature. The writing is spare and limpid. One is tempted to call it minimalist, but for the fact that it gracefully carries so much subdued emotion. There are several exquisite analogies. (In addition to the back-up horse on the Ménilmontant tramway, my other favorite involves the pine trees in a fog-enshrouded forest through which the narrator goes walking: "The pine trees still had wounds on their flanks and carried the little pots of terra cotta that gather the resin, or -- to use a more magic word -- the gemme. I knew that a pine can be 'tapped for life,' if the gash lets the tree live, or 'tapped to death,' if the operation kills it. That's the way it is with the hearts of lovers.")
Roger Grenier was born in 1919. He grew up in Pau and after being demobilized from the defeated French Army he participated in the Resistance. (He then went on to work at "Combat" under Albert Camus.) I don't know enough about his life to say in what other respects it resembles that of the narrator of ANOTHER NOVEMBER. In any event, the novella (it is only 86 pages) is an unknown gem. For those of us who are not action-addicts, reading it is a more rewarding (and memorable) use of two hours than would be viewing any but the very finest of movies.