A review of Notre Amour by Roger Peyrefitte, 1967, translated by John Stefan as Our Love
A dream of love come briefly true ****
During the filming in 1964 of Les Amitiés Particulières, Roger Peyrefitte’s superb novel about a passionate love affair between a younger and older boy at a French Catholic boarding-school, one of the minor actors, a twelve-year-old boy, introduced himself to the 56-year-old author as a fan of his book. Alain-Philippe Malagnac, as he was called, soon became the love of Peyrefitte’s life. A strong bond between them endured until they both died in late 2000.
Notre Amour is apparently the story of their sixteen months together as lovers, beginning when Malagnac was nearly fourteen. It is reputed to be only lightly fictionalized, and that only as protection from any prying into the illicit affair: the boy’s name is never revealed, his birthday is moved a month, his age has to be inferred, and their initial meeting is made to take place in a school only just before they became lovers. However, most of the story, the dialogue and the boy’s letters are said to be authentic.
Of all Peyrefitte’s writings, this is much the closest to Les Amitiés Particulières. Not only does it express similar lofty sentiments in similarly beautiful language, but it matches it as the actual if only temporary realization of the unfulfilled longings for perfect Greek Love expressed in the earlier novel. Already in love with him for his writing (like many boys who wrote to him), the boy had “fallen from the sky into [his] arms” and the author honoured his beautiful gift from the heavens with equally unrestrained passion, spiritual and physical. Their having agreed at the outset on the precautions they must take due to the boy not having reached “the age of liberty”, the outside world limits how often the lovers meet, but does not otherwise impinge on them. Since the boy is actually allowed quite considerable freedom by his “intelligent parents”, the lovers have ample scope to put the ideals of Greek Love into practice and neither of them suffers any doubt or hesitation about doing so.
The mentorship typical of Greek Love is mostly expressed through literary education, especially in the finer works on pederasty, of which Peyreftte’s own are given a natural if vainglorious prominence. The boy being intelligent and precocious, this “forms [his] spirit.” Through their conversations, the reader too is treated to a feast of historical gossip and literary insights. Important confirmation is given, for example, to one’s suspicion that the protagonists of Les Amitiés Particulières would not in due course have remained chaste.
Peyrefitte tells the boy that the works of other modern writers on pederasty “are wrong to describe acts and not sentiments”. So, though he certainly did not practice what he preached in his later novel Roy, there is no description here of how “the body participated in the games of the spirit”. No doubt is left, however, that it did so in the fullest sense. “Pederasty consists of possessing boys,” explains Peyrefitte to his beloved; Nobel Prize-winning writer and avowed pederast André Gide is dismissed as “the patriarch of a sect of which he was not one” because he did not sodomise boys.
Half way through the story, by then rather saturated with idealistic musings on their love, a shadow is suddenly cast over it, when the boy makes a sudden and unreasonable request for money. Thereafter, it becomes more dramatic and much more moving, while terribly sad, as their love moves inexorably towards impending doom. The author’s description of his growing doubts and agonies as their once pure love is sullied towards breaking-point by venality, deceit and the appearance of rivals is absolutely masterful.
Nevertheless, in the end Peyrefitte concludes, fairly I think, that “one year and more of perfect happiness … is a lot in the world of impossible love.” Moreover, all had not really been lost. He and his boy were to resume an intimate if stormy friendship, as he went on to recount eleven years later in L’Enfant de Coeur. Storms aside, that is surely the happiest ending that can be hoped for in a pederastic love affair.
Reviewed by Edmund Marlowe on Goodreads.com, 22 April 2017