La porte étroite

Appropriately bilious cover art.

You’re familiar with love triangles from at a hundred thousand movies and novels. But la porte étroite is a love quadrangle with God, or rather a very specific version of God, as one of the partners.

That helps make this novel seem to come not only from a different century but from another civilization. The impact of religious zealotry isn’t a common topic these days.  Alternately exasperating, entrancing, frustrating, and finally, moving, this love story explores the effects of religious fervor and burning idealism in an extended French bourgeois family. 

I read it more or less by accident. I bought the book a few years ago, maybe because James Salter recommended it. I thought I knew Gide from a couple of other novels, but it turns how I only had a shallow understanding of his work.

It wasn’t an easy read. First of all, Gide deploys unusual versions of the subjunctive tense very elegantly, but it stressed my fragile French. Secondly, the characters behave in ways that are true to the world of the story, but frustrating to experience from a distance. I’m not usually tempted to want to yell at a given person in a fictional narrative. This time, I wanted to grab a few of them by the shoulders and give them hell. Agonizing, really. 

Still, in the end, I’m happy to have read this with its beautiful passages, its unusual sensibility, its melding of Catholic zeal with romantic yearning, and, finally, its shattering ending.