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The Last Life (SIGNED)

Messud, Claire

1,634 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0151004714 / ISBN 13: 9780151004713
Published by Harcourt Brace and Company, New York, 1999
Condition: Near Fine Hardcover
From Cul de Sac Books (Clarkston, GA, U.S.A.)

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About this Item

NF/F in mylar. A 1st edition/1st printing in fine condition with full letter line. Signed by author title page. There is no wear to jacket. The jacket is not price clipped, the covers are clean and bright and the edges are sharp. No tears or creases. The binding is straight and tight. There is a slight discoloration to the top edge, and the top of the spine is bumped. NO remainder mark, NOT ex-lib. Bookseller Inventory # 008046

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Last Life (SIGNED)

Publisher: Harcourt Brace and Company, New York

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition: Near Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Signed: Signed by Author(s)

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title

Synopsis:

The Last Life is the story of the teenage Sagesse LaBasse and her family, French Algerian emigrants. It is set in colonial Algeria, the south of France, and New England. The LaBasse family had always believed in the permanence of their world, in which stories created from the past had the weight of truth, in which cynicism was the defense against disaster. But when shots from the grand-father's rifle shatter an evening's quiet, their world begins to crumble, the reality to emerge: the bastard son abandoned by the family before he was even born; Sagesse's handicapped brother for whom the family cared with Catholic dignity; her American mother who pretended to be French; the trigger-happy grandfather; and Sagesse's father, whose act of defiance brought down the Hotel Bellevue, her grandfather's house built on rock, to its knees. Observed with a fifteen-year-old's ruthless regard for truth, The Last Life is a beautifully told novel of secrets and ghosts, love and honor, the stories we tell ourselves, and the lies to which we cling.

Review:

Claire Messud's piercing second novel asks questions most are too fearful to face. Moving between the South of France, the East Coast of the U.S., and Algeria, The Last Life explores the weight of isolation and exile in one French family. Of course, the adjective French is already inadequate, as at least some of the LaBasses still long for the paradise lost of Algeria. And Alex LaBasse's wife, Carol, try as she might with her Continental impersonations, will always be an American sporting a metaphorical twin set. The narrator, Sagesse, too, soon finds herself equally stranded. Only her autocratic grandfather, Jacques, is ostensibly comfortable with the identity he has wrought: successful owner of the Bellevue Hotel and head of his dynasty. It is thanks to this man that 14-year-old Sagesse comes to crave invisibility. Having lost of all of her friends, she sees herself as "a member of the Witness Protection Program, surrounded by an odd human assortment chosen only for the efficiency of disguise; but somehow, nevertheless, inescapable."

The cause of this loss? Jacques, fed up with Sagesse and her pals' late-night noise at the hotel pool--or perhaps with their failure to take him seriously--shoots at one girl. This incident ruptures life for each LaBasse, the Bellevue no longer "their bulwark against absurdity." Looking back on the crucial two years following the patriarch's "target practice," Sagesse possesses both a teenager's slant self-interest and an older, acute eye for the mechanisms of shame. The Last Life is that rare thing, a fast-moving philosophical novel masquerading as a bildungsroman. In her efforts at identity and affection, its heroine is increasingly alive to the subterfuges of narrative, forcing herself to sort through versions of reality. Her grandmother, for instance, relates one myth about her husband, only to have Carol undercut it entirely. And Sagesse herself can't figure out whether Jacques is "sentimental or heartless." What if both, she realizes, are possible?

As Messud's narrator navigates her way through the past--and the Algerian sections are among the book's most extraordinary--there is everything to savor in her wavelike sentences, many of which possess a dangerously witty undertow. And the scenes of familial tedium are the opposite of tedious. The dialogue snaps with subverted emotion, anxiety, and irony. At one of the LaBasses' bleaker fests, much is made of the mouna, a special (if dry) Algerian cake. Nonetheless, the grandmother does her best to fob it off at evening's end. "I've never cared for it myself, although it's a lovely memory." Retrospect, as Sagesse realizes, is "a light in which we may not see more clearly, but at least have the illusion of doing so."

E.M. Forster called another Mediterranean novel, The Leopard, "one of the great lonely books," and it is into this category that The Last Life instantly falls. --Kerry Fried

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