Eva Figes is known for the experimental nature of her work and for her explicitly feminist ways of describing the world. Narrative, or the telling of a story in the conventional sense, has tended to focus on large deeds, on heroism as defined by bravery in battle. Yet there is no suspense in this novel, no rising action or climax. The author refuses to imbue the day with a false excitement just for the sake of a good story. She will not glorify the great man at the expense of the others in his world. Instead, she seeks her story in the small details that make up everyday life, a life that seldom contains heroes or heroines, a life in which the voices of women, children, peasants, and servants can all be heard.

Action in Light is consequently very quiet; interior perception is where the thrust of the narrative lies, in the relationship of each character to eternity and to the other characters. In keeping with the Impressionist nature of Monet’s painting, each character serves to define the whole picture, adding his or her own subtle variations and reflections on the theme. Each character’s perceptions mingle with those of the others, so that every moment defines itself in multiple ways. Although the subject is explicitly historical, the author refuses to fill in the detail that would make this a historical novel.

Figes’ intention is to show the reader the ways in which cultural conditioning fashions each moment of people’s lives and intentions. Marthe, Alice, and Germaine are all old enough to live out their roles without questioning; they know that the only way to exercise power is through the approval of a dominant male figure. None of them can imagine creating an independent life of her own. This inability of vision brings...

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