L'Arbalete : La vraie vie commence is a novel steeped in contradiction: whilst published and set in Paris, it has a provincial identity that is both voiced and silenced. For the greater part of the plot, this is a self-consciously Parisian tale at the level of the text: it is a story defined almost exclusively in terms of Paris, in which other places, such as Brittany and Corsica, stand as symbols, as myths of the great expanses that lie extra-muros. L'Arbalete is also intertextually Parisian: its subtitle makes its French readership think immediately of Claire Etcherelli's classic novel of 1967, Elise ou la vraie vie; and it is, therefore, of no surprise that the young love interest of Cathala's tale is called Elise. Indeed, Etcherelli's novel is Parisian in much the same way as is Cathala's: its protagonist moves to Paris from the south-west of France to experience the real world of the capital city with its immigrants and its heavy industry. Elise lives this reality only to escape into a romance that depends for its realisation on a series of disjointed perambulations through the Parisian streets. Etcherelli's novel is an awakening, a voyage of initiation and of return. Elise ends her journey in Bordeaux, finding at once closure of the text by withdrawing inside herself, and the possibility of reemergence as she vows to continue her journey by choosing to live on. Unlike Elise ou la vraie vie, however, L'Arbalete does not respect a linear progression from its opening to a natural close; rather, its entire diegetic space is predicated on a constant tension between closure and disclosure.
AUMLA: Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association Vol. 108, p. 111-129