Habib Selmi

READ THE WORLD – Tunisia: The Scents of Marie-Claire by Habib Selmi

Translated by Fadwa Al Qasem.

The story of the relationship between Marie-Claire, a French woman, and Mahfouth, a Tunisian man, from beginning to end as they live together in Paris.

The Scents of Marie-Claire is a short book at less than 180 pages and that’s probably a good thing as if it was longer, I may have given up on it. I did read it in two days but I did so while not liking the narrator at all. The Scents of Marie-Claire is written in first person point of view and Mahfouth is the narrator.

I think I’ve said before but I tend to find books from male characters point of view (especially when they’re written by men) a bit uncomfortable with how the male characters describe female characters and The Scents of Marie-Claire is no exception. As it’s from Mahfouth’s point of view, Marie-Claire often comes across as just an object for his desire and not a person with her own thoughts and opinions. When she says she doesn’t want sex or attention he takes it as a personal affront and feels she’s cruel for denying him and is doing to be purposefully hurtful, rather than maybe she didn’t feel like it or had a lot going on in her head. You never get anything from Marie-Claire’s point of view so it is easy for Mahfouth to paint her as a villain in their relationship.

A big selling point of The Scents of Marie-Claire is the culture clash between the two of them however this didn’t seem to be a huge thing to me. Yes, when you learn about their childhoods, they are very different but if anything it is Mahfouth’s general misunderstanding of women but also obsession with them that causes problems in their relationship. That could well be a typical aspect of Tunisian men in general that I’m unaware of rather than a specific character thing. He’s very self-conscious about their relationship and showing affection in public which could be a sign of him being more aware of their differences, though as I said, to me it seemed more likely because he was awkward about how he felt about sex and relationships.

The Scents of Marie-Claire is an odd reading experience as there’s a distance from Marie-Claire so I never really felt like I knew or understood her as a character. Meanwhile, you’re in Mahfouth’s head so much that it isn’t an enjoyable reading experience as I didn’t like what he was thinking and feeling. 1/5.