Cover image for Breathe
Brasme, Anne-Sophie, 1984-
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Uniform Title:
Respire. English
First St. Martin's Griffin edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Griffin, 2004.

Physical Description:
122 pages ; 21 cm
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Breathe is the haunting confession of nineteen-year-old Charlene Boher. From her prison cell, Charlene recounts her lonely adolescence. Growing up shy and unpopular, Charlene never had many friends. That is, until she meet Sarah, a beautiful and charismatic American-French girl who moved back to Paris for high school. Much to Charlene's shock and delight, the two girls quickly develop an intense friendship. With Sarah by her side, Charlene finally begins to feel accepted and even loved.

However, after a brief idyllic period, the girls' relationship becomes rocky and friendship veers towards obsession. As Sarah drops Charlene for older, more glamorous friends, Charlene's devotion spirals into hatred. Unfolding slowly and eerily towards a shocking conclusion, Breathe is an intense, convincing portrait of a possessive and ambiguous friendship.

Author Notes

Anne-Sophie Brasme was born in 1984. She lives in Paris and Breathe is her first novel.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Stories of obsession can be boring--all that self-absorption becomes repetitive--but this spare, poignant first novel, translated from the French, is so exquisitely written that you read it in one breathless rush. The suspense is not about what happens. You know from the first chapter that the narrator is a murderer. Sleepless in prison, Charlene, 19, has no regrets about what she did two years ago. In the walls of her cell, she remembers the break with her family (suddenly no more than a squalid bunch of strangers ), her loneliness, her ecstatic bonding with charismatic Sarah at their elite high school. Then Sarah drops Charlene, bullies her, treats her as a pet, and worse of all, ignores her. Charlene has a brief love affair with a kind, handsome guy, and she almost becomes an ordinary teen, able to love without hatred and obsession, until Sarah beckons, and Charlene is trapped again. The writer is just 20, and her unsettling story brings very close the passionate intensity of teenage friendship and betrayal. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2004 Booklist



Prologue A cold and colourless shadow slides in from the night. It moves along the central corridor before creeping under the metal doors and into this little space enclosed by the cell walls. The same opacity comes to visit us each night, loyal, inalterable. Behind the electric wires that line the yard, we spend our hours watching the endless void that envelopes the world, but we never see any signs to tell us how far advanced the night is. The heavy, echoing tread of departing warders marks the start of our night. After midnight no sound will trouble the silence. Solitude and alienation take hold of us. No one sleeps. It is impossible in this place. This was one of the first things I learned when I arrived. We turn tirelessly on our mattresses, we snore, we cough or we try talking out loud, but nothing we do can break the isolation of our insomniac nights. Some of the women cry. In the first weeks their tears are cries of revolt and of hatred. They express feelings of injustice and of sorrow. As the months and years go by the tears learn to be quiet. But they are still there, anchored in silence, and time will never wipe them away. Some of the women seem never to have known emotion. But at night they pray. They appear insentient when they're silent, but in the dark they look up at the sky and speak to it in their secret language. Others dream while they lie awake. Their families, their hopes, the tender indolence of their former lives, these things come to haunt them, as though to ease the agony of their wait. Sometimes they pretend they've forgotten that they're going to be shut away here for so many more years. But I know that there's not one among us who will have the strength to fall asleep. Even I have tried and, despite all the will in the world, I cannot. Silence is our therapy. It teaches us to look at the past, to face up to what we've done, to fight the mistakes we've made. It teaches us to reflect, it makes us question, it guides us. It can soothe our anguish or heighten it, it brings us out of incertitude or plunges us into folly. It tames us, kills the weight of the hours, fights against the selves we would rather forget. Until the warders' steps, creaking through the corridor, tell us that a new day has begun. In reality it is the same day. This is how nights are here, behind the bars of our detention. CHAPTER ONE Forgetting I'd forgotten. The joy, the shamelessness, the indolence, the smells, the silences and the dizziness, the images, the colours and the sounds, their faces, the tone of their voices, their absence and their smiles, the laughter and the tears, the happiness and the impertinence, the disdain and the need for love, the taste of the first years of my life. But the past suddenly resurfaces in the depth of this darkness-soaked cell, in the chill of solitude. It confesses, at length, painfully. To counter, perhaps, the emptiness of the present. Like botched photos with blurred movements, images shatter in my memory. The truth is that I had forgotten nothing, but until now had not deigned to remember. My life might have been normal. If I'd chosen, I might've been able to live like any of you. But perhaps it wasn't really my fault: at a certain moment someone got the better of me and I was no longer master of my actions. Perhaps. I don't know. My existence appeared flat and insignificant. I lived in a world that did not see me, that I didn't understand. I existed because I had been made to exist. That's how it was. I should be glad to be alive, simply to be there. I was, after all, a child like any other. I lived without wondering why, I took what was given me, I asked for nothing. Yet what happened to me was inevitable. It's a well-known fact that the craziest people are those who at first sight look entirely normal. Obsession is smart: it targets those anonymous faces who look as though they haven't the slightest worry. That's what happened to me. Nothing today links me to the carefree, spirited child I was. Today, I have two identities and recognise neither. One day someone asked me, was I sorry? I didn't reply. Maybe I was ashamed, not of what I'd done, but of what I'd felt. Surely I should have felt inhuman. I was inhuman, there's no denying it. But less for committing a crime than for not feeling regret. My name is Charlene Boher and I'm nineteen years old. I've been stuck here nearly two years now, watching the same day go by. I was barely out of childhood when I committed the irreparable. On the night of 7 September, two years ago, I killed. I admit it. Besides, I've told the police everything. I was, as some would have it, `totally lacking in maturity for a girl of sixteen'. But I didn't act on some wild impulse. I knew exactly what I was doing, I'd planned every detail, I was aware of the consequences. People might well despise me, they may look at me with hatred in their eyes, but I regret nothing, do you hear, not a single aspect of the events that destroyed my life. Sinking into madness is not necessarily fate, it can be a choice. No doubt I chose not to have to look at the mistakes of the past. I fled out of cowardice, propelled by my refusal to answer the whys and the wherefores of my life, by hatred of myself. I was afraid. I feared pain, I feared truth, I feared remorse. I was afraid of having been blind and suddenly having to open my eyes. In short, I feared regret. So I decided to write. To transcribe my life, my almost banal past. My story began in the most deceptive innocence. I make myself piece together my memories because I realise they reveal signs of an obsession that would become incurable. I make myself remember because I need to talk. Modesty, violence, anger make me want to talk. Pain, too. You write like you kill. It comes from the belly and all of a sudden it's in your throat. It's a cry of despair. Copyright (c) 2004 by Anne-Sophie Brasme Excerpted from Breathe: A Novel by Anne-Sophie Brasme All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.