Heaven Has No Favorites. Lillian is slowly dying of consumption and she doesn’t want to end her days in a hospital in the Alps. She wants to see Paris again, to live lightheartedly and to the full for as long as possible. Clerfayt, a race-car driver, tempts fate every time he's on the road. Both are living only for the moment, without regard for the future. They can’t have any regard for the future because essentially they have no future, they are living an instant at a time. “Nobody escapes. … And nobody knows when and how it will catch up with him. What’s the use of haggling over time? What is a long life, anyhow? A long past. And the future always extends only to the next breath. Or to the next race. Beyond that, we know nothing.”
Even though I can definitely relate to this very existentialist philosophy of his, I don’t have much sympathy for Clerfayt, after all he has chosen to lead this dangerous life. I do however have every regard and compassion for Lilian, who is probably one of my most favorite literary heroines. One of the most poignant and human aspects of the book is the relationship between Lilian and the dresses she buys from Balenciaga (who by the way makes a cameo appearance in the book). She hangs the dresses around her in the room so that when the night comes and she is afraid of darkness and suffocation, “she could stretch out her arm and grasp the dresses, and they were like silver-and velvet-ropes which she could use to draw herself back out of the shapeless grayness, back to the walls, time, relationships, space, and life.”
Farnesiana. “Mimosa,” Clerfayt said, pointing to the flowering trees by the lake. “Whole lanes of them.” Farnesiana is Baudelaire’s “fée aux yeux de velours”, “fairy with soft eyes”, a perfume whose bittersweet freshness represents Lilian like none other. Farnesiana, with its oleaginous, balsamic softness and bitter almondyness, is a poignant, fragile scent, an epitome of beautiful life slipping through our fingers, life where we meet and hold each other for a while and lose each other forever.
“What is your secret?” Fiola asked. “A great future?”* The first photo is of Balenciaga dress, Fall/Winter 1950, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection of Costume Institute.
* The second photo pictures Acacia Farnesiana or Sweet Acacia, the inspiration behind Caron’s creation.