Elle n’est pas en mesure de l’imaginer.
ell nay pah ah muh-zewr duh lee-maa-zhee-NAY. Click below to hear this.*
She can’t begin to imagine it.
Here comes another series of posts! This time, I’m looking at a novel by Madeleine Chapsal called L’Indivision–a phrase that I will explain in due time. But I think I will open the series with this: Elle n’est pas en mesure de l’imaginer.
What an expressive phrase! Emmy’s father is dying, as we learn in the very first sentence of the book. And in the second sentence, we gain a sense of the enormity of this concept. A literal translation isn’t really possible, but any attempt would have to include the concept of measuring.
In English, we often talk about a person, an outcome, a gift not measuring up to expectations. Great Expectations, as Charles Dickens entitled one of his novels, but small performance.
Certainly, this phrase can be used in much more mundane circumstances: Je ne suis pas en mesure de l’acheter, for example–I’m not in a position to buy it.
But here, we are sharing Emmy’s mind, in L’Indivision. She has been living in a circumscribed world: herself and her father, in the home of her childhood. Small gestures, small conversations, comfortable silences. The idea that this could stop, that she could be thrown out into the wider world, that her father’s life could reach an end, is so huge that it surpasses her ability to conceive of it. Her world and this monstrous idea are not measured on the same scale.
*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file: