Radio review: Legendary love story evokes a heady time

Nuala McCann

Book of the week - Je t'aime: The legendary love story of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, Radio 4

Losing the Night, Radio 4

Yes, inevitably we open with the bars of that song.

Je t'aime. Remember? That was the one that was banned, all that hot breathing and dirty French words.

This is a glorious song of a story, a book that paints illuminating snapshots of France and the sixties and love.

We hear snippets of stories about Serge Gainsbourg, a journalist writes that he “elevates ugliness to an art form.”

We hear that Jane inspired the song, Chic Underwear.

And it is a long ago spring and Gainsbourg is wearing a purple shirt. He is sulking. Brigitte Bardot has dumped him and he has had the walls of his new house painted black. He is in mourning.

He is 40 and Jane is just 21 when they meet.

She wears the college girl fringe, she has a slender body, no bra – she is aristocratic, elegant.

For her book, writer and journalist Veronique Mortaigne paints scene after scene in glimmering detail - the fashion, the looks, the music, the feel of that heady time.

She whisks us back and forth in time at a speed that is sometimes dizzying.

But it's worth it for the glory of the ride.

Economist and writer Umair Haque has a rare condition which means sunlight slowly kills him. He has to live mostly at night – it's a matter of survival.

He was told first of all by a doctor that he was dying of cancer but then a young student doctor told him that it was the sunlight that was killing him. She advised him to live at night. He tried it and she was right.

Essentially she saved his life... reader, he married her.

In Losing the Night, Haque introduces us to the strange beauty of night in the city.

He talks about how he feels the nights are getting brighter, how we're losing the darkness to artificial light.

Are we heading for a 24/7 society where there will be no night? It's a precious time, what might we all lose if we lose the night?

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