22 December 2011

Maylis de Kerangal: Naissance d'un pont (2010)

Naissance d'un pont (lit. 'Birth of a Bridge') is on the surface about just that: the building of a bridge between the fictional Californian towns Coca and Edgefront. The dream of the Dubai-obsessed local mayor, the building of the bridge will in less than a year directly involve attempted sabotage (linked with a death), strong violence, strike action, accidental death, delay due to bird behavior, etc; indirectly, the effects are far more.

Maylis de Kerangal is interested in 'porosité', or porousness, the way things seep through to other things, which she shows not only in her characters (the resemblance between the apparent opposites Jacob and Diderot, for example) but in the words she uses: the technical language of the world of engineering merges seamlessly into the colloquial, and the spoken word — even in conversation — is not marked by punctuation but allowed to join in the narrative flow. And this flow sometimes goes on and on, with the use of very long sentences. So it's not surprising to learn that she was impressed by Mathias Énard's Zone, a novel consisting of only one sentence.

What is perhaps surprising, though, is that there is much humor. This can come in the form of the narrator's mocking repetition, as in 'John Johnson, known as the Boa'; it can come in the deadpan but chilling description of the way Soren previously walked out on his girlfriend: 'hardly has the bear entered the appartment than he turns the key in the lock with a feverish hand, shuts the door on the bear and the girl', which is retributively and laconically recalled in the way Soren (now known to be dead but the reason originally unclear) meets his end in the forest in Edgefront: 'There is a bear missing from the town zoo'; or it can come in an almost slapstick manner, as when Shakira joins the cranedriver Sanche — who is armed with a liter of Jack Daniel's, dry cakes and a CD player — in his cabin fifty feet up in the air for cramped sex.

Some of the names are playful too, as in the architect Ralph Waldo, or the materialistic building site boss Georges Diderot, or in the naturalness of Katherine Thoreau.

The bridge is where outsiders of many kinds meet, where history joins the present and the future, where a modern itinerant Lone Ranger becomes a kind of spaghetti western actor in the multicultural internet generation. One of the most interesting books I've read this year.


Patrick Murtha said...

This book sounds extremely interesting, and I will track it down. As a devoted reader of your blog, I want to offer a holiday "Thank you" for the fascinating material you offer on a constant basis. Yours is truly one of the best litblogs.

Dr Tony Shaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr Tony Shaw said...

Patrick, thank you so much for this praise, and I'm delighted that you enjoy my blog so much. It's really heartwarming to receive such a comment.

I hope you enjoy this book when you find it, as it's certainly worth the effort.

And the very best holiday wishes to you too. Tony

(Original post deleted due to spelling error - it's a pity comments can't be corrected as easily as posts.)