27 March 2011

Brock Clarke: An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England (2007)

Last week I received an email from The Wren's Nest, the former home of the writer Joel Chandler Harris in West End, Atlanta, Georgia, which Penny and I visited in 2009.  It mentioned Anne Trubek's forthcoming talk on her book A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses (2010) at Decatur Library (GA). Looking over some of the Wren's Nest blog posts, I saw a mention of Brock Clarke talking at Wordsmiths, Decatur in 2007.  The title of his book An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England intrigued me, and on learning a few things about this humorous novel from the internet I decided that I had to read it.

The novel, whose title was influenced by a book by Miriam Levine, Carolyn Keene, Cora Older and Ruth Wentworth - A Guide to Writers' Homes in New England - arrived yesterday, I've now read it, and the arresting last sentence of the first paragraph reads:

'It's probably enough to say that in the Massachusetts Mt. Rushmore of big, gruesome tragedy, there are the Kennedys, and Lizzie Borden and her ax, and the burning witches at Salem, and then there's me.'

The narrator, Sam Pulsifier, has accidentally burned down the Emily Dickinson house in Amherst MA, killing a couple in bed there, and serves ten years for this. However, after attending college, marrying and becoming a father, his past returns: someone tries to burn Edward Bellamy's house in Chicopee Falls MA and Mark Twain's house in Hartford CT, and a little later comes the burning of Edith Wharton's house in Lenox MA, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's in Cambridge MA, Nathaniel Hawthorne's in Salem MA, Henry David Thoreau's replica cabin at the side of Walden Pond, Concord MA, and Robert Frost's in Franconia NH.

Sam is of course the first suspect, but, as is mentioned several times in the novel: 'It's complicated'.

21 March 2011

William Wilberforce and Hull

This wall is in Nelson Mandela Gardens by the University of Hull's Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE), just off Hull High Street (actually now quite a distance removed from the city center), which bears the names of a number of people variously associated with opposition to the slave trade and/or who have make significant steps toward emancipation in general. From left to right in descending order: Steve Biko, Aung San Soo Kyi, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King,  Nelson Mandela, Raoul Wallenberg,  Rosa Parks, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sylvia Pankhurst, Edmund Morel, Mahatma Gandhi, José Martí, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass,  Harriet Beecher Stowe, Thomas Clarkson, Olaudah Equiano, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Granville Sharp, Tom Paine.

William Wilberforce, M.P. and campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade, was born in this house opposite WISE on High Street, Hull in 1759.

The base of the statue in the front garden reads:

'WILLIAM WILBERFORCE
BORN IN HULL 24TH AUGUST, 1759
DIED IN LONDON 29TH JULY, 1833
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR HULL
FROM 1780 TO 1784
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR YORKSHIRE
FROM 1784 TO 1812
---------------------------------
ENGLAND OWES TO HIM THE REFORMATION OF MANNERS.
THE WORLD OWES TO HIM THE REFORMATION OF SLAVERY'

The towering Wilberforce Monument stands in front of Hull College of Further Education off Wilberforce Drive and slightly to the east of Queen's Gardens.

A close-up of the statue of Wilberforce at the top of the monument.

The first stone of the monument was laid on the same day as the abolition of slavery in 1834, one year after the death of William Wilberforce.

20 March 2011

Winifred Holtby in Cottingham and Hull

Holtby House is an imposing building in Thwaite Street just outside the village of Cottingham, and belonged to the Holtby family, although it was originally known as 'Bainesse'. It was later owned by Hull University for some years, but is now in private ownership.

'ONE OF THE
ODDEST STREET NAMES
IN THE COUNTRY.
LAND OF
GREEN GINGER
WAS THE TITLE OF A
WINIFRED HOLTBY NOVEL'.
THE NAME'S ORIGIN
REMAINS A MYSTERY.'

'The Land of Green Ginger' is an exotic name for the street in the center of Hull, and is the name of a Holtby novel too, although it is not one of her best. Many people would perhaps claim the posthumously published South Riding (1936) holds that honor, although I was far more impressed by her The Crowded Street (1923), which for most of its length has the spinster protagonist Muriel (and Holtby of course did the spinster novel very well) virtually incapable of functioning without others moving before her, but ends transcendentally by her taking responsibility for her own actions and thus defining herself.

But for a very different - and much neglected - non-spinster novel, there is The Astonishing Island: Being a Veracious Record of the Experience Undergone by Robinson Lippingtree Mackintosh from Tristan da Cunha during an Accidental Visit to Unknown Territory in the Year of Grace MCMCC–? (1933), in which the above mentioned protagonist fails to understand the insanity of life in Great Britain: this is a wonderful opportunity for Winifred Holtby to satirize social ills in a much wider context.

My other post on Winifred Holtby:

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Winifred Holtby in East Yorkshire #4: Sunk Island
Winifred Holtby in East Yorkshire #3:Withernsea
Winifred Holtby in East Yorkshire #2:Hornsea
Winifred Holtby in East Yorkshire #1: Rudston

The Poet Stevie Smith in Kingston upon Hull

The poet Stevie Smith (1902-71) was born Florence Margaret Smith at 34 De La Pole Avenue, Hull. She lived there until she was three, when the family went to Palmers Green, north London, where Smith spent the most part of her life.

'POET & WRITER
STEVIE SMITH
(1902-1971)
WAS BORN HERE
29TH SEPTEMBER 1902'

Surely I can't be the only person to find the words 'Poet and writer' - also used on the Larkin blue plaque - slightly, er, odd?

Philip Larkin and Toad, Newland Park, Hull

Returning to Kingston upon Hull, England, it was very odd to find a toadless city: last year we spent the best part of two days hunting for the 40 toads strewn about the city and outposts, and the results are here.

We returned to fill in the spaces between the toads that we hadn't had time to do last time, and that includes Larkin's last address, 105 Newland Park, which is a lovely leafy road very close to the university.

And what did we find? Larkin Toad, formerly in Princes Quay shopping center, has been bought by the owners of Larkin's former house, and is on display on the first floor balcony. Is this the only Larkin toad still viewable to the public, I wonder?

A close-up of the plaque, with intrusive blossom, which reads:
'Poet & Writer
PHILIP
LARKIN
(1922-1985)
lived here
1974-1985'

As an end to the commemorations of the 25th anniversary of Larkin's death - on 2 December, exactly 25 years afterwards - his statue was unveiled on the concourse of Hull Paragon railway station.

The bronze statue was the work of Martin Jennings, who also sculpted the John Betjeman statue in St Pancras station in London. He said that he hoped it was a 'reasonable likeness' of Larkin. The Philip Larkin Society commissioned the statue. Their web site has a link to the unveiling, with the Hull band Black and White Tango singing his poem 'Is this for now or for always' in the background, which is one of a number of songs from the album All Night North (2010), a compilation of Larkin's poems set to music by various artists.

The 'surfboard' carries the line 'That Whitsun I was late getting away' from 'The Whitsun Weddings' from the book of the same name.

My other post on Philip Larkin:

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Larkin with Toads in Kingston upon Hull
Philip Larkin in Coventry, Warwickshire
Philip Larkin in Cottingham Cemetery

15 March 2011

Alexander Theroux: Laura Warholic: or, the Sexual Intellectual (2006)

Laura Warholic: or, the Sexual Intellectual is a big novel in more ways than one. It is almost 900 pages long, weighs in at almost two kilos, and is the first prose novel published by Fantagraphics Books: Theroux chose them as they made no editorial demands on his manuscript. He expects no one to read his book until its discovery in about 2047.

Theroux - whose work includes (at least 20 years before this) the novels Three Wogs, Darconville's Cat, and An Adultery - eschews plot for a character-driven narrative, and in Laura Warholic his characters are almost all grotesque, repulsive, three-quarters-mad and obsessive,  but oddly entrancing at the same time. Laura Warholic is an ugly, 36-year-old stick-like creature with a permanent unpleasant smell who is addicted to sex and rock culture - a chapter is titled 'Exile in Guyville' after Liz Phair's influential 1993 album - and the other main character is Eugene Eyestones, an older down-at-heel journalist fascinated by Laura, and who writes a brilliant but list-obsessed and sometimes overlong, sometimes highly politically incorrect column called 'The Sexual Intellectual' for Quink magazine.

Quink is edited by the concupiscent (but probably impotent) monster Minot Warholic, Laura's estranged husband who calls her a whore and is obsessed about the money he says she owes him. The female 'sex-weasels' Muscrat and Squishy live with him and accompany him most of the time. Various unsavory characters linked to the magazine hang out in such places as Welfare's, a bar in the Boston area in Massachusetts, where the book is set and the magazine based.

Eugene and Laura live in dumps in Cambridge, Laura living rent free in return for regular sexual services to the insane landlord Micepockets, who - a menacing priapic cripple - is another monster. During a two-month road tour of the States with Laura, Eugene (who has an annoying habit of 'correcting' her grammar) finds out how truly incompatible they are, and yet both remain together, locked in a fascinated love-hate bond. To kiss her repels him because of her permanent halitosis, and he won't have sex with her as she refuses to take an Aids test, so she just masturbates herself to sleep.

There are many lengthy digressions, often rants, which are often in the form of lists, such as the 'Sex Questions' chapter that is a list of miscellaneous sexual oddities that Eugene collects in a notebook, and which resemble the lists compiled in David Markson's Reader's Block mentioned somewhere below.

This is an extreme example of Theroux's crazy polysyllabic style, and is the second sentence of the chapter 'The Sewing Circle', referring to a local bar in the novel:

'It was packed sardine-tight with amazons, cowboy girls, berdaches, women in lumber-jackets, dime bull-dykes, inertinites, female mastodons, kickboxing bansheettes, tribadists, succobovaients, gynoids, sex sufists, dandle queers, sexual variety artists, female infonauts, exchromonians, tinjinkers, bold she-males, old boy actresses, lumber-mothers, algogenesolagniasts, gregomulcts, mammathigmomaniacs, asylum-seekers, nerdoïdes, two-fisted falsettists, ambiguas, half-and-half figures, neurasthenic seek-sorrows and various other big-boned women anesthetical to the lacquers of glamour and lineaments of grace.'

Laura Warholic is a brilliant, hugely digressive, tragic novel which is a biting satire on contemporary American society, and keeps making me think of a 21st century Lionel Britton.

(The photo on the dust jacket cover is of Evelyn Nesbit, and information about her is here. A short piece on YouTube puts together a number of photos of her, with Scott Joplin as background music, here.

13 March 2011

Debra Granik's Winter's Bone (2010)

Debra Granik's Winter's Bone is about as far from removed from conventional Hollywood - with its overwhelming emphasis on rich Manhattanites or the swimming pools of LA - as you can get: it is set the backwoods of the Ozarks, Missouri, home of poor whites living in wooden shacks and making a living not by making moonshine as in the past but by cooking crystal meth. Here, 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) heroically struggles to keep house for a young brother and sister in a shack where her mother is incapacitatedly mentally ill and where her father has gone missing.

She learns that her father has escaped bail and has put the house up as a bond, although the Dolly family imminently risk losing it if the father doesn't turn up very soon. So Ree has to search for him by asking the sometimes violently hostile families that make up the community which inspired Daniel Woodrell's novel on which this movie is based.

It is Ree's uncle Teardrop, a crank addict who unexpectedly helps his niece, who leads to Ree re-securing her home. And although Teardrop's admission toward the end that he can no longer play banjo says much for the traditional mountain culture that is in danger of disappearance, the very end suggests - via the symbols of the newborn chicks and Ree's younger sister actually getting a better sound out of the banjo than Teardrop - that there may still be hope.

Winter's Bone is Debra Granik's second movie: her first - Down to the Bone (2004) - concerns a married, working-class mother of two in upstate New York, who is secretly addicted to cocaine. A Guardian article on the female movie directors Granik, Nanette Burstein, and Sanaa Hamri is here.


Addendum: I've just discovered this article from Southern Spaces: 'Life in a Shatter Zone: Debra Granik's Film Winter's Bone'.

10 March 2011

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost's Catfish (2010)

This low budget movie is where The Social Network left off, about what social networking sites can result in: confusion and disappointment, but also fascinating invention.

It claims to be a documentary, in the initial stages with the 24-year-old New York photographer Yaniv (Nev for short) Schulman receiving an attachment of a painting of one of his photos, by eight-year-old Abby in Ischpeming, Michigan. He sends her other photos, she sends him some of her paintings, and soon he's confirming several members of the family as his Facebook friends. The virtual friendship broadens, and he's soon receiving phone calls from Abby's mother Angela, but more importantly from her 19-year-old daughter Megan. His brother Ariel (Rel) and friend Henry Joost are interested in the cinematic potential of this relationship, and start filming.

After 1500 communications in eight months the couple have still not met, and although the heat is turned up high, texts and emails use extremely mild sexual language: well, this is 12A-rated in the UK.  But cracks are beginning to emerge: a song Megan claims to have written and sends Nev is discovered to be identical on YouTube to Suzanna Choffel's version of 'Tennissee Stud', and Nev as yet has not spoken to Abby, the instigator of the relationship. Nev is ready to give up on a fraudster, but Henry is fascinated by the story, and tells Nev he surely must see how this movie pans out.

While on an assignment in Vail, near Denver, Colorado, the three men decide to pay a visit on Megan on the return journey.

For a few people, and a very few I'm sure, the internet can be a breeding ground for psychosis, but for others it's merely a chance to be other people, to indulge in fantasies. When some victims get ensnared in these fantasies and assume they're real, though, they can get a little hurt: the emotions are real.
 
Is there really any difference in the end between people claiming to be who they're not on social networking sites, and frauds that have always existed in the non-virtual world - malicious, or, as in this case - benign and very sad? And as Angela's partner Vince says of the days that they used to ship codfish in vats from Alaska to China, catfish were necessary to keep them agile; he continues:

'And there are those people who are catfish in life: they keep you on your toes, they keep you guessin’, they keep you thinkin’, they keep you fresh. And I thank God for the catfish, because we would be dull and boring if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fins.'

Catfish keeps you guessing, keeps you on your toes, and has to be the real internet movie story success of 2010, no matter how good The Social Network undeniably is.

7 March 2011

Noah Baumbach's Greenberg (2010)

Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is moving back to LA from New York to housesit while his brother and family are away in Vietnam. He's also dogsitting the Alsatian Mahler, and perhaps - as he's a carpenter who'd prefer to stay an eternal slacker after being released from a mental hospital - build a doghouse.

Roger has a number of social problems that appear to long pre-date hospitalization, and although he can relate to wood (he soon fixes a swollen door) and Mahler, (whom he quickly recognizes is ill) he can't relate to people, and thinks life would be better without them.

In spite of this, Roger - who's turning 41 - tries to have sex with his brother's assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig), who's much younger, very vulnerable, and just recovering from a previous relationship.  And she's nevertheless almost inexplicably attracted to Roger, but there seems to be an oppositional ideology working here: an unambitious guy in LA? like, er, wow!

Roger hasn't forgotten his former girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh) of 15 years previously, and whom he left for the lure of other girls, although it's clear later that the relationship mattered far more to Roger, as Beth doesn't really remember finer details of it: he's evidently barking up the wrong tree.

It's obvious that Roger will have to start thinking about others more if he wants to keep any friends, although he of course blames things on everyone else: what else would you expect from someone whose principal pleasure seems to be writing letters of complaint to any business concern he has any dealings with? He doesn't drive anymore and uses Florence and his 'best' friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans) - who's now got a computer business but was once in a band with Roger that Roger caused to fold - as chauffeurs.

His rudeness is almost unbelievable - when Ivan gets the waiters to give him a surprise serenade by singing 'Happy Birthday', Roger tells Ivan: 'Sit on my dick, asshole!', and later that evening - when Florence (who thinks the outburst is funny because meaningless) gives him a present and tells him he can stay over, he storms out after she's tells him a story about her past that he doesn't like. (And this is not the first time that there's been a suggestion of inappropriate jealousy.)

Toward the end, Ivan is almost ready to give up on Roger, and maybe it's the final straw when Roger asks him who Vic is. Vic is Victor, who's Ivan's son, and Roger immediately apologizes for not recognizing 'the diminutive form', but Ivan just turns his back and walks away.

Florence seems to read Roger's mind like an expert: even though, after they've finally had sex and she asks him if he thinks he can ever get to love her, and he says he doesn't know, just as she goes into the theater for an abortion (which is her former boyfriend's doing), she tells Roger that she thinks he likes her more than he knows.

Certainly, after a lot of alcohol, a line of coke and a little dope (and of course he Bogardes the joint), he confesses via cell phone message that he likes Florence a lot: OK, it's not direct, but hey! And he even has second thoughts about flying off to Australia with two 20-year-old girls at the last moment so he can go and meet Florence from hospital.

So, he's finally learned to grow up and move into a real relationship? Well, the screen goes blank and the credits roll before Florence hears the full message on her cell phone, so maybe it's a little inconclusive.

What is certain, though, is that this is an excellent and largely neglected movie from Noah Baumbach.

6 March 2011

Laurent Mauvignier's: Ce que j'appelle oubli (2011)

I've yet to read Laurent Mauvignier's short story Ce que j'appelle oubli (literally 'What I Call oblivion'), which has just been published and is loosely based on the killing of Michaël Blaise in December 2009 at the Part Dieu branch of Carrefour, Lyons, France, by security staff: he had been asphyxiated by pressure on his rib cage.

All this was over the theft of a can of beer. Blaise was reported by the media as being 'SDF' ('sans domicile fixe'), or NFA, which was untrue according to his cousin, and he had been suffering from depression after the death of his father. A book review and video clips about the killing are here.

3 March 2011

Linda Lê: Voix: une crise (1998)

Linda Lê was born in Dalat, Saigon in 1963, and had a French mother and a Vietnamese father. In 1968 her family was forced to move house during the war, and on their horrific journey they saw many dead bodies, often with severed heads. The family – without the father – left for France when Linda was 14. She continued writing to her beloved father for many years, but he died in 1995 before she could see him again, and she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital shortly after.

Voix: une crise (literally 'Voices: A Crisis') is a short book with no apparently logical sequence of events, and begins in a psychiatric hospital. It depicts a world – in which Paris is frequently identifiable – run by an omnipresent 'Organization', which no doubt only exists in the imagination of the narrator: this is a surreal nightmare world of horror, madness, severed heads, blood, and constant paranoia.

This is one paragraph:

'I'm stretched out on my bed. The anguish has taken the shape of dogs with three heads, poking their snouts into my belly, tearing it up and devouring my guts. My father stands at the side of the bed. He plunges his hand into my open belly and brings out letters written in blue ink and soaked in blood. I yell, but my father isn't listening. He's reading the letters, his white hair shaking.'

There isn't a great deal of information about her online, but there is a beautiful interview from 1999 with Catherine Argand, in French, which largely concerns Lê's work in general. She speaks of her (then) latest book, Lettre Morte (1999), which she says was inspired by Malina by Ingeborg Bachmann, who haunts her. She calls her father her ideal reader, and she was devastated to learn of his death. Tramps and drunks were the only people she saw with an unsuspicious eye, everyone else seemed artificial. She went entire weeks without talking.

Finally, she says she'd like to die in a cinema, watching Fritz Lang's Moonfleet: the cinema is where she feels most strongly the magic of paradise lost. The interview is here.

My other posts on Linda Lê:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Linda Lê: Les Évangiles du crime
Linda Lê: A l'enfant que je n'aurai pas
Linda Lê: Lame de fond
Linda Lê: Lettre morte
Linda Lê: Personne

Frédéric Beigbeder: Mémoires d'un Jeune Homme Dérangé (1990)

Mémoires d'un jeune homme dérangé ('Memoirs of a Deranged Young Man') (1990) was Frédéric Beigbeder's first novel, and the first part of the 'Marc Marronnier' trilogy, the other two being Vacances dans le coma ('Holidays in a Coma') (1994) and L'amour dure trois ans ('Love Lasts Three Years') (1997), and Beigbeder is a kind of younger, hirsute, upmarket, dandyish, tormented version of Will Self when he was his former self.

The novel is a pun on Simone de Beauvoir's Mémoires d'une jeune fille rangée (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958)). The book is full of puns, and this is by no means the only literary pun: for instance, one section is called 'Les paradis superficiels' after Baudelaire's Les paradis artificiels, and another 'Jours tranquilles à Neuilly' after Henry Miller's Jours tranquilles à Clichy.

The following two paragraphs give a good idea of the content:

'One evening, Jean-Georges and I were watching television. There was a program about alcoholism. A writer was talking about the ravages that alcohol had brought to his life: his wife had left him, his talent too.

'"How many ice cubes in your scotch?" Jean-George asked me.'

Jean-Georges is Marc's friend, a person with whom, until near the end of the book, he shares his clubbing, drinking, drug-taking, and generally crazy lifestyle of the dissolute of the twentysomethings who are surviving on daddy's money, a world of frequent international travel to attend alcohol- and drug-fueled functions, where pop cultural references and brand names are strewn all over the place.

But Marc leaves Victoire, the girl with the multi-millionaire father, for Anne, with whom he finds complete bliss: it's a joy just to be with her, no longer to go out, and he'll never want to take up with another woman as Anne is so many different women at different times of the day - who could ask for anything more?

Until the day when Marc walks into the kitchen and – for no apparent reason – shoots her dead. So he really is deranged.

Oh, no, wait a minute, that's completely false! They really will live an eternally happy existence, and have lots of children, etc. Oh, that's OK then! But is it? Isn't that a really bizarre joke to have made? And we know he's bought a gun, and he says he killed his cat with it, or was that a sick joke too?

Maybe the next two books in the trilogy will reveal more. Maybe.

Below is a link to another Beigbeder book review of mine:


–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Frédéric Beigbeder: 99 Francs

Frédéric Beigbeder: Premier bilan après l'apocalypse
Frédéric Beigbeder: Un roman français
Frédéric Beigbeder: L'Amour dure trois ans | Love Lasts Three Years
Frédéric Beigbeder: Vacances dans le coma

2 March 2011

Laurent Mauvignier: Loin d'eux (1999)

Laurent Mauvignier's Dans la foule (2006) has been translated into English (as In the Crowd (2008)), but Loin d'eux – literally 'Far from Them' – as yet hasn't been translated. In fact, In the Crowd is the only work of Mauvignier's to be translated in English,  in spite of his importance as a French writer. The reason is probably simply that Mauvignier's work is a little too French, too experimental and introspective for English tastes.

His web site says that his novels (and of course I translate)  'try to circumscribe the real but come up against the indescribable, the limits of speech: a language attempting to put words to absence and grief, love or lack, as if striving to retain what slips between our fingers, between the years.' By definition, then, this is a kind of interstitial literature.

The book consists of a series of interior monologues – most of them several pages in length, some a little shorter – of a single paragraph by six people: Jean and his wife Marthe, and their son Luc; and Jean's brother Gilbert and his wife Geneviève, and their daughter Céline. Luc committed suicide two years previously, and his are the only internal monologues made before his death. The other voices are those of his relatives trying – with very little (or no) success – to come to terms with this death. And the sentences are often very long and meandering.

We learn that this is a working-class family – Jean works in a factory and Gilbert is a baker – where there is no idle chatter to fill the silences, but just silences with a few words to punctuate them. Feelings are not – cannot – be expressed, and this results in a kind of collective autism that has forced Luc away from the parental home in La Bassée and into night-time work in a bar in Paris.

Jean and Marthe never speak of Luc's suicide to each other, although it is forever painfully present. Luc wrote letters home (read in secret by Jean), and he made visits in which words were absent. When the couple visit Gilbert and Geneviève, the two brothers go into the garden, and this is when Jean speaks, but it's always of Luc, and all Gilbert can say is it's not Jean's fault his son's dead. Similarly, Marthe's conversations with Geneviève are on the same subject but Geneviève can't bring herself to say much about how she feels.

The relationship between Luc and Céline was profound, and they had been tied in a close bond since early childhood. Céline later married, although her husband died in a car crash, and despite now being in another relationship, she still feels a sense of abandonment.

Luc was very sensitive to falseness, the automatic social reflexes, the obligation to sign his letters with an artificial closure, and yet he covers both his rooms – at La Bassée and at Paris –  with posters of famous movie actors. In Paris, this once-avid moviegoer hardly ever goes now, and sees the actors on screen as trying to play out the famous poses in his wall posters, so they're somehow less real on screen.  Earlier, he has shown some interest in a young woman who frequents the bar, and notes that she reminds him a little of Jean Seberg (who of course killed herself) in À bout de souffle, and he's written about her to Céline, who thought on a number of occasions that perhaps the girl could introduce him to a new world. Luc's own familial world was suffocating, the movies opened up a suggestion of a different reality, but he was still stuck in a communication limbo.

Reality is ungraspable, although Mauvignier tries to describe just that. A brilliant effort.

My other Mauvignier posts are below:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Laurent Mauvignier: Apprendre à finir
Laurent Mauvignier: Ceux d'à côté

Laurent Mauvignier: Des Hommes
Laurent Mauvignier: Dans la foule
Laurent Mauvignier: Tout mon amour
Laurent Mauvignier: Seuls
Laurent Mauvignier: Continuer
Laurent Mauvignier: Ce que j'appelle oubli
Laurent Mauvignier: Autour du monde
Laurent Mauvignier: Une Légère blessure

1 March 2011

Amélie Nothomb: Attentat (1997)

Attentat is yet another Amélie Nothomb story which is very different from what she's done before, although several motifs remain from her other works – the dichotomy of beauty and ugliness, virginity, imprisonment (in this case the prison of the narrator's body), obsession to the point of madness, and a violent climax, etc.

Epiphane Otos is a grotesque-looking man in his twenties, and groteseque here means that even Cyrano de Bergerac (about whom there is a reference because of the similarities) is an Adonis in comparison, and the reader suspects that even John Merrick, the Elephant Man's who's also mentioned, would come across favorably at the side of Epiphane.

It is by chance that Epiphane meets Ethel, a really beautiful young woman in the film industry who is distressed by the treatment Epiphane receives simply because he's unbelievably ugly, and a kind of brother-sister relationship develops between them that toward the end makes them virtually inseparable. But secretly, Epiphane – a very intelligent but somewhat misguided person – is madly in love with Ethel. At the age of 29 he is still a virgin, having ignored prostitutes, the only women his physical condition would normally have allowed him access to.

But – as it's now necessary for him to work after he's exhausted his inheritance money – he improbably finds a job (and fame) by joining beautiful models on the catwalk: set off against his ugliness, the beauties shine more beautifully, etc. And the beautiful young women are queueing up to have sex with him – well, it's the difference! – but no, he is silently saving himself for Ethel, and maintains an ascetic stance.

So Epiphane is none too pleased when Ethel takes Xavier as a lover, a narcissistic beau with other obvious faults. But when Ethel decides to break with him and needs Epiphane for brotherly comfort, Epiphane has at that very time to judge a beauty competition in Japan. Ethel insists he go, and Epiphane says he'll maintain contact by fax.

On the flight, Epiphane writes pages and pages to be faxed to Ethel, continues them in the hotel, finally confesses his love in the last one, returns and discovers Ethel's back with Xavier and furious with Epiphane as he's not only arrogantly assumed the impossible – that he and Ethel can be a couple – but written her a fax so dazzlingly beautiful that no one else could ever in her life write her, so he'll have to leave for ever, but he kills her, and  internally preserves her memory in his solitary prison cell.