6 November 2012

Linda Lê: A l'enfant que je n'aurai pas (2011)

The 'Les Affranchis' series was thought up by Claire Debru, with the simple instruction: 'Write the letter you have never written', and Linda Lê's A l'enfant que je n'aurai pas ('To the Child I Shall Not Have') is one of the series. It contains sixty-five pages, is short on paragraphs and often has very long sentences, often with lists of things that the narrator would or wouldn't have done if she's had the child that she has resolutely determined not to have.

The letter is also short on names, the narrator simply calling her boyfriend 'S', her mother the pointedly Orwellian 'Big Mother', and the only other name in the letter, apart from dead authors, is the stillborn Emmanuel, son of a psychiatric patient. And although there are several authors mentioned, the most obvious one – Simone de Beauvoir – is not.

But although the remarkable Le Deuxième Sexe is often understood as a reference point for Beauvoir's work, I'm thinking more of Mémoires d'une jeune fille rangée and Beauvoir's insufferable mother, although Big Mother is far worse than her. The four daughters receive no parental warmth – the déclassé father merely shrinking into insignificance and alcoholism – and Big Mother lives by ferociously strict puritanical codes and uses corporal punishment to enforce them.

Essentially, A l'enfant que je n'aurai pas is – as readers of Linda Lê's earlier work might expect – an outsider scream, and of course the outsider's chief problem is conformity. The narrator is a woman, and society decrees that as such her principal function in life is to have children, but this letter lists many reasons why she has chosen not to have any. S. does everything in his power to convince her that she must have children because, well, a man isn't a man without proving himself in the procreation stakes, etc.

Towards the end of the letter the narrator speaks slightly comically in a sick, grim sort of way, of locking the hypothetical child up until he's learned by heart 'the most remarkable of Nietszche's pages' and 'assimilated at least one Socratic dialogue', but this comes shortly after the mention of her suicide attempt, and shortly before the paranoia increases, where she makes another suicide attempt, followed by incarceration in a psychiatric hospital.

This brief text is just an indication of why Linda Lê is a such a major French language writer.

Below are links to other posts I've made about Linda Lê's books. Prix Goncourt tomorrow for Lame de fond? Well, let's hope.

ADDENDUM: Oh, Jérôme Ferrari got it with Le Sermon sur la chute de Rome. Huh.


Linda Lê: Voix: une crise (1998)
Linda Lê: Les Évangiles du crime (1992)
Linda Lê: Lame de fond
Linda Lê: Lettre morte
Linda Lê: Personne

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