6 January 2014

Nina Bouraoui: Avant les hommes (2007)

Jérémie is a young man who lives with his mother as he has since she split up from her husband shortly after his birth because, his father told him, she didn't think 'he had enough life in him'. Jérémie doesn't get on with his mother (who – like his father – isn't given a name). His friend Sami – who may also have been his sexual partner, but that may be one of Jérémie's many fantasies – has disappeared, but is later seen in a supermarket with a girlfriend.

Partly to fill the emptiness of his life, to overcome his depression, Jérémie smokes a lot of dope, which he buys from Ralph, another young guy he fantasises about. His mother spends her time in the clouds too, but then she's an air hostess, but although a deal of her time is away from her son, on her returns he still finds dope is the best way of mentallly sending her back into the clouds: in fact he needs dope as he needs air.

His mother also has various lovers, although we see her spending a great deal of time with Alex, who has a good body and whom Jérémie also fantasises about.

The language is often dreamlike, as if borne away on a cloud a psychotropic smoke, and below is an example of the long sentences used, usually only punctuated by commas. This is a description of the first time Jérémie sees Alex, although he may have known him as a child years before and forgotten – memory is one of the themes of the book:

'I was naked to the waist because of the heat, he looked at me too, then told me I'd changed a lot, but I have no memory of him, nothing, zero, so I told myself he was lying but I really liked that, I made as if I didn't understand, he went into the house, he looked at a photo of my mother in uniform, then he drank from the kitchen tap and I found it sexy because he had a big mouth, then he put his whole face under the water and I thought of Sami when he used to dive into the town swimming pool, leaving behind him a white stream like cotton wool.'

Insanity is a minor theme, and his maternal grandmother went mad after the death of her husband, and Jérémie's mother also worries that it may affect her. It's difficult to say if Jérémie is affected or if it's just the dope, although he too is frightened of insanity. This is another example sentence:

'Day breaks, I'm in our garden, right in the middle, as if UFOs had come to seek me out and take me to a world where you don't need to have love to exist.'

When Jérémie takes the train to see his father at his seaside home he sees his gestures of affection as acting, and such is his alienation that he doesn't feel the son of anyone. Later, he seems to be working towards a more optimistic, post-Sami resolution – and this doesn't seem to be just the dope that's affecting him.

(The translations are my own.)

My other posts on Nina Bouraoui:

Nina Bouraoui: Garçon manqué |Tomboy

Nina Bouraoui: Mes mauvaises pensées

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