5 March 2014

Agota Kristof: La Preuve | The Proof (1988)

La Preuve (The Proof) is the second volume of the Trilogie des jumeaux (The Twins Trilogy) and is considerably different from Le Grand cahier, the first volume.

The first obvious difference is that the second volume is written from a non-omniscient third person point of view, and  the use of people's names is a novelty: all the action is still in the (unnamed) Little Town, but we learn near the end of the novel that Grandfather was called Claus-Lucas: the twins Lucas (who has stayed in the Little Town) and Claus (who escaped over the frontier) were named after him.

There are eight sections as opposed to about sixty in Le Grand cahier, making it far less episodic, and whereas the principal theme in the first novel might be said to be survival, in the second it is loss.

The main character in the novel is Lucas, who – deeply affected by the loss of his brother to another (unnamed) country – stays on at Grandmother's house and willingly accepts Jasmine and her (slightly disabled) baby Mathias into the household. Mathias is the product of fifteen-year-old Jasmine's long-term sexual relationship with her father, who is now in prison, and the teenaged Lucas has an occasionally sexual relationship with Jasmine.

A little later, though, Lucas starts to stalk thirty-five-year-old Clara, who works in the town library. Although there is no specific reference, it is clear that postwar Soviet occupation of Hungary is being evoked here, and some of the absurdity of the first volume is obviously repeated when the intellectually hungry Lucas learns that it is not only highly unusual to borrow a book from the library, but that probably all the books there will be put on the censored list.

As Lucas wheedles his way into Clara's life we find out that she too is suffering from grievous loss: her husband Thomas was (mistakenly, we learn later) killed as a traitor. And although Lucas also wheedles his way into her bed and spends every night with her, when the counter-revolution comes she will leave for the Big Town to protest against the occupying country, her thoughts still with Thomas.

Before this though, Lucas has to tell Mathias (whom he has come to love as a son) that Jasmine has left for the Big Town and thought it wise to leave him in his care. Mathias is painfully aware of his physical defects, but (quite unlike the twins in Le Grand cahier) insists on attending school: he is horribly bullied there and can never overcome his feelings of physical inferiority, although he is by far the most intelligent child in the school. His suicide by hanging (in his bedroom in the newsagent's Lucas has bought from Victor) calls to mind Little Father Time's in Hardy's Jude the Obscure.

At the end of the book Claus returns to the Little Town on a short-term tourist visa, eager to meet with his brother. Lucas's friend Peter now runs the newsagent's, and he gives him Lucas's notebooks which he kept up through the years. But Peter hasn't seen Lucas since he disappeared on learning that the remains of a woman had been dug up on the land he inherited from his grandmother, and he (a little oddly?) mentions that no investigations were made that could tie those remains to Jasmine's.

Lucas disappeared several years before, and Peter not unnaturally believes that his twin brother Claus is in fact Lucas returned, but Claus thinks he can prove his identity by his passport, although that in no way convinces Peter. The reader begins to question Claus's real identity, and as his visa expires after being renewed three times he is imprisoned and the town authorities decide what to do with him. Although he claims to have been born in the country they have no record of him, his brother or any of his relatives. And furthermore, he claims that the notebook proves the existence of Lucas, but all the entries are in the same hand and all have recently been written within six months of each other: it all seems to be an invention.

So are Lucas and Claus the same person? And why is the third novel called Le Troisième mensongeThe Third Lie? Unreliable narrators?

My other posts on Agota Kristof:

Agota Kristof: C'est égal: nouvelles
Agota Kristof: Le Grand cahier | The Big Notebook
Agota Kristof: Le Troisième mensonge |The Third Lie

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