15 June 2015

Jean-Pierre Martinet: Ceux qui n'en mènent pas large (1986; repr. 2008)

Jean-Pierre Martinet can be a very disconcerting writer, and Ceux qui n'en mènent pas large (I suggest 'Those Who Live on the Edge') begins very disconcertingly. This is my translation of its apparently gender-confused first sentence: 'Mum looked at the sky but, from up there, no one was looking at him, Mum, he knew only too well.' OK, I should have read the front flap first: Maman (meaning 'Mum' in French) is the surname of the main character, Georges Maman.

Originally I'd been thinking that in several ways Martinet reminds me of the New Zealand writer Ronald Hugh Morrieson, and certainly some aspects of their lives are similar: the huge amount of drinking, the obscurity of their work (especially when they were living), living with their mother, their early deaths, etc. The works of both of these writers are a weird mixture of the dark and the humorous, although Martinet lays on the dark with a far thicker brush. But it is particularly Ceux qui n'en mènent pas large which reminds me of another writer: Amélie Nothomb for the dialogue and the situation, the two characters caught in a hellish kind of huis clos, hating each other yet at the same time bound in a trap from which there seems to be no escape.

Maman is of course a loser: a once promising actor, he's now on his uppers, and he's only had a few walk-on parts the whole year. He's been reduced to doing porn, although he even failed at that because he was incapable of getting an erection. With his last fifty franc note, he shambles into the nearest bar and cracks five hard-boiled eggs while impatiently waiting to get served. But he doesn't eat them as he can't stand eggs – they remind him too much of the catastrophe of birth, perhaps? – and gets rebuked by an old guy at the counter for wasting food and mentions the starving in Ethiopia. Mamam, theatrically, says he doesn't give a shit about Ethiopia, and looks round for positive responses to his performance: no one has noticed anything.

The waiter of course doesn't even notice the great Georges Mamam – if he'd been Depardieu or Belmondo, all right, but Maman? Who he? It's as if he never existed, apart from the fact that the waiter's annoyed about all the egg shells on the counter. Maman orders a beer and requests the waiter to go easy on the froth. He swiftly drinks three more and naturally wants to go to the café toilet, but all four cubicles seem to be permanently engaged. So he pisses in the phone box, and while he's at it tries to phone Marie Beretta, the woman he used to live with some years ago, and is still obsessed with.

It's then that he runs into Dagonard the assistant film director, who's also a loser but with more money, and has been working on a Jim Thompson adaptation for ten years but hasn't been successful because of Yasujiro, a cancer he's named after the Japanese film director Ozu: Dagonard's cancer is imaginary, but that's the kind of man he is. And he's an insufferable bore, forever banging on for hours about film plots, and Maman particularly dislikes him because he insists on punning on his name and addressing him as a woman. Maman thinks the only reason people tolerate Dagonard is because he's always got money on him and in fact seems to buy conversation with it. Consequently, Maman decides to tolerate Dagonard's tedious non-stop talking as he's looking for a meal ticket and maybe the permanent loan of several hundred francs if he's lucky.

He gets the meal, but Dagonard lies and says he's a little short of money so they eat at a place where the food is pretty crappy, although to compensate this is washed down by copious supplies of beaujolais, the effects of which partly numb Dagonard's prattle. But Dagonard is self-aware and knows that Maman is only with him to try and wheedle money out of him. He also knows that he still loves Marie Beretta and can use this knowledge as a psychological weapon, speaking of how famous she now is, and of the magazines he has with photos of her husband and child. He gives Maman a 500 franc note, whereupon Maman leaves and takes a taxi home.

In the middle of the night, and still under the effects of the three Rohypnol tablets he's taken, Maman awakes to find Dagonard shaking him: Maman, in his drunkenness, left the key in the lock. Dagonard says he saw Maman going into the chemist's before taking a taxi home, and feared that he was going to kill himself. And so the mental torture continues, with Dagonard getter drunker and drunker on Maman's dirt cheap 1.5 litre Margnat wine in plastic bottles, and even eating his Canigou dog food in the fridge: Maman has no dog.

Eventually the dead drunk Dagonard is bundled into a cab, but not before he's told Maman that he's left a present in the fridge. Maman steels himself to open it, and finds a pistol with 'M BERETTA' in a circle on the handle. He puts it to his temple. But we don't know if he pulls the trigger.


My other Jean-Pierre Martinet posts:

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Jean-Pierre Martinet: Jérôme (L'Enfance de Jérôme Bauche)
Jean-Pierre Martinet: L'Ombre des forêts
Jean-Pierre Martinet: Nuits bleues, calmes bières
Jean-Pierre Martinet: La Somnolence
Jean-Pierre Martinet: La grande vie | The High Life
Capharnaüm 2: Jean-Pierre Martinet sans illusions...

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