7 June 2015

Lorette Nobécourt: En nous la vie des morts (2006)

En nous la vie des morts (2006) – Lorette Nobécourt's sixth novel – is the third of hers I've read, the other two being her first ones – La Démangeaison (1994) and La Conversation (1998). Nobécourt's earlier books are dark – black even – but En nous la vie des morts (lit. 'The Lives of the Dead in Us'), despite the title, represents a new, optimistic departure, full of the joy of life, a great eagerness to embrace new sensations and break with negative thoughts. This novel very easily avoids being a 'feel-good' book, or a self-help book, or a Buddhist tract. And it's by no means just the magic mushrooms that have done it.

Nobécourt also avoids accusations of writing autofiction by making the narrator male and North American, in fact from New York, although she has never – at least certainly not up to 2006 – been to NYC, and I think it's pretty evident from her descriptions of American fast food outlets and motels that she's never driven in the States. But that's not the point, as just imagining – even in dreams – of having done things doesn't make them any less real to Nobécourt. And the narrator's best friend Fred believed that what most people call reality is just a surface veil, and that the work of a writer is to introduce the reader to another, more profound dimension of reality.

But Fred is dead, has killed himself by jumping out of a window for reasons unknown. And the narrator Nortatem – or Nort for short – is distressed. Nort has also more or less broken up with his girlfriend Georgia, although he never really related to her but related far more to Guita, a girl full of eastern wisdom and aphorisms with whom he has also enjoyed sex. But Guita has left for France to communicate with a nun who's become a Buddhist. Nort leaves the madness of New York for the serenity and isolation of Vermont, where he rents self-contained accommodation and makes contact with Guita (and, reluctantly, with Georgia) when he drives some miles into town to buy supplies and email from an internat café.

Nort, along with a number of bottles of wine, takes with him his pet hamster Léandre – who surely represents the futility of the workaday world, turning the treadmill all the time until only food and drink breaks fill in the intervals before death? – and the book-within-the-book, Guita's En nous la vie des morts: the chapters in this book-within-a-book are all stories of different people at different ages of their life, but all whose ages are related to the number 7, such as seven-year-old Joselito's story, or Leny's (who is 16 – 6+1 = 7), or Diego's (who is 25 – 2+5 = 7), etc. All stories have a bearing on the philosophy of life, all are related in different ways, and throughout his 49 days (7 weeks of 7 days) in Vermont Nort undergoes a healing process, seeing the relation between himself and the characters in the stories as he slowly reads them, learning from them.

Nort isn't a hermit in Vermont during this time, and he meets an old Indian woman who helps him get his car out of the mud and whose whole being relates to him as he has sex with her; but his mind seems to be on other things as he passes up on the opportunity of having sex with Laura, whose breasts he afterwards wonders about.

But the 7th chapter – about the much-changed 34-yar-old Nort himself leaving Vermont, phoning Guita in France and her returning to JFK to fall into his arms – is a very different story from Nobécourt's bleaker ones.

This is obviously not just a story with a happy ending, and there are glorious moments in the novel. As an example of the powerful things in this book, I translate below a few sentences from Chapter Three ('25 ans' or '25 years') of the book-within-the-book, which describes how individual consciousness becomes transformed into mass mindlessless as the ideology of war takes the upper hand:

'One after another they stopped believing in the collection of these experiences and these ideas, these desires and these feelings which they had automatically up to now called "self". They could no longer be themselves because they were no longer a product of word and flesh but a bonding of brutality and vice, no longer men, not even bodies but pieces of bodies without consciousness, of which animals would have felt shame if they knew shame.'

Soif ('thirst') is all-important in this book, and it is seen as vital to pursue our desires. As another Laura – the one in Chapter Six ('61 ans' or '61 years') says: 'Never compromise with your thirst.' Nort's reaction to earlier chapters is: 'I've never felt so acutely the importance of our choices and the necessity of moving away from all blindness. [...]. Joselito, Leny and Diego are gutted by life but blessed because they have instinct. They haven't said yes to life, they are the yes.' When he has finished reading the book, Nort too will become the yes.

This is an amazing book full of many revelations, and further proof of Lorette Nobécourt's importance in contemporary French literature.

My other Lorette Nobécourt posts:

Lorette Nobécourt: La Démangeaison
Lorette Nobécourt: La Conversation

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