6 December 2015

Philippe Claudel: De quelques amoureux des livres (2015)

The full title of Philippe Claudel's book is De quelques amoureux des livres que la littérature fascinait, qui aspiraient à devenir écrivains mais en furent empêchés par diverses raisons qui tenaient aux circonstances, aux siècles de leur naissance, à leur caractère, faiblesse, orgueil, lâcheté, mollesse, bravoure, ou bien encore au hasard qui de la vie fait son jouet et entre les mains duquel nous ne sommes que de menues créatures, vulnérables et chagrines. My suggested translation of this is 'On some book lovers fascinated by literature, who aspired to become writers but were prevented from becoming so for various reasons such as the centuries they were born in, their character, weakness, pride, cowardice, idleness, bravery, or chance which makes life its plaything and in the hands of which we are tiny creatures, vulnerable and despondent.' In other words the subject is literary failure.

As Claudel says, many people write books and are celebrated, have statues and busts sculpted of them, streets named after them, but many more are unsung because unpublished or whatever. Like the (obviously fictitious) Virgil Maubert (1962–2006), whose real name was Benoît something – and whose wife didn't take his writing seriously and nagged him to help her with the dishes – and whose novel 'Le Cercle' was still a mass of confusion on paper when he hanged himself from the light fitting in the salon. This is a little book packed with imaginative gems and often has Borgesian tinges. I give several examples below:

–– The man who wrote from his gut, but the more he thought about it and spoke about it the more abdominal pains he got and had to go to hospital, where the incredulous surgeon found a thousand-page book inside him made illegible by gastric juices which caused the print to dissolve.

–– Seed merchant Leonard W. P. Rosemond from Glasgow accused (the dead) Proust of plagiarising his work, and to 'prove' so he narrated by heart À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–27) continuously for nine days and nine nights, initially at the police station where he made his complaint about Proust, and then at a psychiatric hospital he was sent to. His rendition was word perfect, although he was born years after Proust's work, and in fact scarcely ever opened a book, apart from a few catalogues on seed and garden tools.

–– The man who thought he was the author of a book but was in fact only a character in it. (Suggestions of Gilbert Sorrentino there?)

–– The man from the principality of Vaduz who self-published a long story about an illegal immigrant housekeeper Nan Sung B. from Burma, who was killed and eaten in such convincing graphic detail that the police arrested him and he was jailed by the high court for life on the grounds of murder and cannibalism. The fact that the police could find no evidence of bodily remains at the author's place, or any register of the disappearance of anyone called Nan Sung B. made no difference, and the writer's only regret was that he's written his work in the first person.

–– A critic of an underground fanzine HZD claimed that the Austrian writer Baldur von Taxenberg wrote 'shit', so von Taxenberg wrote him a long prose poem titled Meine Scheize (My Shit) on pink toilet paper – in his own excrement – and sent it by registered post.

–– Of Belgian origin, Ambroise Loubratte published seventy exceptionally crude pornographic novels between 1917 and 1969. He died a virgin at 84.

–– Finally, the paradox of the man who can only write when he's drunk, and then he can write pages and pages, although in the morning when he's sober he finds that what he's written is illegible.

These are just a few of the offerings in De quelques amoureux des livres, etc, published by the wonderful Finitude of Bordeaux and a joy to read and re-read, a little book to treasure. I also suspect that it will be much translated.

My other posts on Philippe Claudel:

Philippe Claudel: Le Rapport de Brodeck | Brodeck's Report

Philippe Claudel: Les Âmes grises | Grey Souls

No comments: