28 February 2016

Olivier Bourdeaut: : En attendant Bojangles (2016)

The imprint page of this Finitude first edition says 2015, although it appears that the publication date of Olvier Bourdeaut's En attendant Bojangles wasn't actually until January 2016. As part of the Winter rentrée this is one of the major novels, and has already received considerable success. The back cover reveals that Bourdeaut is 35 years old, that this is his first novel, and that he had hesitated for a long time before putting pen to paper.

This is in some respects a rebellious book: towards the end of it, the central narrator says that his father Georges 'was reading the newspapers and laughing to himself because for him the world was mad'. That is certainly a central message here, although the educational system is also seen as sadly lacking: Georges's wife has an argument with their young son's school teacher regarding his lack of attendance in the morning, saying:

'What do you want? My son to be a civil servant! My son is an erudite nightbird who has already read the dictionary three times over and you want to turn him into a seagull covered in dirty oil, fighting against a black tide of boredom! It's to avoid just that that he only comes in the afternoons!' (My translation.)

How can anyone argue with such words? It fact no one can argue with George's wife – who doesn't have a name, or rather she has a multitude of them, but no one fixed name in the novel. She is fluid, very changeable, full of energy, a lover of life, of freedom, of dance, a wonderful person, but alas a very disturbed person.

Yes, the son is the main narrator, although Georges briefly intervenes in parts to fill the readers in on the background, how he met his future wife, and the lies he told but then life is full of lies, life is a novel. The son grows up in a crazy household where his parents frequently dance to the happy-sad song 'Mr. Bojangles' by Nina Simone, they hold huge, insane parties and have an exotic pet bird called Mademoiselle Superfétatoire (a name which means 'superfluous') and who loves to be stroked.

As the mother increasingly dislikes the idea of her husband working at all, as she just continues the round of lavish spending and the pile of unopened letters continue to grow, it's pretty obvious that there'll be problems with unpaid taxes, pretty obvious that Georges (and indeed their young son) have just been playing along with her, swept up by her wonderful personality, her pure sanity, although it's also obvious that's she's as mad as hell and getting worse. And it's a madness that will particularly manifest itself when she burns part of the house down in an attempt to destroy the past.

And so she goes to a psychiatric hospital, where it's evident that's she's the sanest of the inmates in a way, but then many of the inmates are also by no means as mad as they're said to be, and the chemical straitjackets that hold them to Earth also restrict their ability to function as individuals with gifts to show the world. So Georges and son capture her from the prison of the hospital, and she spends her final days in their Spanish home.

Final days that is, not because she's dying, but because she is becoming terminally mad. So a glorious last dance, then a morning overdose of sleeping pills, a dive into the lake, and no more pain. Is this novel really as good as many people say? Yes. It is.

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