30 March 2016

Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Nue (2013)

This novel is the final part of what critics have called 'Le Cycle de Marie', or what the publisher Minuit seems to prefer to call 'Marie Madeleine Marguerite de Montalte' after the protagonist of the tetralogy. As I remarked in the post immediately below this one, Laurent Demoulin notes in the Aferword in Faire l'amour (the first volume) that the plot of Fuir comes before that of Faire l'amour – but Demoulin wrote this before the publication of Nue, which, confusingly, makes it clear that the opposite is the case.

Nue begins with a section concerning a model who is naked apart from a 'dress' of honey, and is pursued by a swarm of bees, although I won't go into this dramatic moment. Memory is important here, and even if by no means all of the pieces of a narrative can be filled by it, it can still add to things, even fill in cracks in our knowledge that we didn't even know we didn't know.

The honey 'dress' episode is really a short introduction of sorts, with the book then divided into two large sections. The narrator (always unnamed) returns to Paris with Marie from the Isle of Elba and they go to their separate homes, although the narrator waits for Marie to contact him, spending some time looking out the window.

A long piece in the first section concerns the narrator's memory of the events following the end of Faire l'amour, after he's poured the hydrochloric acid on the pansy (or violet). His mind returns to when he returned to Contemporary Art Space in Tokyo, but, knowing he won't be allowed in, he climbs up to the roof to look into this window, trying to spot Marie. We follow the concupiscent Jean-Chrisophe de G. who spends some time with a Marie he thinks is Marie the fashion designer, and then he sees her, as does the narrator. And this has an oddly soothing effect on him, as for instance when he held the small hydrochloric acid bottle. As for Marie, we learn on the final line of the first section what soothes her: 'When I'm depressed I boil an egg.' An egg?

As it is, there's almost no news from Marie until two months later, when she telephones (ah, all those Alan J. Pakula moments!) to meet him in a café at Saint-Sulpice. Here the narrator learns of the death of Maurizio, the man who's well known to Marie and has been looking after her dead father's home on Elba: so it's another journey, vaguely recalling the restlessness of Jean Echenoz's narratives. But was that all Marie wanted to tell him?

It's not a pleasant trip to Elba at first, where due to the behaviour of Maurizio's son Guiseppe (who may be an arsonist, maybe not) they miss the funeral, leave Marie's father's old house in disgust because someone's been sleeping there, and have problems with the heating at a hotel in Portoferraio. On the positive side, Marie tells the narrator she's pregnant and it must be by him as she's slept with no one else since. So after all this, after all their problems, we have a happy ending? As this is the final volume it's for the reader to reach his or her conclusions.

My other posts on Jean-Philippe Toussaint:

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Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Fuir | Running Away
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Faire l'amour | Making Love
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: La Vérité sur Marie | The Truth about Marie

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