2 October 2016

Laurent Mauvignier: Continuer (2016)

This is another of the sixteen novels which made it to the first Goncourt selection, this time by an established writer who has carved out a name for himself as a master of speaking the unsaid, describing the chasm between the spoken and the unspoken, the problems with the spoken, giving voice to the unvoiced, the psychology of the outsider. Continuer is perhaps in a sense more 'accessible' than Mauvignier's other works, if that adjective has any meaning here. There is certainly a lot more physical action here, more characters too.

Sibylle is on the surface something of a failure: she failed to complete her training as a surgeon, her marriage to Benoît has failed, and he accuses her of being unstable. As an example of this, he reminds her of the failed walk around Corsica that she undertook some years before, and which ended in her having to be saved from great danger to herself.

It's of no surprise then that he views her intended expedition through Kyrgyzstan on horseback with her adolescent son Samuel (as in Beckett), or Sam, which sounds like a name in a western, but wouldn't be out of place here. Sibylle (of Russian extraction) sees this as a kind of therapy for Sam, who has been mixing in the wrong kind of company and is at risk of serious criminal behaviour. He's also become something of a racist, as the reader will discover later. Benoît thinks a religious education will knock it out of him, but Benoît doesn't have his way.

Camping in an unhospitable country with the only chance of an internet connection in civilised areas is not Sam's idea of fun, and his only consolation is the Walkman his father's provided him with, which is his only escape from primitiveness, from himself. Sam prefers his father to his mother, and a few catastrophes on the journey suggest to him that his father was right about her instability.

Then a real catastrophe happens, although it's actually Sam that causes it – well, indirectly so, because he's so alarmed about the fact that his mother can be heard enjoying herself in another tent with a man, the first time she's had sex in she can't remember how many years. Furious, and very drunk (like his mother) from some very friendly nomads' vodka, he takes his horse and rides away. By the time she re-finds a trace of him, his horse is dying.

And Sibylle is very seriously hurt too. But Sam has learned so much about her selfless love of him for his sixteen years, read her secret writings, knows far more about her than his father ever knew, and of course he's on her side now, is becoming or has become the caring person her mother wanted him to be.

I read an article somewhere which describes the book as (more or less) unputdownable, and I'm in full agreement.

My other Mauvignier posts:

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Laurent Mauvignier: Loin d'eux
Laurent Mauvignier: Ceux d'à côté
Laurent Mauvignier: Seuls
Laurent Mauvignier: Ce que j'appelle oubli
Laurent Mauvignier: Autour du monde

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