16 December 2016

Didier Decoin: John l'Enfer (1977)

Didier Decoin's apocalyptic, Goncourt-winning John l'Enfer is set in a New York of stark contrasts in fortune, now a faded glory where the skyscrapers are crumbling, the dogs are taking to the mountains and we see the city through three people.

The book begins with the fall of an Indian window cleaner from a skyscraper: the twelfth in the last six months, when Indians don't normally suffer from vertigo. John l'Enfer is a Cheyenne Indian and also a cleaner of skyscrapers in this city of his ancestors until he loses his job following a demonstration about work conditions. He is in love with Dorothy, but the relationship is only platonic.

Dorothy Kayne is a young sociology lecturer temporarily blinded and infantilised after an accident, and who wears a mask. She too is doubtless in love with John, although she's blind to it and her sexual energy is spent on Ashton.

Ashton Mysha is a Polish Jew, a naval officer now grounded due to ill health, who will love Dorothy – if that's the right word – and then leave New York city, leave life, in a well-planned suicide.

Only John l'Enfer appears to be aware of what's really happening to New York. Oddly, there's no English translation of this very incidentally cinematic tale.

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