11 April 2017

Jérôme Garcin: Olivier (2011)

I learned a new word in Jérôme Garcin's  Olivier, both in French and in English: gemellologue, meaning 'gemellologist': gemellology is the study of twins. Jérôme Garcin was born on the stroke of midnight on 4 October 1956, and his brother Olivier just after. Only Jérôme is still alive, but his brother Olivier was killed in a traffic accident before his sixth birthday. Olivier the book is very much a gemellological study in itself, although of course from a very emotional as well as learned viewpoint.

Much of Olivier is addressed in the second person singular – tu – to the dead Olivier. The book is filled with recollections of Oliver (or as much as Jérôme Garcin can remember), with speculations as to what might have been, very much with a sense of loss, as if an appendage is missing from the author: one particularly poignant expression is 'looking for his vanished double in the broken mirror.' The remaining half of a severed twin may well seek his missing half in a surrogate, perhaps in the form of a platonic relationship with another person or with a sexual partner.

This then is a scholarly as well as an emotional work, detailing instances of twins in history as well as in literature. This is a fascinating book which possibly makes a few rather unusual digressions, but which I found particularly interesting in its mention of Irène Lézine's findings on two usages of language by twins: the everyday public talk to third persons, and the idiolect used by the twins and comprehensible only by them.

Very interesting indeed is Jérôme Garcin meeting Michel Tournier, of whose Les Météores I was unaware, but whose main concern is about twins. To read in the near future of course, but Olivier itself is so interesting and original that it demands to be read.

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