22 November 2017

Jean-Philippe Toussaint: L'Appareil Photo | Camera (1988)

In Pierre Lepape's review of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's novel L'Appareil Photo (translated into English as Camera) on 9 January 1989, he describes the anonymous narrator/protagonist as a hypersensitive person 'trying to live less in order to live less badly', which makes a lot of sense.

Deciding to take driving lessons, the 'hero' is bogged down by bureaucracy, and can't cope with everything he's asked for at once, particularly four photos of himself. He brings out an envelope of photos of him as a child with his father, of his sister in his mother's arms, his parents with his sister at the swimming pool, etc, but knows that they're inappropriate. He'll have to work on it.

One thing he says, and in fact repeats and seems to echo Lepape's words, is that his 'jeu d'approche' (the way he goes about things) is to try to 'fatiguer la réalité' (exhaust the reality) of difficulties he stumbles up against, much as he works on an olive on his plate, leaving marks of it with his fork, trying to crush it to make it suitable for him to stab and put into his mouth. Er, yes, that's quite an analogy.

So this is the story of a man who starts taking driving lessons, becomes at first vaguely involved with one of the women (Pascale!) who work there, goes with her in one of the dual controlled cars when she needs a primagaz refill, although the car breaks down and has to be left at the nearest garage. Then for some reason they end up in London for the night and become lovers, the 'hero' appears to have gone to the wedding mentioned in the second sentence of the book, misses the last train home and walks towards Orléans, resting in a telephone booth and concentrating on the fugitive moment, on immobility.

There are obviously a number of similarities between the protagonist in La Salle de bain and the one in L'Appareil Photo, although this one seems (relatively) far saner and has far less malice towards others: he even worries deeply over stealing (meaning not handing in) a presumably very cheap instamatic camera he finds wedged between two cushions in the self-service café on the boat going back home.

My other posts on Jean-Philippe Toussaint:
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Faire l'amour | Making Love
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Fuir | Running Away

Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Nue
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: La Salle de bain | The Bathroom
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: La Vérité sur Marie | The Truth about Marie

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