7 February 2018

Marie NDiaye: Quant au riche avenir (1985)

Famously, Marie NDiaye wrote her first novel Quant au riche avenir at the age of sixteen and Jérôme Lindon, founder of the prestigious publishing firm Les Éditions de Minuit, came to greet her outside Lycée Lakanal in Sceaux, with a publishing contract for her to sign. It is impossible to read this astonishing book without imagining that much of the content is autobiographical. The book is divided into three sections: 'L'Amie', which takes up almost exactly half of the content, with the other parts occupying about half the remaining space: 'Tante' and 'L'École'.

'L'Amie', as its title suggests, is about the adolescent protagonist's unnamed girlfriend, if that is the right word. Throughout the book the narrator, who has access to Z's thoughts and his alone, there are many long, rambling sentences packed with the neverending introspections of Z, his agonising, his intellectualising, his inability to relate to anyone else. And even when ostensibly communicating with people, his highly over-sensitised mind makes any real communication impossible.The girlfriend, unlike Z, lives outside the Paris area, and although she visits Paris several times and meets Z, he finds the occasions fraught with anxiety: he feels as though when he is with her he is another person, not the person who has desperately waited to see her. When she is with him she doesn't seem very enthusiatic, but then she doesn't seem enthusiastic in the letters she has written to him, letters in reply to his, for which he has often spent some time waiting for, letters which prove disappointingly frivolous. Eventually, Z finds a kind of escape valve for his anguish by to a certain extent emotionally divorcing himself from her.

But Z's intensely strained relationship between the inner and the outer, the psychological hell in which he is imprisoned versus the virtually hopelessly distant outside world, is inescapable. He was orphaned at a very young age and is brought up by a 'vague' aunt (Tante), who maintains an emotional distance from him, and he finds it impossible to relate to her. However, an almost epiphanic moment comes when she gives him not biscuits but his favourite cherry clafoufis (a kind of cake), and he seems to find a short-lived metaphysical relationship with Tante. But this fades and gives way to pity for her and the life she leads.

'L'École' is once more concerned with Z's inability to relate to the outside world. He's a highly accomplished student, but vain, and virtually friendless. He makes attempts (in his vague way) to communicate with Blériot, although finds him too much like himself, so inevitably breaks with him. In the end he thinks of just walking out on everything, but it's the thought of Tante, the thought of the responsibilities that he knows will in different ways haunt him for life, that makes him continue.

Quant au riche avenir, perhaps more than other books by NDiaye, is no easy read, although at the same time it's a joy to read NDiaye's exquisite narrative, so far removed from that of any other author.

Links to my other Marie NDiaye posts:
Marie NDiaye: La Sorcière
Marie NDiaye: Rosie Carpe
Marie NDiaye: Autoportrait en vert
Marie NDiaye: Ladivine
Marie NDiaye: Trois femmes puissantes
Marie NDiaye: La Femme changée en bûche
Marie NDiaye: Mon cœur à l'étroit
Marie NDiaye: Papa doit manger
Marie NDiaye: En famille
Marie NDiaye: Un temps de saison
Marie NDiaye: Les Serpents
Marie NDiaye: Tous mes amis
Marie NDiaye: Les Grandes Personnes
Marie NDiaye: Hilda

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