So far Tous mes amis is Marie NDiaye's only book of short stories and there are five of them, vastly varying in length at times: the penultimate one, for instance, is fifty-five pages long, but the last one a mere eight pages. In order of sequence, they are 'Tous mes amis', 'La Mort de Claude François', 'Les Garçons', 'Une journée de Brulard' and Révélation'. All can be classed as some kind of horror story, all bear the clear hallmark of Marie NDiaye's preoccupations.
Abandonment (particularly the abandonment of children) is a theme which occurs in all five stories in some form or other: in 'Tous mes amis' the schoolteacher – quite common profession with NDiaye's characters – is the narrator whose wife has abandoned him, taking their children with her; in 'La Mort de Claude François' Marlène accuses her former schoolfriend the doctor Zaka of deserting her family, and when Zaka goes to see Marlène she abandons her daughter (another broken family) at the bottom of the block of flats; in 'Les Garçons' Mme Mour (whose husband later leaves her) sells her son Anthony into a pornographic business, and René (also wishing to leave his dismal, poverty-stricken home) is also sold: to his own estranged, pedophilic father; in 'Une journée de Brulard', the ex-movie actor Eve Brulard, now ageing, has abandoned her husband Jimmy and both of them seem to care little about their daughter Lulu; and finally, in 'Révélation' a woman takes her son on a definitive ride to Corneville, Rouen, to some kind of institution.
Madness is perhaps needless to say also present in all five stories: the narrator schoolteacher is clearly out of his mind visiting Jemal's home on the perhaps equally crazy Werner's instructions to kill Jemal, although we don't know how this deed will be done; Marlène is clearly mad, still Eve seeing visions of her former self in several places, and her mother in a mountain; and finally the boy on the bus, in spite of his obvious intelligence, goes off to the psychiatric hospital.
Violence has also been slightly touched on, and it is often hinted at: the schoolteacher thumps Séverine, is in turn pushed to the ground and kicked by her husband Jemal, and his unknown death has already been mentioned; René is left to untold horrors; Marlène has bruises from her 'son' and Zaka has left her daughter Paula downstairs in an obviously highly insalubrious neighbourhood; and menace haunts 'Une journée de Brulard', especially towards the end after the Rotors's dog eats Jimmy's little dog.
Class and sex are also strong themes in the book, although I've probably already given enough flavour of it. Marie NDiaye packs a great deal into five stories in the space of 174 pages, clearly proving her well acknowledged mastery of and indeed innovation in the fictional field.
Links to my other Marie NDiaye posts:
Marie NDiaye: La Sorcière
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: Quant au riche avenir
Marie NDiaye: Les Grandes Personnes