25 May 2020

Éric Chevillard: Démolir Nisard | Demolishing Nisard (2006)

Marie-Napoléon-Désiré Nisard (1806-88) was born in Châtillon-sur-Seine, Côte-d'or, and was a writer, academic and politician most noted for his four-volume Histoire de la littérature française (1844-1861). And although he is almost forgotten today the narrator in Éric Chevillard's novel wants to 'demolish' him, meaning remove every trace of his ideas. In advertising the fact, of course, interest in  this virtually unknown figure paradoxically increases.

Nisard's main (and of course ludicrous) affirmation is that French literature ended at the end of the seventeenth century.

One of the main strands in the book is the (non-)existence of Nisard's early short story Le convoi de la laitière, which the narrator has discovered that Pierre Larousse, in one of his fifteen volumes of Grand Dictionnaire universel du xixe siècle (1863-1890), describes as 'grivois' (or dirty, salacious), and claims that the older Nisard spent part of his life trying to destroy all copies of the publication. Larousse further claims that this was published (as a separate pamphlet) in octavo in 1931, but that it is now unobtainable. (Later events prove a slightly different story.)

The bulk of the novel is taken up by the narrator's ideas of ways to demolish Nisard, a man who turned milk to butter for his bread by blowing on it, turned wine to vinegar for his leek vinaigrette by dipping his finger in it, and so on. Nisard is even mentioned in a number of contemporary news articles, stabbing someone, crashing his car while drunk and having smoked cannabis, being responsible for a plot in South Carolina to cause a civil war 'using' (but probably not actually having, the narrator adds with a clear contemporary wink) weapons of mass destruction. In fact Nisard is everywhere, and responsible for all that is negative in the world.

It is in fact clear from near the beginning of the novel that the narrator is howling mad, obsessed with a man he has found out as much as possible about, and for instance has even been forced to dislike squirrels because they eat hazel nuts, and Nisard must have eaten hazel nuts too. The narrator's wife Métilde, unsurprisingly, is worried for his mental health.

There is a positive to the negative, and as Nisard is 'demolished', then Léonard Nodot, the founder of the Muséum d'histoire naturelle in Dijon (where Chevillard lives) should be 'resurrected'. The narrator particularly enjoys visiting the museum to see the 'resurrection' of the prehistoric gigantic armadillo there, the glyptodon.

The narrator also likes visiting other places in search of the elusive Le convoi de la laitière. And eventually he discovers the truth. Contrary to what he imagines, that the book contains (then 'obscene') schoolboy reworkings of the language – the title really meaning 'Vois le con de la laitière' ('Look at the Milkmaid's Cunt') – he finds that the 'book' wasn't published at all, but that the harmless, sentimental story was in fact published in an 1834 edition of the Revue de Paris. And the full fifteen-page tale of love and greed, of a tragic perceived mésalliance can be read be anyone looking online.

The finale is when the narrator 'becomes' Nisard, in a few manners of speaking. A hugely enjoyable, really amusing treat of a book.

My Éric Chevillard posts:
Éric Chevillard: Oreille rouge | Red Ear (2005)
Éric Chevillard: L'Explosion de la tortue (2019)
Éric Chevillard: La Nébuleuse du crabe | The Crab Nebula (1993)
Éric Chevillard – Au plafond | On the Ceiling
Éric Chevillard: Le Désordre azerty
Éric Chevillard: Dino Egger
Éric Chevillard: Le Vaillant Petit Tailleur
Éric Chevillard: Le Caoutchouc décidément
Éric Chevillard: Palafox
Éric Chevillard: Un fantôme
Éric Chevillard: Du hérisson | Of the Hedgehog
Éric Chevillard: Démolir Nisard | Demolishing Nisard

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