31 May 2020

Éric Chevillard: Le Caoutchouc décidément (1992)

Éric Chevillard's Le Caoutchouc décidément doesn't appear to have been translated into English, although if it is I think it would probably not be called 'Decidedly Rubber' or 'Rubber, Decidedly', but 'Definitely Rubber' or 'Rubber, Definitely'. In a way it's of course of no importance as the title tells you nothing of what the book is about, although as I've suggested before, some readers would say that Chevillard's books are about nothing anyway. And although I can understand that reaction and even to a certain extent agree with it, how do I justify such an outrageous statement as to suggest that Chevillard is one of the most important – if not the most important – of contemporary writers? Not an easy question to answer, although I'm certain that he's one of those authors you have to read several works of in order to have a clue about what he's doing. And that's probably why it's taken many people quite a time to begin to appreciate his work.

Le Caoutchouc décidément is Chevillard's fourth novel, and the earliest of his yet that I've read. Like his later books, there's no plot as such, no development, there are characters this time, although they are as thinly drawn as to be caricatures, and of course there are digressions. Interestingly, the first word of the novel (almost) ends with the same word, although it's Furne (the protagonist) instead of the one-word sentence 'Fume.' (meaning 'smoke') at the end.

Furne grew up with a girl neighbour just five days younger than him and they got on really well and lived many happy years together, but she felt so lonely when he died that she brought up a puppy (or was it a cat?) and in turn buried that when it was old... No, that won't do, too much narrative: she (incidentally unnamed) in fact drowned when she was twelve.

At thirty Furne has no experience of women, but he's a revolutionary, he wants to change things: not just have his name mentioned as a disease he's discovered or anything so simplistic as that, no, he wants to change everything he doesn't like, everything that doesn't gel in the world. The first sentence is (I translate) 'Furne is for example hostile to the principle of April showers' (although it actually says 'March showers' but things come earlier in France). If that weren't enough, fish don't talk, the brain is too small, stars are too far from one another, how can things be corrected?

Furne manages to attract Professor Zeller's interest in his proposed publication 'Manifeste pour une réforme radicale du système en vigueur', which is no more than an attempt to rid the world (solar system?) of its faults. Zeller equips Furne with a studio and a research team, and things are set to go. Why, though, does the building Furne and crew are working in resemble a clinic, why does Céleste – who initially scrubs Furne from top to bottom as he's filthy and scrawny because he has been unable to buy any cat food as he's eaten all the cats – seem so nurse-like, and why do the members of Furne's team behave as if they belong in a psychiatric hospital?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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