24 June 2020

Éric Chevillard: Mourir m'enrhume (1987)

Mourir m'enrhume is Éric Chevillard's first novel, published when he was twenty-three, and is in some ways his least accessible. Chevillard first sent Minuit's editor of the time Jérôme Lindon a copy of a poem, although Lindon told Chevillard (who doesn't like novels) that the novel is the only option to take. Chevillard learned his lesson and has now produced twenty-three novels with Minuit (as well as many books by other publishers), although he's never actually produced a conventional novel, and in effect that would be a slightly odd description of his Minuit productions, although the same could of course be said for a number of other Minuit writers.

Mourir m'enrhume is a humorous book, although it concerns the dying eighty-year-old Monsieur Théo, who has moved home to be cared by Suzie Plock, the widow of his friend Martial.  He is regularly visited by the young Lise, who reads to him and confuses céleri with salsifis, 'as everyone does', writes Chevillard, who is obviously interested in paronamasia.

Some have called this novel a prose poem. Others are nonplussed by the almost surreal nature of the work, such as the fact that swans are called camels with water at their balls, or turtles called soup in reverse. Lise reads that the inhabitants of Lumajang solve their rat problem in the rice fields by stitching up some of the rats' anuses, so sending them crazy and taking their dying frustrations out on the unstitched rats: problem over. Monsieur Théo and Lise are inspired: this is an easy murder weapon to hide, not like a revolver: you can hide a needle in any wooden groove.

Chevillard takes some getting used to, many give up on him, but I find this writer one of the most fascinating I've ever come across.

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