27 August 2020

Éric Chevillard: Monotobio (2020)

OK, Monotobio as opposed to 'Mon autobio', with four rounded sounds and no drag on the tongue. Éric Chevillard has spoken of himself before, in fact in all his books (although usually indirectly of course), particularly perhaps in Le Désordre azerty (2014). But this is the real thing, or as near as real to autobiography as probably Chevillard will get: almost everything in this book is about his life, although I'm well aware that there may be an unreliable narrator in place at times.

There's a catch of course, but then what do you expect from a Minuit writer, especially of Chevillard's nature? Chevillard hates narrative conventions, hates writing that follows on, so this is not the story of the novelist's life, or rather not a conventional story. Here we have memories, floods of them, apparently totally insignificant incidents such as (accidentally) scalding an earwig, drowning an ant, deliberately truncating a lizard's tail to watch the cut part wriggle for a few seconds but slowly grow back on the reptile again as a (surely misconceived?) lesson to his daughters; but then Chevillard, who bizarrely sees himself as a variety of vegetarian (is that a joke?), in spite of his obvious love of the animal kingdom, in spite of his sympathy for the exotic spider who briefly shares his room, loves eating animals. But I digress.

Monotobio is a book in which we learn by installments, in no obvious chronological order, of Chevillard's life as if through stream of consciousness or internal monologue, although of course there are many omissions he chooses to make, although you'll no doubt never know which. But you will learn of his marriage to Cécile, of his daughters Agathe (first) and then (around the same time of his father Bernard's death) of the birth of Suzie, his siblings and his friends. His parents have/had a holiday home on L'Île d'Yeu just off the Vendée coast, where the family go every summer, and here we learn of lot of the island.

We are told of course of many of Chevillard's books being published or in preparation, and it's in the cemetery of Port-Joinville that we learn that the imaginary character Dino Egger of the book of the same name was born from the real people Dina Egger et Nino Egger, whose names Chevillard found on a gravestone. He later received a letter from a person who had known Dina Egger, who had died tragically: from fiction, reality.

For someone who seems asocial (can't drive, doesn't have a mobile phone and turns down many invitations) Chevillard seems to get about a great deal, has visited many places and appears to be more 'normal' than one might imagine, has had couscous with Marie NDiaye and her partner Jean-Yves Cendrey in Berlin, etc. He sends his daughters up the Tour Eiffel (but backs out himself as he's scared of heights) and goes on a bateau-mouche (the horror of many French people!) with them, and even states that tourist features are comforting, like a local form of universal gravitation!

Warning: Monotobio is full of delights, far too many to mention. Enjoy this fascinating book, but don't expect anything sequential, logical or even much which on the surface makes a great deal of sense: this is a book for those already converted by Chevillard's absurdities, and for those who will recognise things already mentioned in previous books. This is Chevillard at his best (not that there's ever a worst), but if you aren't already acquainted with him there is very little for you, apart perhaps from almost total incomprehension.

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