11 March 2014

Linda Lê: Lame de fond (2012)

Linda Lê's Lame de fond (perhaps best translated as 'Tidal Wave', as the cover perhaps suggests) reached the final stage of the 2012 Prix Goncourt before being trumped by Jerome Ferrari's Le Sermon sur la chute de Rome.

The novel is in four major parts corresponding to different parts of the day, from the heart of the night to twilight, and within each of those parts are monologues by four different people, but not always in the same order of speech.

Van begins. He has very recently been buried in the Cimetière de Bobigny after accidentally (I think we are given to believe) being run over by his drunken wife  Lou.

Lou has been married to Van for about twenty years and they have a teenaged daughter called Laure.

Laure is a goth with a friend called Tommy.

And Ulma is Van's lover, whose flat Van had just left at 2 o'clock in the morning when Lou mowed her husband down.

That is the story, just as it is: the emphasis here, as we might expect from Lê, is not on what happens (or rather, doesn't happen), but on the psychological interplay between the characters: Lou is to be tried for her killing Van, although the interest lies not in if she is imprisoned or set free (which we never learn), but in the events which happened before Van's death.

Van was born in Vietnam to Vietnamese parents, although his father left the family to join Hô Chi Minh's forces and Van left for France when he was fifteen, where he was educated and permanently lived there as a proof reader.

Van was obviously more attached to his mother than his absentee father (who was later killed), and Lou was much more attached to her father than to her racist mother, who severed all connections with her daughter on her marriage to a Vietnamese.

Laure is not academically brilliant, and her father tries to 'correct' her grammar and her slang, although it is a fruitless. Nevertheless, Laure looks back on her childhood with nostalgia, and misses her father's pedantic ways.

It is Ulma who in a number of ways brings on the fateful event, although she, like the other characters, does not come across unsympathetically. The product of a hippie, globe-trotting and free-loving French mother Justine and a week-long relationship with a Vietnamese man in Paris, Ulma is largely brought up by her grandmother.

As a mark of how little importance suspense has in the book, the back cover informs us that Ulma is Van's half-sister. It is Ulma's eventual decision to send Van a letter informing him that he has a sister which brings on the lame de fond. Ulma's four monologues are written as if she were talking to her long-term psychiatrist, although her final monologue reveals that she no longer has any need of him.

Van meeting Ulma is a coup de foudre, an experience in which both see themselves in the other, and begin the incestuous relationship that will not only lead to Van's death, but occasion all the monologues in the book.

I'm not certain that Laure comes across as a fully developed entity rather than a somewhat stereotypical youth figure, but it was fun reading her (and Tommy's) expressions. The main potential problem, I think, is in how to persuade the reader to continue reading when virtually all suspense has been stripped away. It definitely worked for me, and I loved the book, although I suspect that not all people would read it in this way.

My other posts on Linda Lê:

Linda Lê: Les Évangiles du crime
Linda Lê: Lettre morte
Linda Lê: A l'enfant que je n'aurai pas
Linda Lê: Voix: une crise
Linda Lê: Personne

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