16 May 2014

Nicolas Fargues: Tu verras (2011)

Tu verras (which translates as 'You'll see') is a highly ironic title as it is pitched in a future that is non-existent for the person concerned. The narrator Colin is a man of about forty who has always told his young son Clément that he'll come to understand all the 'wise' things his father told him about the way he should behave: but he won't because his son falls from a train platform into an oncoming train at the age of twelve.
Obviously it's a time of grief for the narrator, reflecting on the past, agonising over good times and bad times, extending the whole to reflections on his life up to present, developing ideas as to who he is and how he got there, making comparisons between his own childhood spent with a sexually promiscuous divorced father and how he has behaved as a father himself, and how Clément has felt about him. Colin incessantly analyses tiny things and big things, examines the process of growing up, the generation gap, the way people pretend to others, the way they deceive themselves, and much more.

The reason Clément walked into the train appears to be because he was concentrating on his mobile phone, and the modern tone is already set right at the beginning when Colin reminisces about Clément downloading a song from an illegal website via Colin's laptop to his iPod. We later learn of Clément's being bullied when Colin discovers what his 'friends' have written on his Facebook wall. New technology is everywhere, and the book ends with Colin being unable to send back a text from Burkina Faso (a primitive contrast) to his possible new girlfriend Ghislaine: his battery is flat.

In some ways, Tu Verras is about the situation of modern man (and woman), not just the technology but the multicultural society, the failed relationships, the series of partners and the possible effect on the children produced; it is also about parents (especially fathers) striving to prolong adolescence even into old age.

This is by no means a strictly linear narrative and mental digressions are frequent, often interrupting the story. The following rambling remarks – no doubt never spoken to the narrator's ex-wife Hélène although written with speech marks and ostensibly addressed to her – comes in one rush at the end of a typically long paragraph, and represents Colin's temporary preoccupation with Hélène while Ghislaine is talking to him in a café:

'"Go dancing? What for? Aren't we better off quietly reading in the house?" "Bring you flowers? Why, after six years of marriage, should you want me to carry on giving you flowers?" "Note: I was being ironic, OK. I could very well act the part of the romantic, loving type I was at the beginning, sure, that's not difficult. But don't you think it's better for me to be myself rather than struggle to pass myself off as someone I'm not? Do you really need all that to understand that I love you?"' (My translation.)

The narrator apologises for not listening to Ghislaine, doesn't give any excuse but criticises himself – and then gets praised by Ghislaine for being more honest than most other people.

This is a very moving book in part about our modern condition, but in the end mainly about the universal coping process, how the brain wrestles with unbearable loss.

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