26 November 2014

Mathieu Belezi: Le Petit roi (1999)

Mathieu – the narrator of this short novel – is a twelve-year-old child who has been left to live with his grandfather on his farm in Haute-Provence. He goes to a religious school several miles away, which he reaches on a bicycle.

The only person he positively relates to is his grandfather: on the farm he is preoccupied by hurting, even torturing, animals and insects, and at school he has no respect for the teachers and treats Parrot – a boy who is friendly towards him – with contempt.

Mathieu also sees his parents with contempt, and tells one of the priests that they are dead. They are dead to the boy, and there's a strong suggestion that his mother – whose letters he disposes of without opening – mortally stabbed his father.

Throughout the book Mathieu's narrative frequently interrupts itself with his memories of the fights between his parents, sometimes with his own voice trying to stop them, sometimes with his parents' remembered voices at the time of the violence. It is evident that serious damage has been inflicted on the child, although it is by no means clear how much  – or how little – his taciturn grandfather knows of Mathieu's history.

And it's equally evident that Mathieu is releasing his frustration onto others – violence breeds violence and his attacks on animals are a release of the psychological damage caused by his parents, and this damage is mixed with his growing sexual frustrations which express themselves by Mathieu making friendship-starved Parrot an occasional sex slave.

There's a genuine love between Mathieu and his grandfather, but the natural death of Pépé leads to the boy setting fire to the farm and riding off with ideas of killing himself.

This is a deeply disturbing book, but also a very French one. The back cover, with its reference to the kind of interstitial literature where suffering is to be read between the lines, draws the readers' attention to Charles Juliet's L'Année de l'éveil. That's another to look into.

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