12 October 2015

Christian Gailly: Un soir au club (2001)

Christian Gailly's Un soir au club is narrated by an unnamed artistic painter friend of the protagonist Simon Nardis, a heating engineer from the Paris area who really knows his profession and is married to Suzanne. Simon imagines that a job on the (presumably Breton) coast will take a short time and he'll be on the homeward bound train in a few hours. But it's more difficult than it seems and he's more likely to be back in the early hours of the following morning.

Simon's grateful one-off employer (an engineer too but whose name is not given as he really doesn't matter) treats him to a meal before he goes and then a final drink in a night club before he takes the late train. Simon really couldn't be bothered to make small talk with this man, but plays along with him because it would be rude not too. The man's hobby is philately, and he asks Simon what his 'violin d'Ingres' (hobby) is, and (when pushed) Simon lies and says that his is jazz.

But jazz is far from being Simon's hobby: it was his life, and he was a great influential jazz pianist until the realisation that his sex, alcohol, drugs and fame lifestyle would kill him soon, so he settled down to what most people see as normality: a steady professional job away from the bright lights of international cities. And he's approaching retirement almost teetotal without any more cock-straying. But his narrator friend knows he's missed his old life: 'I knew of Simon's sadness, of his semblance of life, his semblance of being, the dead soul that he trailed along behind him'. Until, that is, Simon sees that the night club has an American jazz trio and misses his last train home by playing an incredible piano solo, re-filling his veins with the jazz narcotic.

He's welcomed with open arms of course, in particular by the owner of the club Debbie, an American 'cultural refugee' who remembers thrilling to him at a stint in Copenhagen when she was a teenager, back in her globe-trotting days. Well, it's as if they've known and loved each other all their lives, although Simon knows he must return home on the early train the next day, back to Suzanne and away from ageing groupies, so he chastely refuses to go back to Debbie's place and she drives him to a hotel, so drunk she has to undress him and leave him to fall back to sleep but perhaps meet her on the beach before he goes home.

And meet her he does, and make love to (not fuck) her he does, and the time of going back just stretches out even longer until the very reasonably jealous and suspicious Debbie decides to drive to the coast and pick him up. But even about half way through we know she dies and some time later do we learn its in a car accident on the way to meet Simon, but only in the end do we learn that the pet cat Dingo is more faithful to Debbie than Simon has ever been to her.

Un soir au club is written in the similar minimalist style of several other writers in the Minuit stable, and is really riveting, hugely readable.

My other posts on Christian Gailly:

Christian Gailly: Nuage Rouge

Christian Gailly: Lily et Braine
Christian Gailly: La Roue et autres nouvelles

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