8 January 2016

Caroline Lamarche: Le Jour du chien (1996); repr. Espace Nord 2012

This edition of Caroline Lamarche's second book, Le Jour du chien, is published by the Belgian company Espace Nord, and comes with twenty very useful pages at the end by Daniel Arnaut. Some of the useful things we learn from Arnaut concern the hors texte. We already know that the book is dedicated to a dog seen on the E411 motorway on the 20 March 1995, but not everyone will know that the epigraph about a lost dog that paradoxically possibly never existed, and is written by Vladimir Nabokov, is from his autobiographical Mademoiselle O. Arnaut also, oddly, mentions the back cover summing up the book as 'Six characters in search of a dog', after Pirandello's play 'Six Characters in Search of an Author'. I say 'oddly' because there is no such sentence on the back cover: a reference to the original Minuit edition, or an editorial decision not to include the sentence after all?

In spite of that, though, 'Six characters in search of a dog' is a very apt description because the book is about just that. The text is divided into six sections, each narrated by a person on the motorway who has stopped because the stray dog is a potential accident hazard. But there's more to it than that because each person is at some kind of crisis point in their lives, and identifies with the dog because they too feel abandoned.

The text opens with 'Histoire d'un camionneur', in which a lorry driver has been abandoned by his parents, then his wife, has no children, leads a solitary existence so creates (a favourite word of his) a new life by writing to various magazines, and has even been interviewed by a journalist working for (the imaginary?) Tendresse.

A sixty-year-old priest is the subject of 'Le Combat avec l'ange', and when he speaks of caressing and licking the interior of a pebble, an object he compares to a woman's sexual organ, we get a vivid (and weird) idea of this fight of his with the angel. The thirty-year-old woman in the story is Sophie, who doesn't go to Mass but he sees her regularly in the library, until she disappears and he feels abandoned, even looks in other libraries for her but she has gone.

'Un petit parasol piqué dans la crème fraîche' is a phrase that appears right at the end of the eponymous story, expressing a wish. She is unnamed and was on the point of going to her lover to break with him but the dog causes her to abandon the act and merely go to see a film at the cinema, the actions of which she scarcely follows. She has identified her lover with the abandoned dog, although she herself is the abandoned one.

There is a gay young man in 'À Vélo', a person to some extent – like others in this multi-layered novel – also responsible for his own abandonment. His father has disowned him in part, he says and probably believes, due to his homosexuality, but he brings about his own dismissal from his dead-end job at 'Hello-Fruits', where his boss has made comments about his obvious gayness, so he insults her. Abandoned from home, abandoned from his job, he abandons his friends and risks arrest, which may come as some relief to his abandoning himself to cycling on the hard shoulder of the motorway.

In one of the cars that stop for the abandoned dog there is a mother and a daughter. The mother is the narrator of the fifth story, 'Rien à faire'. Her husband Nico has 'abandoned' her through death due to cancer. She compares the dog which she refuses to have anything to do with to a baby goat whose life she 'saved' from being shot by the hunting enthusiast Nico before they were married.

Unlike her unnamed mother, the daughter Anne in 'Le Repos éternel' goes to seek out the dog. Anne has abandoned herself to overeating since the death of her father, and her mother in a sense abandons her daughter by avoiding this person many take to be a male. Desperate for attention like for instance the gay young man, she wishes that her mother would beat her and abandon her on the motorway – like, of course, the dog.

There are a some other themes in the book, such as the religious one suggested in the title of Anne's section above, but I've tended to concentrate on abandonment: Caroline Lamarche is incidentally one of Marie NDiaye's favourite Francophone writers, and that clearly makes sense here. What more can I say: Lamarche is clearly a writer to look out for.

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