4 August 2016

Lydie Salvayre: La Conférence de Cintegabelle (1999)

The literary review Le Matricule des anges, at the time of the publication of La Conférence de Cintegabelle, highlighted Beckett and Ionesco as points of reference. I can fully understand this, as Lydie Salvayre's novel makes for very weird reading.

Cintagabelle is a village or small town in Haute-Garonne, in Salvayre's south-west France. Here, an unnamed speaker, during a conference we know nothing more about, gives a speech on what he considers to be the dying art of conversation. Some of what he says is clearly valuable and makes sound sense, although the way in which he delivers his speech – for instance using a number of words in the imperfect subjunctive – comes across as pedantic and, frankly, egotistical.

Also laughable. His wife dead only two months before, the pompous narrator can't resist referring to Lucienne (obviously his first and only love) throughout his talk. But it's what he says about Lucienne (or 'Lulu' as he calls her) that is so ludicrous. The narrator obviously still loves her beyond death, but it's an odd kind of relationship in which he admits to being small, and finding it very difficult to at first make love to his huge wife because she ate for four people and spent most of her time on the bed, like a beached whale.

Interestingly, Ahab and Moby Dick are mentioned, but also Don Quixote (Don Quichotte): freed after his vernacular-speaking wife's death, the narrator can now buy piles of books, and of course it's reading matter that turned the windmill tilter's brain.

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