28 October 2016

Laurent Mauvignier: Autour du monde (2014)

Some of the books of the brilliant writer Laurent Mauvignier remind me of the bit at the end of Woody Allen's movie Annie Hall, in which the director/actor comes on and says he sees life as like the joke about the woman who goes to a psychiatrist because she's worried about her husband who thinks he's a hen. When the psychiatrist asks her how long this has been going on she replies several years, and in answer to the astonished psychiatrist's question of why she hadn't seen him sooner, the woman replies that she needed the eggs. That's why we, to allude to Mauvignier's last book, continue: we need the eggs. Which is a total absurdity of course, as there are no eggs.

I'm not saying that Laurent Mauvignier's books are all about absurdity and the pointlessness of existence, although there are certainly elements of that nature in his work: suicide, madness, hopelessness, huis clos and so on but there's also a love of life and hatred of hate, perhaps particularly in this novel and in his new Continuer published this year, both of which move the reader away from the insistent internal monologue turning around itself, essentially to shift to life seen from a third person's point of view, with emphasis on the external world.

At 372 pages, Autour du monde is quite long by Laurent Mauvignier's normal standards too, although in a sense it's a string of (fascinating) short stories held together by the common theme of them all happening, around the world, at the same time as the catastrophic earthquake in Japan on 11 March 2011. There's no link in common with the stories, although virtually all or them can be said – as with so much of Mauvignier's writing – to involve crisis or drama of some nature: a man saving the life of an old, mentally failing man on a liner in the North Sea; a highly charged homosexual encounter in Russia as the wife of one of the men is about to give birth; pirates from Somalia killing the male of the couple on a pleasure boat; two old men planning to win (or is it lose?) a fortune in a Slovenian casino; a severely disturbed nineteen-year-old racist disturbing the family of his elder brother whom he's not seen for nearly ten years; the utter mindlessness of tourism, especially among pseudo-death-defying tourists in Africa who self-deceivingly believe they're not tourists at all; and on it goes.

Autour du monde is riveting, but not the kind of book that reads quickly from cover to cover: you have to pause and wonder – at least if you've read other books by Mauvignier – how this fits in with those, and what he's up to. I find myself returning – in a similar way that I do to Marie NDiaye's work – to Mauvignier's books to find out what I missed the first time. At the moment the parts of this novel don't seem to form a whole, but then I may well be wrong, and anyway with such a powerful work does that matter at all? It's obviously a bold experiment, and how many high-profile English (for instance) writers would dare to attempt a similar bold action? None, I think.

My other Mauvignier posts:
Laurent Mauvignier: Loin d'eux

Laurent Mauvignier: Ceux d'à côté
Laurent Mauvignier: Seuls
Laurent Mauvignier: Ce que j'appelle oubli
Laurent Mauvignier: Continuer
Laurent Mauvignier: Une Légère blessure

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