18 January 2017

Olivier Delorme: Le Château du silence (2003)

Olivier Delorme's autobiographical novel Le Château du silence didn't initially seem promising to me because of the foreign politics but, far more annoying, the mention of the Nobel prize-winning 'Slovenian Balzac' Srečko Pradčik, including a two-paragraph speech from him during the prize giving ceremony, which is included at the beginning of a chapter: I had severe doubts, and sure enough Pradčik is just an invention.

The narrator is French, married to Elvire, and works as a special correspondent for a magazine. When in Beirut waiting to be given instructions reporting events in the first Gulf war, he gets tired of nothing happening and decides to take a brief holiday in Cypress, which is when the trouble starts: personal, existential, emotional, and deeply psychologically disturbing.

It starts with a cock crowing, then he learns of Polykarpos, a young Greek Cypriot who is one of the 1619 missing people taken away during the Turkish invasion of northen Cypress in 1974. He resolves to find out what has happened to Polykarpos, and it becomes obsessional, Elvire believing he's found another woman.

In fact it's not a woman he's found but men: he's discovered that he's gay, that Polykarpos was gay, and as his marriage seems to crumble around him and he counts off the hundreds of male encounters he's heading for a strong identity crisis, a double personality, only one of them is dead. What started out as appearing unpromising actually makes fascinating reading.

There's a great deal packed in here: sexual identity, politics, mythology, gnosticism, a hilarious pub crawl, etc. I could have done without the various poem sections which punctuate the book and comment on the events, but that's just a minor grouse.

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