“Given that I am speaking to you, are you dead?”
This particular book has been sitting on my e-book reader for ages – so long, in fact, that I don’t recall why I downloaded it in the first place – but then last night I decided to randomly read the first page and damn, was that first paragraph hooking:
(Trigger warning: suicide)
“One Saturday in the month of August, you leave your home wearing your tennis gear, accompanied by your wife. In the middle of the garden you point out to her that you’ve forgotten your racket in the house. You go back to look for it, but instead of making your way toward the cupboard in the entryway where you normally keep it, you head down into the basement. Your wife doesn’t notice this. She stays outside. The weather is fine. She’s making the most of the sun. A few moments later she hears a gunshot. She rushes into the house, cries out your name, notices that the door to the stairway leading to the basement is open, goes down, and finds you there. You’ve put a bullet in your head with the rifle you had carefully prepared. On the table, you left a comic book open to a double-page spread. In the heat of the moment, your wife leans on the table; the book falls closed before she understands that this was your final message.”
It’s been awhile since an introducing paragraph had captivated me this much, so I proceeded on with my expectations a bit more raised for what’s to come. Plus, I then reread the blurb and was that more dazzled:
Suicide cannot be read as simply another novel—it is, in a sense, the author’s own oblique, public suicide note, a unique meditation on this most extreme of refusals. Presenting itself as an investigation into the suicide of a close friend—perhaps real, perhaps fictional—more than twenty years earlier, Levé gives us, little by little, a striking portrait of a man, with all his talents and flaws, who chose to reject his life, and all the people who loved him, in favor of oblivion. Gradually, through Levé’s casually obsessive, pointillist, beautiful ruminations, we come to know a stoic, sensible, thoughtful man who bears more than a slight psychological resemblance to Levé himself. But Suicide is more than just a compendium of memories of an old friend; it is a near-exhaustive catalog of the ramifications and effects of the act of suicide, and a unique and melancholy farewell to life.
And what I came to notice quite quickly in here was how the writing seemed to be both breathtaking and utterly eye-catching.
“You remain alive insofar as those who have known you outlive you. You will die with the last of them. Unless some of them have made you live on in words, in the memory of their children. For how many generations will you live on like this, as a character from a story?”
I kept rereading some passages to really let the words sink into my skin. The writing is unlike anything I’ve read. The second person point of view really weighted in since I rarely get along with it, but in this book it really worked in my favor.
However, what derailed from my reading experience was the seemingly random structure meant to imitate human memory. I rarely, if ever, manage to get along with stream of consciousness writing. Since the novel started out fine enough when the author focused on describing the feelings – and not actions – of his friend, I wasn’t that worried about it. But I gradually grew bored of the narrator’s descriptions surrounding the past actions of his friend. Following his movements while going on vacations from cul-de-sac to restaurant to hotel wasn’t really working in my favor… So I kept hoping for the narrative to switch back to focus on describing the feelings of his friend, like this captivating passage:
“When, the next day, your friends repeated to you the words you had spoken to strangers in the café, you remembered nothing of them. It was as though someone else inside you had spoken. You recognized neither your words, nor your thoughts, but you liked them better than you would have if you had remembered saying them. Often all it took was for someone else to speak your own words back to you for you to like them. You would note down those sayings of yours that were repeated back to you. You were the author of this text twice over.”
Ultimately, this read set around mortality, friendship, depression and fatigue left me quite exasperated and exhausted by the end of it. I am, however, glad to have given it a go, since it was intriguing to see what Edouard Levé knowingly worked on as his last novel.
Oh, and I listened a lot to this soothing song while reading: