There are works so luminous that they fill us with shame for the meager life to which we are resigned, that they implore us to lead another, wiser, fuller life; works so powerful that they give us strength, and force us to new undertakings. A book can play this role.
#134 of 2011 • Enough About Love by Hervé Le Tellier, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter. Published by Other Press.
∎ In the very prologue of the book, we are cautioned: “Any man—or woman—who wants to hear nothing—or no more—about love should put this book down.” Because, naturally, Hervé Le Tellier’s warm and affective and so very clever Enough About Love is about love. Naturally.
∎ By all accounts, it ought to be a complicated tale. There is Anna, the svelte-and-stylish doctor who has an affair with the writer [ah, bohemia, the stuff of romance] Yves—a sharp contrast to her husband, the renowned ophthalmologist Stan. Anna’s psychiatrist Thomas has an affair of his own with Louise, who is married (with children) to another guy whose name I forget I am so goddamned sorry, dude. Ahem. That is a lot of stories, and a lot of intersections, a lot of intertwining.
The ease with which Le Tellier gives us this story of intertwined loves, without sacrificing any of the depth and generosity necessary to affect, I attribute to his voice. Or, at least, the voice of our detached, vaguely amused narrator, who follows these people throughout their foibles, always ready to step in and glibly tell us of their woes and their failings—and, especially, of moments of snatched breaths and the details, those mundane but all-too-revealing details, and agh, this book must be read by a lot of people.
∎ Digging around the interwebz reveals Le Tellier’s Oulipian background, which I had to go to Wikipedia for because that’s how I research. No feeling of contrivedness here, no cloying smugness of gimmick. This is a story. What structure Le Tellier draws on becomes his own, from his personal chest of literary techniques, not unlike the steel bars that make the foundations of columns in skyscrapers—it is his, they are important to his craft, but the reader need not see them.
∎ Le Tellier’s skill in rendering detail-as-story is best represented, I felt, in a single scene between Anna and her husband—a few weeks after the affair with between her and Yves began in earnest:
While she cooks, Anna has put her rings on the counter. They are all presents from Stan. Her narrow wedding band punctuated by thirty-three diamonds. A chunkier ring, an ancient-looking disk of yellow gold set with uncut rubies and sapphires and mounted on a band of white gold; she has never known what it cost, it was an unreasonable amount. Finally, a simple red-and-black agate pearl, mounted on a circle of silver, she chose it at a market in Avignon, when she and Stan still used to go to the theater festival, before the children were born.
Just a survey of rings worn and removed, their origins—but how Le Tellier manages to reveal the wealth in this couple’s shared history, this ominous look to their future.
∎ In another, Stan, fully knowledgeable of his wife’s affair with some no-good writer, sits in at a lecture in which Yves details the many nuances and mistranslations of the word “foreigner.” Stan listens, and the reader, too, is witness to his arguments. But Le Tellier breaks the page into two columns: one for the lecture, the other for Stan’s thoughts. It’s a direct contrast, but a more subtle study of how contrast bounces off two characters: with Stan’s feverish mind—his anger, his moroseness, his jealousy, his bewilderment—Yves seems so cloddish and pretentious, what matters his literature when his man has more visceral preoccupations? The reader is given this survey, encouraged to take sides.
∎ Another—and here Le Tellier shows he’s got some serious cojones—is a chapter that is an entire book written by Yves for Anna, on her birthday. It is forty of Yves’ favorite moments of their love affair, images of the woman he loves, handpicked memories of emotions and sensations. All bared on the page in its full glory.
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I am beat. I’ve been sitting on this blog post for more than a month. But, ah, that’ll have to do, pig. That’ll have to do.
PSA01 – Didja find me unable to properly talk about this book? Have no fear, I did too. Ahem. For a review unpunctuated by squealing, please go to The Complete Review, where you will also find links of other, um, complete reviews.