A controversial book of sharp contrasts. Try to read a few pages, you might love it.
It is the story of the birth and first years of the life of someone with the same name as the author, possibly with some autobiographical citation, but not quite. The first and most evident clue about its fictitiousness comes from the city of birth, that for some reason is Nantes, while the author was born in Nevers, which is quite far apart, so I don’t even see any symbolic connection. Yann Moix is incredibly cultivated and he might well have chosen symbols to hide the details of his own life in plain sight. On the other hand, the child seems to be destined to become a writer, and his books are Yann Moix’s, which suggests that it might indeed be a dreamed/symbolic vision of his own life through some incredibly distorted lens.
The characters’ depiction is mostly violent, caricatural. The child’s father hates him with incredible and unjustified strength, only because of the way the newborn will affect his life, and swears to make his existence miserable, with a well-detailed plan on how to achieve that exactly (through physical, social, and psychological torture, among the rest). On the other hand, out of nowhere rises one neighbor of Moix’s father, one Marc-Astolphe Oh, to protect and help to raise the child, the only person in the book to see an incredible artistical potential in him. Now Marc-Astolphe Oh is one of the few characters I’ve run into during my reading life that makes the page vibrate, the only other example of which that I can come up with being Charlus from In Search of Lost Time. Marc-Astolphe is an employee of a printer/copier manufacturer with an encyclopedic culture about music, literature, and art, and also an incredible pervert one of whose prides is to be the author on a trilogy on sex, with a book for each hole in a woman’s body (I’m going by memory, but I think it was a tetralogy, and the fourth book was about something crazier than the whole idea in itself). When he first comes into the story, he offers Yann’s mother to have sex with him (like he’s doing her some favor), to which she refuses; then he sees the child and falls in love. He will be his part-time preceptor and will teach him all there is to know about Art.
As I said, a book of contrasts. Witty stories set inside other stories, as a diversion, that reminded me of Tristram Shandy, but also pages-and-pages-long lists of names (jazz musicians, torture methods) that feel dramatically empty. Incredibly lyrical descriptions, but at the same time, gratuitous depictions of physical violence against children. I get it, it is so brutal that it can never be considered realistic, but I don’t get its reason in the economy of the narration. This in itself is not unexpected, considering the repeated admission that the book’s author doesn’t care about his readers, that he doesn’t feel obliged to provide a story for entertaining or keep the narration coherent, that he’s an artist and does whatever he wants. I found this a powerful claim of an author’s power. But at the same time, I found incredible insights on life and death and love and loneliness and music and art and politics (I got the most convincing harangue about why not caring at all about one’s own country’s political situation is not something to be ashamed of).
I couldn’t finish it because I couldn’t stand the obvious lack of caring for any narrative structure, but I stuck with it for 900 of its 1100 pages. Which means I loved something about it but couldn’t arrive at the end for some repulsion that I had sadly developed along the way.