Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Suicide by Édouard Levé (5/5)

The back says: Edouard Levé delivered the manuscript for his final book, Suicide, just a few days before he took his own life.

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.

I say: I am so helplessly in love with this and I have found it hard to tell/explain it to people without having them think me suicidal. Yes, the book is about a friend’s suicide and its consequences, but at the same time it’s about so much more.

It’s about life and how we view it.

*refrains from going into philosophy mode about the absurd*

Because I have this absurd fascination with all things dark that tend to make other people uncomfortable, I wanted to read this for a very long time. I knew nothing about Levé prior to reading it, apart from the fact that he committed suicide shortly after finishing it, and even though I was trying not to read too much of the author into the text, it’s hard not to. The way he speaks about his friend – to his friend – indicates a man who is trying to sort out his own feeling about the suicide rather than try to understand it.

Does that make any sense?
“Your life was less sad than your suicide might suggest. You were said to have died of suffering. But there was not as much sadness in you as there is now in those who remember you. You died because you searched for happiness at the risk of finding the void. We shall have to wait for death before we can know what it is that you found. Or before leaving off knowing anything at all, if it is to be silence and emptiness that awaits us.” – p 29

Normally people associate suicide with the inability to cope with life, but Levé writes about a person who was searching for something else. Like the quote says, and is reiterated throughout the novel, he wasn’t sad; he was just not where he felt he wanted to be. I personally don’t necessarily think that suicide is a bad thing (it’s the absurdist in me), so it was nice to read a book that doesn’t focus on blaming the friend for doing it. More than anything, the narrator is more concerned about the legacy that his friend’s suicide left.
“The way in which you quit it rewrote the story of your life in a negative form. Those who knew you reread each of your acts in the light of your last. Henceforth, the shadow of this tall black tree hides the forest that was your life. When you are spoken of, it begins with recounting your death, before going back to explain it. Isn’t it peculiar how this final gesture inverts your biography? I’ve never heard a single person, since your death, tell your life’s story starting at the beginning. Your suicide has become the foundational act, and those earlier acts that you had hoped to relieve of their burden of meaning by way of this gesture, the absurdity of which so attracted you, have ended up simply alienated instead. Your final second changed your life in the eyes of others. You are like the actor who, at the end of the play, with a final word, reveals that he is a different character than the one he appeared to be playing.” – p 29/30

There is so much beauty, profundity and sadness in that quote and realisation, and that is what this novel is about; life and how we view it. I know I already said that, but I think that it bears repeating in case someone thinks this is merely about someone ending their life.

I love the way Levé writes and I wanted to get stuck in that dreamlike state for a very long time. The prose is exquisitely delicate and it almost feels like a simple draw of breath, or turn of page, may shatter the memories and never bring them back. It’s achingly beautiful to witness this life get dissected with so much acceptance and lack of blame. The narrator is telling his friend that yes, he did a selfish thing by committing this act, but in the end he realises that living merely in order not to hurt others, and thus hurting yourself, is no life at all.

The novel ends with a few pages of poetry that the friend had left behind and in reading those we get a much clearer picture of who he might have been and why the narrator can pass no judgement.

Needless to say, this is pure perfection.

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