A small and thoughtfully slow exploration of the big things in life.
A few days ago I wrote about books in translation and this is the book that sparked the thought. I got it from my mum for Christmas, so yes, it is another in the long list of my gifts. It has a beautiful cover in the Polish edition, reminding me of Delft ceramics or azulejos tiles of Portugal. Published by Claroscuro, a publisher that specializes in translated fiction in Poland.
Pascal Garnier had a life that if you call it interesting it would be a new definition of understatement. Born in 1949, at the age of fifteen he abandoned school for the adventure and for ten years had been travelling the Middle East, Northern Africa and Asia. All the experiences he had on the way inspired him to write and share them. However his means of expression were relatively limited due to his interrupted education. So initially he wrote songs. Only to move to novellas and eventually novels when he was 35. But once he started it was difficult to stop, his oeuvre consists of over 50 publications. Yet he is very little known in the English-speaking world.
It was also my first of his books, but thankfully I have another one at hand, as my mum rarely buys little quantities of things and decided to go a bit wholesale here as well.
It is difficult to summarize the plot without spoiling it, because the main idea of the book is in the slow discovery and evolution. But let’s just say the book revolves around the relationship between Simon, who all his life dealt with vermin, and Bernard, a young and relentlessly optimistic man. They meet by accident in a small resort town, and their chance meeting takes them both on a weird adventure that will change their life and make them reflect on it.
I called this book small at the beginning, and it is literally as it’s just over 150 pages, a rarity these days when every novel has to weight a kilo. But it is also small in the sense of cast of characters and their world. In total we meet eight people, and only three of them well. And that is not a bad thing. It achieves a sense of closeness and eerie coziness. Eerie when you take into account everything that happens in the book. But what is also manages to do is be very observant about the world. There is no distractions, we are here and now with the characters wherever they go. And though this focused lens Garnier manages to bring us to what’s important in life. Though this small story we get to look at life in general. By focusing us it transports us into another way of thinking and perceiving.
So once I run out of pages it was difficult to come out ot this world. I still yearned for a cafe, the slow conversation that unnoticeably falls into the most absurd twists. The chance encounters, the life that is open if only we open to it. But also one that ends when it is time.
I wrote it in my previous post about books in translation, but let me repeat it: this book brings us a very different perspective. One rarely, if ever found in English literature, purely because it is immersed in a different culture, literary tradition and the way a different laguage shapes our perception of the world.
In the current crazy times it was as close as I could get to go to provincial France and experience it in a way not described in the tourist guides, but through human stories and dramas.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska