[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]
Edouard Leve’s last novel, seen by some as his own public suicide note. Published originally in 2008; Jen Steyn’s English translation published in 2011. I read a Dalkey Archive Press paperback edition from my library.
Buy the Book.
3.5 out of 5 stars.
Times Read: 1
A stream-of-consciousness communication with a friend who committed suicide at 25.
I try to review books on their merit alone, not delving too deeply into the author’s background. But this book refuses to be discussed without the first line of Suicide’s description in the paperback edition I read:
Edouard Leve delivered the manuscript for his final book, SUICIDE, just a few days before he took his own life.
I had never heard of Leve before reading Laura van den Berg’s The Third Hotel (read it!), which opens with this Leve quote:
I want this epitaph engraved on my tombstone: “See you soon.”
The quote is from his work Autoportrait but could very well have been nested in Suicide, which is a perfect companion book to The Third Hotel; both capture many of the same sensations of memory and finality/incompletion that the living grapple with after death.
Suicide is ultimately more about life than death and there’s a feeling that the “you” being addressed actually may be very close to, if not the same person, as the “I.” No one could ever know this much about another. Spouses don’t have the intricate understandings that Leve asserts about his deceased friend.
The biggest hurdle in Suicide is that the dead man is difficult to like. I feel compassion for his family and friends but no connection or sympathy for him. Leve handles this well, acknowledging that if this man had lived past twenty-five, the two friends would likely have drifted apart and the narrator may not even have thought of him two decades later.
I don’t know. This subject is so tense and upsetting (and Leve’s own suicide creates a wall against criticism) that I’m having a hard time examining the book. There’s a tendency to listen more closely to a suicide. Reverence in a weird way. The idea to not speak ill of the dead is increased infinitely when that subject brought it to themselves.
Any complaint or criticism I can think of could be refuted by saying that Leve has done this on purpose: the story feels incomplete (so is every ended life), the subject seems uneven (so is every human; no one knows anyone as well as they think).
A note: translator Jan Steyn does an incredible job. This book doesn’t feel translated; the language is straightforward and clean, even when handling the intangible. The narrator has a sustained style and voice. Continue reading