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15 june 2014
Nue is the fourth novel in what Jean-Philippe Toussaint or his publisher is now apparently calling the "Marie Madeleine Marguerite de Montalte" series – following Faire l'amour, Fuir, and La vérité sur Marie. I'm kind of hoping there isn't a fifth, because you know I'll get it and read it, and I can't imagine there's much left in this particular creative tank.
Much of Nue, in fact, is devoted to retelling things that happened in the other three Marie novels. As often, Toussaint offers some theoretical justification for this recursion:
J'avais déjà éprouvé ce sentiment d'écartèlement pendant un rêve, ou une lecture, de me trouver à la fois ici physiquement, et là-bas en pensées, dans le souvenir ou la réactivation du passé, et parfois même dans un ailleurs imaginaire, non pas vécu et reconstitué, mais simplement inventé dans un monde idéal, façonné à ma main, peuplé de chimères et parsemé de paysages mentaux éclairés par mes soins.After all, reading itself, especially the reading of fiction, is a matter of being in at least two places at once, a layering of one story over another that changes with every rereading.
[I had felt that sense of disassociation before, while dreaming, or reading, of finding myself here physically and somewhere else mentally, remembering or reliving the past, sometimes in an imaginary somewhere else, not lived and recollected, but simply invented – in an ideal world, made by my own hand, peopled with phantoms and strewn with mental landscapes lit up by my worries.] (59)
I guess the test of fiction would be whether a given story was worth reading in the first place. One gets tired of Marie, of her caprices, her silences, her characteristic chaos, after even a single novel. The narrator is smitten with her; we know this, and as I've said before, we can understand why, but that doesn't mean we need to share his erotic fixation. Frankly, this guy is dating crazy, and like anyone who dates crazy, he ought to be under no illusion that the crazy will recede with cohabitation, marriage, or shared parenting. At the end of Nue, yet another provisional happy ending is in store, but I bet by the start of any fifth Marie novel, it will prove ephemeral as ever.
There are some good ideas in Nue, however, and one almost imagines that the whole superstructure of a Marie novel was put in place around them just to show them off. The book starts with the episode of the robe en miel, a fashion creation by Marie that clings to a model's body as if it were honey poured all over her, mainly because it is honey poured all over her. Later, back on the inevitable island of Elba for the second or third time in the series, our irritating heroes are disconcerted by the after-effects of a fire that has destroyed a local chocolate factory, draping a lingering, metamorphic scent over the landscape like some dystopian twist on Willy Wonka.
Toussaint, Jean-Philippe. Nue. Paris: Minuit, 2013.