Suicide by Édouard Levé

SUICIDE-edouard-Leve (1)

Suicide by Édouard Levé

French Fiction

Translator – Jan Steyn

Source – personnel copy on Kindle

Édouard Levé is a writer I wanted to read for a while ,one of his earlier books appeared on the BTBA the american equivalent of the IFFP  .He was a self taught artist ,who after visiting India became a photograph ,he published  a good number of books of his photographs and laterly he wrote four books in the last four years of his life ,this being his last book for ten days after handing in the manuscript for this book  Édouard Levé himself committed suicide ,this makes this book one that leaves you as the reader questioning was it ,is it a final note on himself ?

You used to read dictionaries like other people read novels .Each entry is a character ,you’d say ,who might be encountered on some other page. Plots many of them would form during any random reading.The story changes according to the order in which the entries are read.

from the first section and alsomaybe how you could read this book .

Well that said this book has an unusual style ,I felt the first of the two sections was like an epilogue ,we see a friend looking back twenty year after a close friend committed suicide ,these remembrance ,afterthought ,what happened next are short to the point .We see a man’s life told in what happened after he died ,his friend tries to piece together the point that he decide to do the deed and the points that lead to the dead and also the outcome of the dead .What is the lasting effect of one death to suicide on those around him ?As I say the book in a way seems about-face because the second section is composed of poems ,lines written by the man himself in the time leading up to his suicide .But for me this work as I had one fixed idea on the first section the second person point of view ,with the strong use of you every passage has “you” at the end of it ,almost accusing as in why did you ? But also enquiring you as opposed to me why did you ?.

Traps seduce me

Liars fool me

Informers horrify me


The baroque sickens me

The Gothic chills me

Novels enlighten me


Red irritates me

Black moves me

White calms me

The second section is very much the man’s point of view on life as you see .


This book showed what can be great when someone from a different artistic field moves into writing .There is a strong sense of the abstract ,as much as we feel we know this man ,we don’t ,we know he is married ,but don’t know where he came from what he is like other than the scare facts we are given .Also Édouard Levé keen eye for detail ,from his other artistic field is evident ,keenly observed little gems ,such as a gesture ,an eye for the here and now of what happened .I also felt the book could be seen as two case the first the case why he shouldn’t have committed the suicide even thou he did ,his friend saying your life was this that and the other ,what you did ok some of it wrong ,but on the other hand  some of it was good .The other half the second section is the case for why he did it from his own words, I was this ,I was that .Almost like the Damon Hirst piece lets eat outdoors today ,where we see a fly born on rotting meat and then fly into second half of the piece to ultimately die in an electric fly killer .This concept of two halves rings true in this book .An earlier book of his yet to be translated has caught my eye a book describe 500 books not written but he would like to write almost a crossover into conceptual art .This is what I feel this is as much as a work of fiction it is a work of art to complex to paint or photographs one man’s life the reason why and the suicide but able to be caught in words .Of course I imagine for years to come the main discussion will be on his own suicide and the timing of the book it is hard to avoid this as it is so timely ,but if he hadn’t would it been viewed as more of a conceptual art piece as a book one odes wonder .

Have you read Édouard Levé?

Thomas Bernhard Reading Week July 1-7

Well I ve been in a lull post IFFP I love projects so the fact his books have recently been reissued Faber finds means they are readily available to us all .I’ve old masters on my tbr pile and will be adding a couple to my kindle .Thomas Bernhard is a writers writer ,his books are challenging full of ideas in arts people and society in general he has long been a favourite with me so I hope if you join in you too will grow to love his words .


London day Old friends and new IFFP 2013

Well I got up early on Monday to catch the 8:59 train to London ,strange as I sat on the platform reading Skylark by Dezső Kosztolányi which saw the heroine of the novel Skylark go on a journey via train .So I left Chesterfield and just over two hours later and only Ten minutes late I arrived .To meet my old friend simon from the blog Inside books ,we had a great couple of hours having a coffee in Welcome institute talking books ,marathons and family .We then head to central London Simon back to work ,myself off to meet Susan the owner publisher of Istros books ,I’ve reviewed a number of books in the last couple of years from this new publisher and was really keen to meet Susan .we chatted books ,blogging ,book prizes .I also got the in side track on a great book from Bulgaria that they are hoping to publish in 2014 ,if you like the wit in the book by Deyan Enev I read a couple of years ago this one is in the same vein it seems .

Next stop was my favourite bookshop in London the London review bookshop  ,well only one  I’ve been to next time I hope to make it to a couple more bookshops .I had arrange to meet Henry ,he was one of the first book pr to follow me and has been at different publisher and is now at One world I was told about there forthcoming books ,they don’t do much in translation but have some very interesting sound Persian books coming out in the next year .I did buy three books as three is my limit be quite easy to break this in the LRB it has a wonderful selection of translations from around the world it would be very easy to get Carried away anyway I picked up these gems .


Cosmos and Pornografia by Witold Gombrowicz

Ever since I read the diaries by him I’ve been want to read more of his works ,so this double collection is a perfect choice ,I will save one of these two for Polish lit month .

an episode in the life of a landscape painter

An episode in the life of a landscape painter by Cesar Aira

I have had Cesar aira on my list of people I need to read for a while so there where a number at LRB ,I choose this as I had seen a couple of positive reviews for this one .The story is that of a painter in 19th century Argentina inspired by Humboldt he paint the scenery .

istanbul was a fairy tale

Istanbul   was a fairy tale by Mario Levi

Heard this was coming out last year but yet to see a review and Epic Turkish novel about being Jewish in Istanbul over three generations and the middle of the 20th century .

Then after some refreshment I head to RIBA the home of the IFFP prize night ,I enter was amazed to see Andres Neuman chatting with Nikesh from booktrust so I entered the main room and saw Katharine from Maclehose she introduced me to  Daša Drndić  the Croatian writer ,I had earlier been talking to Susan from Istros about Daša Drndić ,she had told me the Croat version of Trieste has the list of Italian Jews killed during world war two printed on pages that can be taken out ,so when she passed it round Jewish book week and people removed pages this made the book unstable ,this Daša Drndić says shows how unstable society is when we lost all these people .Anyway we spoke on the nature of literature ,how some books we both like Nadas and Krasznahorkai missed the cut off for shortlist ,does this mean us, English readers maybe aren’t use to such complex themes and subject matters .Then I spoke to Frank Wynne I’ve meet Frank the previous two years and he was a judge this year ,knowing he could say nothing I only asked how many times he had read short-list he said four to six times and he had read most in translation and their original language .Then I meet Joanna the publisher of Stork Press ,some one I have spoken a lot with on twitter and via emails ,she is a lovely person and we spoke about books ,how we could raise the profile of her books and books in translation (any ideas welcome I will pass them on to her ) Then we gathered to her the announcement .The head of booktrust spoke about the wonderful Reader project and how it had got people who wouldn’t normally read books in translation involved ,they had chosen  Trieste as their winner .Next came Boyd the chair of the judges he highlight the merits from all the judges on the different books ,then mention the judges had want to mention on book not the winner but a book that deserved merit ,the book was Andres Neuman Traveller of the century ,great choice couldn’t agree more a wonderful book ,that shows what I love about books in translation ,inventive ,challenging ,pushing the boundaries and rather unlike anything in English .So on to the winner ………. The detour by Gerbrand Bakker ,we all clapped and Gerbrand and his translator David Colmer went and accepted the prize . her is Gerbrand and David  winning the prize .

IMG_1029    Here is a recent interview I did with him .Then we returned to the party ,I got to chat to Christopher Maclehose about blogging ,he feels we should have some reward for our efforts ,the fact we are filling the ap from old print media book reviews .Then I got a huge hug and great chat with Andres Neuman ,whom I have spoken with on twitter ,I was amazed he knew me ,he told me he has two more books in the pipeline to reach us in English ,a collection of short stories and another novel .The I head of with Joanna , Susan ,Danielle from Europa ,Simon from Peter Owen ,someone from Telegram to a local pub for a drink ,then a dash for the train and back to my everyday life .But I do have a wonderful project to work on thanks to Susan and made some great new friends and meet some great old ones ,also meet Mark Thwaite a fellow blogger and net guy for Quercus /maclehose ,Stuart Evers ,Nikesh ,Alan Bowden a feloow blogger .

Dads in London


Well A quick word from me Winston Dad has gone to London today ,Mum is looking after me ,he is seeing the Independent foreign fiction prize being awarded tonight and meeting his good friend Simon in the day .So here is a song about London dad and I like very much .

Shadow iffp winner 2013

We started off in March with sixteen titles, the cream of the fiction in translation published in the UK last year. After a hard month of reading, thinking, discussion and cursing, the list was cut down to six by the offical panel – which is where we parted ways.

Having chosen four of the same titles as the official panel, the Shadow Panel (Tony, Lisa, Mark, Gary and myself) opted for two others to complete the full half-dozen, and then set about deciding which was to take out the prize…

Our road took us on a long journey through many times and lands. We spent a bizarre time in an ever-shifting, nineteenth-century German town, working on translations and kissing the local girls. We moved onto a dark exploration of Communist-era Hungary (and an even darker examination of human souls…). We went for walks around the rainy city of Barcelona, and then flew off to Dublin for a Bloomsday jaunt. We witnessed an extraordinary dinner party in Albania – and its consequences ten years on. We followed a boy from the Siberian wilds on his trip to Helsinki and watched as he encountered civilisation in all its forms. We fled to Wales (seeking some solitude) and shared a woman’s house – but not her secrets…

Then we came back to earth with a bump. There were discussions, disagreements, grudging acceptance, and then a decision…

Our choice for the winner of the 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is:


Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas

(translated by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean)

My review of Dublinesque

Congratulations to the writer and translators – Dublinesque is a great book, and it would be a worthy winner of the real prize. So, can it do the double? We’ll find out very soon…

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