Friday, November 06, 2009

The Interrogation by J.M.G. Le Clézio

My second read by the 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature has as many peculiarities as Onitsha, which I read last year. I have little interest in detective novels or murder mysteries, but that does not mean I do not enjoy a good puzzler.

Le Clézio has provided me with a mysterious story of a young man in the form of experimental fiction with alternating narrators and viewpoints, gaps in the narrative with only brackets to mark the beginning and the end – sometimes a paragraph, and in one instance, more than a page. The 18 chapters are lettered from A through P, then R. A news paper, inserted after 17, fills in some of the details of the main character’s story, but bears no letter. Why did Le Clézio skip the letter Q? My first thought led me to think he wanted to write a novel without using the letter Q, but several words in “R” had that letter.

Adam Pollo, by his own admission, has either escaped from an insane asylum or deserted from the army – he is not sure. Adam lives alone in an empty house on the shore of the Mediterranean near Marseille. He spends a lot of time scrounging for discarded newspapers and magazines. Adam also writes letters in a notebook to a woman named Michelle. He seems to have some sort of relationship with her, but the details are as murky as the rest of Adam’s life, and as difficult as his relationship with his parents. He may have amnesia, he may be hallucinating, he may be depressed, he may be hypochondriac, he may be obsessive-compulsive, he may be a pack rat at best, or a disposaphobe at worst, and he may be schizophrenic. The eponymous interrogation in Chapter “R” may or may not eliminate some, or any, or all of these possibilities.

I can only describe Le Clézio’s prose as “hypermicrocosmic.” He doesn’t only mention Adam seeing his reflection in a store window, he sees “two eyes, one nose, one mouth, ears, a trunk, four limbs, shoulders and hips” (185). His descriptions verge on the hypnotic. At one point, Adam sees a young woman, and he notices her beauty: “she had the soft cheeks of a little girl in quite good health, nut-brown hair, and her best feature was a pair of full lips, not made up but very red, which were now parting silently so that a pearly drop sparkled in the middle of the warm cavity of her mouth; her voice would certainly flow from deep down in her throat and, with four vibrations in the upper vocal chords, put an end to that faint quivering at the corners of her mouth, complete the most recent of human apotheoses, half desire, half habit” (102).

One line particularly caught my attention. Le Clézio wrote, “He who writes is shaping a destiny for himself” (116). That line might need to be my new e-mail signature. If you enjoy a novel which requires heavy concentration, and if you enjoy deep and thorough psychological journeys in search of the self, then The Interrogation is a must read. 5 stars

--Chiron, 11/6/09

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