If you really want to know, I’d rather not have been born at all. I find life very tiring. The thing’s done now, of course, and I can’t alter it. But there will always be this regret at the back of my mind, I shall never quite be able to get rid of it, and it will spoil everything. The thing to do now is to grow old quickly, to eat up the years as fast as possible, looking neither right nor left.
When a book begins with the above lines in the introduction written by the author you should immediately know that this will not be a book about hope, about the little wonders of life that make you smile and dance around happily while rejoicing about being alive on this planet, or about cuddly little bunnies that go hopping in fields of wildflowers. This is Le Clézio’s second novel and I am amazed he stuck around long enough to write more and ultimately win the Nobel instead of walking to the sea, submerging his little French head in the surf, and drowning himself.
Nine short stories of people who are tired of life, dead within, or just plain dying.
Like the two Le Clézio books I read earlier, this is a book that just goes on and on and on about the earth’s decay, about time and death, about hermetically sealed compartments, and about the overbearing sun...
The sun struck down vertically on his skull and on the ground. One seemed to hear the sound of its shafts, and they drove into the soil and stuck there, upright, making patches of tall, stiff grass. Paoli advanced through them, without parting them, without feeling them; but he heard them fall, the great rays of light, he heard them bursting round his feet with tiny, violent explosions, heavy drops possessed of fantastic speed, machine-gun bullets that had travelled about 150,000,000 kilometres.
The above is from the short story called The Walking Man and it begins by describing water dripping from a rag in the desolate apartment that Paoli lived in; 3 pages devoted to water dripping from a rag. When Paoli gets the rhythm of the dripping water embedded into his head, he leaves the apartment and starts walking to the beat of the drip. He walks for about the remaining 24 pages. That’s what you can expect from Le Clézio’s earlier work; hundreds upon hundreds of words describing the mundane, hundreds upon hundreds of words elevating the simplest scene into a universe where we are but a speck of dust baking in the heat of the sun.
My favorite story was called The Day Beaumont Became Acquainted with His Pain. Poor Beaumont had a toothache and it tormented him. He seeks ways to disown the pain but he soon becomes obsessed with the abscess and becomes the pain. This was a stressful little read. You felt the urgency of Beaumont to end his pain. I nearly put a gun to my head but then realized it was just my index finger pointing at my temple... and then the sun shot spears of scorching stainless-steel through my windows and I went and had a cold beer.
In A Day of Old Age, Joseph closely watches an old lady die. He wants to understand the pain she’s going through, to see what images death is projecting in her head, to breathe in her death rattle.
From A Day of Old Age... In forty years, or perhaps sooner, these will be words written by a dead man. And in two hundred years, in any case, nothing exists today, nothing of this second, will still be alive. When You’ve read this line, you must turn your eyes away from the mean little scrawl. Breathe, take a strong, deep breath, be alive to the point of ecstasy. Because soon, there won’t be much left of you.
And on that positive note I would just add that the writer of this uplifting piece exceeded his forty years and went on to win the 2008 Nobel Prize. It is a wonder, not his winning, but his living.