Labyrinth by Roberto Bolano
Weaving a tale from a picture
Do you ever sit in a restaurant and speculate about other diners’ relationships? Father/daughter or new mistress? Gay or colleagues? Who having an affair with who? Of course you do.
Last week’s New Yorker story, Labyrinth by Roberto Bolano, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews, is a masterpiece of such observation.
A group of intellectuals, the writer Jacques Henric (left), editor Philippe Sollers (3rd left), critic Julia Kristeva (centre), and poets Pierre Gyotat (3rd right), and Marc Devade (right) are photographed in a Paris cafe.
Bolano tells us, in detail, what we can learn, or imagine we can learn, about their marital and extramarital relationships.
Henric failing to turn up for an assignation with J-J Goux (2nd left); “Let’s imagine […] his absence on this occasion is strategic, as amorous absences nearly always are.”
The two women on the right, Marie-Thérèse Réveillé and Carla Devade recognising a South American writer, who had passed through the office the previous day, and aroused erotic and protective thoughts in their minds.
Gyotat in bed with Marie-Thérèse. Gyotat pursuing Carla.
The story ends with Devade touching his crotch; “He has an erection and yet he doesn’t feel sexually aroused in any way”.
They are all real people who, when not fornicating with each other, wrote about Marxism, feminism, semiotics and every sort of constructivism for the literary magazine Tel Quel, run by Sollers from 1960 to 1982. If it strikes an Englishman as bonkers, dangerous, or both, they embraced it.
Eventually Henric married Catherine Millet, the author of the autobiographical Sexual Life of Catherine M. Sollers inspired a Japanese rock group, Sollers. Kristeva founded the Simone de Beauvoir prize for promoting gender equality. Gyotat wrote three controversial novels, Tomb for 500 soldiers, Eden, Eden, Eden, and Prostitution, and went off his rocker in the early 1980s. Devade painted pretentious abstracts.
Bolano, the Chilean writer off camera left, was also real, and more gifted than anyone in the picture. He died in 2003, age 50. I hope he got off with Marie-Thérèse.
Read the story here.