Book Review for The Author and Me by Eric Chevillard.
This is more of a dialog between the author and his protagonist than a straightforward story. In the story part, we have a man speaking to a woman, telling his tale of woe because someone brought him a cauliflower gratin instead of the trout almandine that he asked for. Inserted into the text, as asides to the story, the author adds footnotes to help the reader compare the author to his protagonist.
In my never-ending search for something new and fresh in literature, I came across this book, which sounded like I had found something very unusual. In fact, I have to admit that what I got was far more quirky than what I was bargaining for. The blurb that drew me to this book was this:
Eric Chevillard here seeks to clear up a persistent and pernicious literary misunderstanding: the belief that a novel’s narrator must necessarily be a mouthpiece for his or her writer’s own opinion.
Chevillard does this by having his protagonist sit down next to a young woman in a café for the sole reason to “importune” her. This he does, with a scathing monologue about receiving cauliflower gratin instead of trout almandine. The extensive lengths that this man goes to in describing the horrific and disgusting qualities of cauliflower gratin, is nothing short of genius. In fact, in its ghastliness, it practically takes on a personality in and of itself. This man is so adversely revolted by this dish; he has become paranoid that it will kill him – either virtually or literally. His abhorrence for cauliflower gratin is only equal to his adoration for trout almandine. Oh, and by the way, he’s also just killed someone because of this.
Punctuating the character’s tirade, are the author’s many footnotes, meant to show how the two of these men are nothing alike. Therein lays the irony of this novel, because the more we read about the two of them, the more we see the lines between them blur. Moreover, since the author refers to himself as having the same name as the character – Blaise – we become more and more convinced that these footnotes are actually a ruse to tell an even more amazing story within an already improbable story.
I’m not one to shout that the emperor has no clothes, but to tell the truth, I’m not sure I really “got” this book. However, I also couldn’t stop reading it, even as it frustrated and sometimes infuriated me. Seriously, just how much can you read about someone disparaging one innocuous dish? (I have to admit, I actually like what we call “cauliflower cheese.”) Furthermore, some of the footnotes were so long and complex that I had a hard time reading them from start to finish, without losing my place in the rest of the text. (Since I read it on my Nook, I had to flip back and forth several times, so I must note here that this will be easier for those who read the print version of this book.)
However, despite everything, what kept me reading and enthralled through to the very end was the beautiful writing. Yes, this is a translation from the French, but the English by Jordan Stump is tremendously luscious (or when needed, intensely revolting). The descriptions are elaborately phrased, and the language is evocative to the utmost. In addition, the humor he throws in here, hits you with its absurdity when you least expect it. Mind you, some of the sentences can go on for pages, which I’m sure, was how Chevillard wanted them. Because of this, you may need to reread some passage to get what the author is trying to say – and even then, there may still be some confusion.
After saying all this, to tell the truth, I’m not completely convinced that I liked this book; I loved certain aspects but hated others. Then it occurred to me – maybe that is what the author was trying to do all along. He has served us a meal where the only two dishes placed in front of us are cauliflower gratin and trout almandine. With this menu, he challenges you find something to loathe and something to cherish, but you can do both. As for recommending it, I’m sure that this premise will fascinate some people, just as it will turn others off completely. For this I’ll give it three out of five stars and let you decide if I’m recommending it or not.
“The Author and Me” by Eric Chevillard (translated by Jordan Stump), is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literacy), or from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for giving me an advance reader copy of this book via NetGalley for this review, which originally appeared on my Times of Israel Blog.