Enough About Love by Hervé Le Tellier (trans by Adriana Hunter). Other Press. 240 pp., $14.95.
Enough About Love, a newly translated novel by prolific French experimental writer Hervé Le Tellier (with a beautifully clear and concise rendering in English by Adriana Hunter), concerns the coming together and subsequent deliquescence of relationships between separate sets of couples and individuals in their late 30s and 40s among the intellectual class of present-day Paris. The novel explores the emotional shades of love and heartbreak of its characters, whose lives are depicted in muted tones, with Le Tellier playing down the grander themes of life in order to focus on quotidian (albeit romantic) ways in which people move on from one change, and one transition from happiness to sadness, to another.
The primary strength of the novel is its sense of balance in maintaining an even-tempered treatment of identity with a degree of high-mindedness: although the storyline succeeds in brevity and lightness, Le Tellier composes his narrative in pellucid sentences that bring about a cerebral seriousness and a dark sense of irony. For instance, when Anna, a psychiatrist and a married woman, falls in love with Yves, a writer, she is confronted with the adjustments this surreptitious decision will bring to her marriage; similarly, when Thomas, also a psychiatrist, meets Louise, a lawyer, a painful reexamination of both their lives and past relationships occurs.
Chapters alternate between studies of these couples and those of individuals within their orbit, and in this fugue-like use of theme, variation, and movement of distinctly separate characters, the novel is similar to Aldous Huxley’s now-underrated Point Counter Point. Indeed, Enough About Love’s structure mirrors Yves’s own book, which he is composing on an arbitrary and arcane set of rules derived from a version of dominoes that he has read about being played in Abkhazia, a former Soviet republic. The novel also contains an entire book by Yves near its end.
These moments point to the literary experiments of Le Tellier, who recently told Sampsonia Way Magazine that “I like when a constraint leads me away from an expected path. I am a member of OuLiPo [a movement of mathematicians and writers], thus, according to the definition by Raymond Queneau, ‘a rat who builds the maze from which he sets out to escape’”—that is, Le Tellier applies systems to his writing that he must configure his narrative to, in order to bring about new discoveries in form.
That this artistic attempt at testing different conceptual ideas finds its reflection in the characters’ lives is reiterated again and again throughout the story; each chapter seems to follow the progression of a game, much in the same way the characters’ love affairs develop through moments of chance.1
Unfortunately, it is also the case that in Le Tellier’s descriptions of his chosen subject matter—upper-middle class life—his work becomes susceptible to that class’s particular type of shallowness. This is most probably because Le Tellier is trying to draw his scenarios from life, and in doing so he is documenting that part of society as it is, not as he wishes it to be. But it can be exasperating, for example, when reading the work of a genuine artist, that everything from relationships to career choices within the novel seem to be affected by a need for comfort and lifestyle, or when phrases such as “spacious modern kitchen” appear in the text. (In one scene weighted with irony, Yves brings Anna back to his spacious Paris loft apartment, surprising her with his state of financial success, as opposed to the penniless “artistic” existence she has expected from him.)
These observations on the conventional aspects of life can make the book feel like a minor work, as the wider society that the characters live in isn’t significantly addressed. But what redeems these diluted moments is Le Tellier’s poetic seriousness and honesty as a writer. In a passage describing Yves’s writing habits, Le Tellier seems to delineate the balance he himself attempts to maintain in his own artistic attempts: “[Yves's] words try to depict real things, like flagstones covering beaten earth: but, in places, rebellious weeds poke through. He could go on deleting and reworking forever. He is hoping for a miracle, for absolute grace, and senses it only in other people’s work. He is not sure whether this dissatisfaction is proof of being an artist.”
These dissimilar aspects make up the novel’s two major voices—both insular, reflective, and searching for genuine artistic expression, and simultaneously extroverted and concerned with appearances. In the end, they combine to make a promising but frustrating reading experience. While this duality would not work in a novel of less ambition and honesty, there is an uneasy feeling in reading Enough About Love that more could have been achieved by the author had he brought the weaker sections of his novel up to the level of his strengths.
Jordan Anderson is a writer living in Oregon whose main interests are the 19th century and contemporary literatures. He can be reached at anders [dot] jordan [at] gmail [dot] com.
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