Jean-Philippe Toussaint
John Lambert, Translator

(Dalkey Archive)
He goes to the fishing village of Sasuelo with his six-month-old kid. He has sent a letter to his friend Biaggi to expect a visit.

He takes a room in the one hotel in town, but when he goes to Biaggi's place just outside of village center, no one is home, the summer umbrella has toppled over, the house is wind-blown, shut up.

Sasuelo is a berg, and at this time of year, it is gusty and rainy. Our hero spends a few days wandering around, going down to the town pier where he finds ...

... a black cat in the bay, recently drowned. Fish-hook in mouth, already being nibbled by the crabs.

That's pretty much it in the plot and entertainment department here in Reticence: 128 pages of this guy wandering around, getting rained on, pushing the kid in his perambulator (a sweet kid: he only cries once in the whole novel when he got left alone once too long in the hotel; otherwise, he has little to say about his strange dad).

All the while our narrator has decided that Biaggi is hiding from him, perhaps has taken a room in his same hotel, is maybe even spying on him. But, after some time, he decides that Biaggi has been drowned in the very same place as the miserable cat.

    Biaggi's body floating face up in the port, unmoving, and his arms spread wide, dressed in a sailor's jacket and canvas pants that were slightly pulled up over his calves, his shoes and socks soaked with water.

§   §   §

I don't know if you have run across Toussaint before this. The last of his books we reviewed was Television which came out a couple of years ago. I wrote "We are here dealing with a massive procrastinator preparing to write a long and supremely stupid study of some dinky event from 1550." It was no slam-bang thriller, but like Reticence, I've never been much for stomach-churning action anyway. I did ask myself, at one point while I was reading Television, "Why is this all so interesting?"

This question applies --- but less so --- to Reticence. There's just this guy sneaking in and out of his hotel window, sneaking in and out of Biaggi's place, stealing his mail. Biaggi is still nowhere to be found. And who is this Biaggi, anyway?

It's a simpleton's version of Last Year at Marianbad without all those people dressed up in fancy duds, milling around in fancy ball-rooms boring each other to death.

§   §   §

Some dunderhead compared this one to Jacques Tati of all people, and Beckett (everyone gets compared to Beckett sooner or later, no?) Me? I think it is more a Neo-Existential Robbe-Grillet: bare bones, no fire-crackers, a few people here or there muttering at each other or to themselves, acting like French peasant types.

There is a fair dose of paranoia, if that's any consolation. And it all gets resolved more or less in the end. I mean jumbled together if not resolved ... if you catch my drift. Biaggi never turns up, nor is he nor his absence explained. Toussaint must know what he is doing, though. I made it through this one without falling asleep once --- but it may have had something to do with the fact that I got a good night's sleep the night before, despite those cats bobbling around at the water's edge, being nibbled to death by crabs, while shadowy people spy on us from out of dark corners, disappearing when we turn to see what they were up to, trying to figure out why.

--- J. J. Warren
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