2018-004: Who You Think I Am, Camille Laurens

This year, I’m using this blog, in part, to force myself into a habit of capturing what I most want to hold on to from the books I particularly enjoy.* From the rich, beautiful book Who You Think I Am, by Camille Laurens, translated by Adriana Hunter, it was the feeling of being intrigued and allured by the experience of wanting to linger inside it, for days, even as I found myself stealing any spare moment I could to read a few pages here, a few pages there, to race blindly through its switchback turns. I described it to my lady as a story that retells itself a couple times over; I felt like I could have happily followed it down that rabbit hole for several hundred more pages, while, simultaneously, being thrilled it ended exactly when it needed to.

“Desire works in mysterious ways…. If everything’s written in advance, that would be too sad, I thought. If the die is cast what’s the point trying to change the numbers?”

And that story, what story is it? Well, it’s…MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show, but for French novel-reading intellectuals. What it lacks in banter between Nev and Max**, it makes up for in…well, it’s Frenchness, I suppose; its sexy-not-sexy sensuality, its philosophic bent, its wrestling with fault-lined relationships.

That “Frenchness” is probably a label I have no right to apply here, as I realize it’s been a while since I’ve read anything else to which I could fairly and with certainty apply it. But as a story that is not just about the idea of making up stories about ourselves and telling those stories to others, about hiding inside lies, it’s also a story about story, a French novel caught in a self-conscious affair with French literature. At least, I assume so; I admit to feeling a bit like an outsider on that front. Every inter-textual reference exposed another gaping hole in my own reading history.***

“In the ongoing fictions of our lives, in our lies and our accommodations with the truth, in our need to possess, dominate, and control other people, we’re all novelists in the making.”

Lucky for me, by sheer coincidence, this book also happened to converse with the books that came just before it on my reading stack. I never intended for “bifurcation” to become a theme of my reading—and I’m also starting to think it’s an awfully pedestrian thing of me to be picking up on but, like, whatever, for right now, how do you even blog, right?—but here’s a contemporary, woman-centric story that picks up threads that Roth wouldn’t**** and Bilton/Ubricht, for obvious reasons, could not.

Which is a way of circling around some of the more obvious, surface-level things I’m totally not diving into in this post, because while the book does certainly highlight online relationships and how age matters differently for men and women, I’m well aware of the fact that I’m comfortably uncomfortable with the idea of talking about those things, myself, being, you know, yet another drippy middle-aged white male with feelings. The moment I start trying to tell anyone anything about the sexuality of pretty much any woman (or, hell, anyone, period) of any sort is the day I’ll go ahead and get that License to Mansplain tattooed all over my paunch.***** But what I can say is that the book is much more and much deeper than all that, and that while the story and the surface drew me in to the water, all this other stuff roiling around under the surface pulled me down into the thrilling undertow.

“When are we ever more alive? Happier? Freer? I’m talking about desire, about the impatient slowness of desire…. A book doesn’t keep all the promises of that desire, it is one of its end results. But it translates the pleasure that came after the surge of desire, its epiphany. If a book doesn’t have that, it doesn’t have anything.”

Impatient slowness: as accurate a way as any to describe my immersion in this book. I liked this one quite a bit, and, if I’m talking to myself, years from now, looking back at old blog posts, looking for books I think might be worth revisiting some day, I’d like to tell myself: yeah, give this one a shot. It’s worth it.

(******)

* – Or don’t enjoy. But that hasn’t happened yet this year. This has been, overall, a way more exciting start to my reading year than last year, when I slogged my way through Ada by Vladimir Nabokov, which might be a great book, but, fuck, I wouldn’t know.

* – And but also (and yes I’m double footnoting a single reference because I didn’t know from where else I could plausible excise the following snippet I didn’t want to lose for some entirely wanky reason) I went on a bit of a wanky monologue in an earlier draft here about how for as much as I’d theoretically love to quote passages verbatim from books I read a decade ago or be able to rattle off entire character relationship maps without batting an eye, I just don’t have that kind of memory, and that what I need to get down, when I’m fresh out of the book, may be nothing more than a reminder of where I was and who I was when I was reading it, but that also even that, I’m realizing I’m not quite there yet, not quite as in love with the sheer act of being me writing these posts yet, which is probably for the best for everyone involved; who do I think I am, anyway?

** – My spirit animal.

*** – Yeah, I’m side-eyeing you, Dangerous Liaisons. At least until someone I trust tells me whether I need to get with you.

**** – Though…Delphine Roux? Does she strive to re-become? Am I reaching?

***** – Which, the shreds of my pride do permit me to admit, I’ve been working on. But.

****** – I was going to end with a stray thought (“I’ve had a tab open on my phone pointed at the Wikipedia page for ‘Aboulia’ since reading the book; I just haven’t been able to bother closing it out”) but I just couldn’t do that to you, faithful reader.