"I wonder where memories go. In fact a memory really can’t be lost. All it can do is wilt, gently wither, go bad, fade in tender agony, but never be lost. There is no land of lost memories. There is no cemetery of banished memories, not a single one, not even for the most porous, the most debilitated. There is no ossuary, no funeral home where their remains can be laid. Maybe because deep down a memory can never die. Not really." --Chloé Delaume. Not a Clue: A Novel, Kindle Locations 1108-1110).
"That’s all memory is, a row of awful cesspools, sluggish places of death, a picture tacked up behind every door, a door for every period, one picture per calendar, and memories in the middle, memories are dead moments..." (Kindle Locations 914-916).
Not a Clue by Chloé Delaume, which was published in 2004, is a very unusual work of fiction, very challenging to read. The chapters consist of a succession of monologues from mad people in the Hopital Sainte-Anne in Paris with occasional interleaved text by a self-identified "omnicient narratrix" and other odd bits.
If you have ever played the board game "Clue" you will recognize the playing pieces on the book cover: the six tokens that represent the players and the six weapons: rope, knife, gun, wrench, candlestick, and lead pipe. The rooms of the hospital, where the patients tell their stories, correspond to rooms on the Clue game board, though the connections, I find, are a little baffling.
When I read about the author's unconventional approach to mystery writing, I thought it would be fun to read. When I learned that the author's literary predecessors were the group Oulipo I was even more interested, though I realized that it would undoubtedly be very difficult to read this book! Never would I dare to try reading it in French! I was challenged enough by translated works of "potential literature," overwhelmed by Life: A User's Manual, charmed by Zazie in the Métro, and so on with the works of the Oulipo writers, what would happen with this one?
Not a Clue -- a book about memory and its unreliable of ephemeral nature -- created all kinds of memories as I read. First, my childhood memories of playing games of Clue with the kids in my neighborhood. Memories of a variety of French experimental literary creations, read over the years. Memories of experiences described in the book, like changing from one Paris Metro line to another. Memories of my happen-stance visits to the Hôpital Sainte-Anne in Paris where the action takes place. At this moment in time, in the year 2020, memories of exotic locations or social interactions are all I or anyone else can have, being deprived by the coronavirus of direct experiences outside a very limited sphere. Weird, no?
|The gate of the Saint Anne mental hospital in Paris. (Wikipedia)|
|Glacèire, the metro stop for the hospital|
The mad people in the novel were identified with the six personages of the Clue game, and relevant chapters are labeled with the guesses that Clue players make about the murder that's being solved by playing. The Clue game cards for these personages appeared in an ad I found on e-Bay, offering a vintage Clue set like the one I remember playing. In Not a Clue, the author probably had in mind some later version of the game, but I’m making this review also about my own memories.
You can probably guess the problem with this book. Such an artificial structure in the end makes it seem incoherent — all these different mad people with oddball efforts to forget and to remember. The interspersed observations by their doctors, the digressions by the "narratrix," comments the characters make about being in a book and other "meta" things, and so on follow the lines of certain 20th century literary forms. "I have other plans than being part of this pathetic book, you know." says one character. (Kindle Location 3665).
In my judgement, the book is a curiosity, but not very readable. Liking it would require some real mental gymnastics, as far as I’m concerned.
Blog post copyright © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.