An Overcoat: Scenes from the Afterlife of H.B.
In 1819 Henry Beyle, better known by his pen-name Stendhal, is rejected yet again by Mathilde, Countess Dembowska, the woman he loves. He vows never to give up and consequently lives on past his death in 1842 and into contemporary times (that is to say, contemporary with the readers and author of this wonderful little book), an untarnished vector of romantic longing and novelistic acuity. In this subtle and playful text, which exemplifies the virtue of lightness championed by Italo Calvino, Charles Boyle (Boyle/Beyle), writing under his pen-name Jack Robinson, dissolves the distinction between historical fact and creative freedom, allowing each to infect or lubricate the other. Composed mostly of footnotes (and of footnotes to the footnotes), the brief impressionistic sections display and connect a wide experience of reading, thinking, feeling and writing, Boyle and Beyle twitching either end of a web of literary circuitry. Identities are interchangeable, pen-names, however ridiculous, take on personalities of their own that interface with their creators as equals, or replace them, the most quotidian of details are turned over to reveal the unrequited longing that lies beneath, multilayered games are played with the expectations of readers (and the expectations of writers, too). It is appropriate that one of the pioneers of fiction’s capacities to explore the psychological subtleties of fictitious characters should be the putative subject of a book that is really a fictional essay on fiction’s capacities to explore the psychological subtleties of characters both fictitious and ‘real’.
Description: In June 1819 Henri Beyle (aka Stendhal) is rejected by the woman he loves. Beyle finds himself stranded in an afterlife populated by tourists, shoplifters and characters in novels he hasn't yet written. Footnoting a host of other writers, An Overcoat is an obsessional play upon the life and work of one of the founders of the modern novel.
"An Overcoat takes intellection as seriously as, say, being able to make a three-point turn in traffic; perhaps less so (“I’m beginning to go off her,” says the narrator about M.; “at heart she’s just another puritan, one of the tribe that insists that literature is good for you.”) This is the book’s charm, and possibly its point. It’s a mind at play, and Boyle’s silly pseudonym is a deliberate act of self-sabotage – as well as a nod to Stendhal’s fondness for different identities. I can’t think of a wittier, more engaging, stylistically audacious, attentive and generous writer working in the English language right now." - Nicholas Lezard , Guardian