Author(s): Edouard Leve

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Suicide cannot be read as simply another novel it is, in a sense, the author s own oblique, public suicide note, a unique meditation on this most extreme of refusals. Presenting itself as an investigation into the suicide of a close friend perhaps real, perhaps fictional more than twenty years earlier, Leve gives us, little by little, a striking portrait of a man, with all his talents and flaws, who chose to reject his life, and all the people who loved him, in favor of oblivion. Gradually, through Leve s casually obsessive, pointillist, beautiful ruminations, we come to know a stoic, sensible, thoughtful man who bears more than a slight psychological resemblance to Leve himself. But Suicide is more than just a compendium of memories of an old friend; it is a near-exhaustive catalog of the ramifications and effects of the act of suicide, and a unique and melancholy farewell to life.

In Suicide, Levé ostensibly addresses a childhood friend, or, rather, the memory of a childhood friend, who committed suicide twenty years ago, at the age of twenty-five. Levé says he has felt closer to his friend after his suicide than he ever did in the days of their friendship, and speculates about how death has rewritten his friend’s life: "I've never heard a single person, since your death, tell your life story starting at the beginning. Your suicide has become the foundational act," the single detail that retrospectively subsumes all other possible narratives. The text of the novel (so to call it) takes the form of memories and observations structured in a seemingly casual way, all in a second person register, which seems at times projected onto the reader, or a possible reader, but which, as the book proceeds and Levé provides more and more intimations that he could not have had access to, the reader disconcertingly begins to realise is referring to Levé himself, the author addressing himself in the second person register and in the past tense (even when referring to the present), denying his own agency, opening himself up to his own scrutiny (which can hardly be though of as self-scrutiny), distancing himself from himself, denying his identity at every opportunity and thus excusing himself from responsibility for the arc of his own narrative. The text is full of ironies, self-obsession and slippery logic ("You don't make me sad, but solemn. I take advantage on your behalf of things you can no longer experience. Dead, you make me more alive.") and is stubbornly opaque about the specific motivations (if any) for the suicide (other than simultaneously authentic/inauthentic statements such as “The desire to live could not be dictated to you. The moments of happiness you knew came unbidden. You could understand their sources, but you could not reproduce them.”). Levé is under no illusions about the effects of suicide on the bereaved, but is himself numbed to these effects: “Your regrets would disappear along with you: your survivors would be alone in carrying the pain of your death. The selfishness of your death displeased you. But, all things considered, the lull of death won out over life’s commotion.” A statement such as this is riven: it is at once both undeniable and intolerably wrong. “Everything I write is true, but so what?” wrote Levé of himself in Autoportrait (read my reviews of his books here). Ten days after delivering the manuscript of this book to his publisher, Levé committed suicide (this was also the last day that he and I were exactly the same age). Was Levé's suicide implied by the various strands of his literary and photographic work, all of which seeks to undermine the stability of 'identity' and 'authenticity', or did he make his suicide the "foundational act" of his life, the detail that retrospectively subsumes and rewrites all other possible narratives? In what ways did he take control (from us) of our reading of his work by his act of self-erasure?


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Suicide is not a fictionalized account of Lev s death; in some respects it is a negative image of it. You didn t leave any letters for loved ones to explain your death, he writes, although Lev himself reportedly did. Lev s art and life nonetheless converge, fuse, and end brutally together. Ironically, Suicide represents a new departure for Lev : his previous books could be considered conceptual conceits, whereas Suicide is something else, a purely literary work. At the end of his life, Lev had by no means exhausted his art. --Hugo Wilcken

General Fields

  • : 9781564786289
  • : Dalkey Archive Press
  • : Dalkey Archive Press
  • : 0.15
  • : April 2011
  • : 179mm X 128mm X 10mm
  • : United States
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Edouard Leve
  • : Paperback
  • : 843.92
  • : 144