Vol. XXIX , #2 Herman Melville's ; or The Whale
Edited by Damion Searls
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Expérience d'Edward Lee, Versailles, by Gérard Gavarry
Reviewed by Warren Motte
P.O.L, 2009. 234 pp. Paper: €21.00.
Édouard Levé was a brilliant and extremely promising French writer and photographer who committed suicide at the age of forty-two in 2007. Three years before that event, he had taken a series of photographs during a trip to the United States, in American towns and small cities whose curious names—Berlin, Oxford, Amsterdam, Paris, Versailles, and so forth—appealed to him. In Expérience d'Edward Lee, Versailles, Gérard Gavarry meditates upon one hundred of those photos. Each meditation puts on offer three very brief passages that seem to lack both beginning and end, as if they had been abstracted from some vaster and more detailed discourse. The collection is colored by absence, from first page to last. Most obviously, the photos themselves are absent. We "see" them only through the titles that Levé assigned to them ("Fireman in Oxford," for instance, “Jehovah’s Witness in Paris,” or “Restaurant in Berlin”), or through Gavarry’s prose. Gavarry’s evocation of the photos plays out in long focus at best, ensuring that those images remain out of our grasp, and suggesting perhaps, too, that Gavarry himself has yet to come to satisfactory terms with them. Just as these fragments have neither beginning nor end, so does Gavarry intimate that the writing of mourning has neither beginning nor end, but rather adopts as its characteristic mode a shattered, painful now situated in the very middle of things. Death and the trappings that adorn it abound, for Gavarry reads the photos as Levé’s comments upon his own mortality. That doubled, layered reading is fragile of course, relying as it does upon hindsight, yet it is admirably rich as well. Even those readers most familiar with Gavarry’s previous work will not fail to be astonished by the freshness of tone and technique here. Like Georges Perec before him, it seems that Gérard Gavarry approaches each of his books anew, unfettered by what he has done in the past, making him one of the most pleasingly unpredictable writers in our midst.