An attempt to map the distance between novelist and character goes awry in this peculiar, funny and intellectually rich romp by Chevillard (On the Ceiling, 2000, etc.).
The veteran French novelist opens with a brief foreword declaring his intention to address the intentional fallacy, inventing a wild fiction that he will occasionally interrupt with footnotes. Enter the narrator, who seems distinct not just from Chevillard, but from rational humanity: Buttonholing a young woman at a cafe, he fumes at length about how he turned murderous when his expected lunchtime meal of trout almondine proved to be cauliflower gratin, a dish he loathes with absurd intensity. This at first seems like flimsy material, but the interplay between the text and the footnotes thoughtfully distinguishes the thought patterns of the author and his invention. Audaciously, Chevillard doubles down on this provocative setup by embedding a brief novella within one of the author’s footnotes—a 40-page footnote that’s hard on the eyes but oddball fun, casting the hero in to a slow-moving chase of an ant that also makes room for a love affair and a circus. This isn’t bizarreness for bizarreness’ sake; much of what Chevillard (or at least the “Chevillard” of the footnotes) is addressing is the difficulty of corralling one’s inventions, making them adhere to reality while being singular and not simply mouthpieces for the writer’s own opinions. As the author’s lament for the state of literature mirrors his creation’s lament for being served a bad meal, it’s clear we’re deep into an allegory of the frustrations of making original art. But on this score, Chevillard needn’t worry—this is accessible, surprising and satisfying metafiction.