Book review: “Suicide” by Edouard Leve by Brian McElmurry

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Suicide isn’t a typical narrative; more a pointillism in writing, a listing, an exhaustive catalog and memory of the author’s friend who committed suicide at 25, nearly 20 years prior.

The first thing anyone will know about the author of Suicide is that he committed suicide on 10/15/07, ten days after turning in his book titled Suicide to his publishers. This raises so many questions, just as the author questioned his own friend’s suicide in said book, decades prior. Leve writes of his friend’s life:

“The way in which you quit it rewrote the story of your life in a negative form. Those who knew you reread each of your acts in the light of your last. Henceforth, the shadow of this tall black tree hides the forest that was your life. When you are spoken of, it begins with recounting your death, before going back to explain it. Isn’t it peculiar how this final gesture inverts your biography?(pg. 29)”

At the time of his suicide Edouard Leve was 42. He had completed university from a prestigious business school. Then took to painting in the early 90’s. Switched to photography, and found success; one of his projects was taking photos of fully clothed people in porn/sex positions. He published four books, including his last, and would go to places in America with famous names like Berlin, Paris, and Rio, but in Arkansas, and take photos, which are also published with his writings. He seemed to have a sense of humor, even his death was darkly ironic. The reader can’t help ask, would I be reading this if he hadn’t killed himself? Doesn’t this sell the book without any materialism to the author’s life. Did he think, when planning his death, that his book will live on–not despite his suicide, but because of it. That his death will seal his name and reputation. Maybe this comforted him? Maybe he was tired of trying? Maybe his photography and writing didn’t bring him much financial/emotional/spiritual/hedonistic pleasure? Maybe he was just giving up? At 42, maybe he saw his body as old, his mind not as sharp, his best years over. Maybe he had no more connections/attachments in the world? We will never know, though unlike the books protagonist, Leve did leave a note. Suicide was his first book published in english.

The writer of Suicide would make lists of things his friend saw, desired, felt; in an order that mimicked the mind that remembered things, not in a linear order, but as they come to mind. And that is how he writes. There are no chapters, few linear narratives, a pointillism; he writes, “To portray your life in order would be absurd: I remember you at random. My brain resurrects you through stochastic details, like picking marbles out of a bag. (pg. 34)”

Using this method, each paragraph is a “marble” he picks and elaborates on. The author picks the “marble” of his friend’s drumming virtuosity. He had quit playing in bands but filled in for a friend’s band when he was 22. It was in a provincial town. He played drums for the friend’s band, spent three days of wonderings through the city, sees a women acquainted with him–through his friend’s band–at the cafe, drinks with, walks home with, but does not sleep with because he is married, and the endless walking he does, and the notebook writing he does the last night for him to feel alive/real–all take place in one paragraph beginning on page 41 and ending on page 57.

Later in the book does his rigid structure change, and allow paragraphs in when recounting a final barbecue with friends.

The book begins and ends with the suicide. He was leaving for tennis with his wife, and said he forgot something. He went in the basement where he had a shotgun ready, and killed himself. He had a comic book open to a certain spread, as a sort of suicide note, which his wife accidentally knocked to the ground in her grief. The comic book gives a sort of absurdist quality to such a horrible event, and sets up the rest of the novel, as this one lost clue leads the deceased father to study the comic book and write down and file suicide hypotheses. The deceased has no name and is refered to as “You.” The “I” of the narrator is a detached and objective voice; one of a friend, but not the closest of friends. He begins his “marble” approach to dissecting the deceased life, his suicide, that halfway through the book the “you” and “I” become blurred. The frenetic structure of the book, gives no break in the tension. Each paragraph is a marble, listing about “you” and how “you” prefers talking to one person or a group but not two people; many cute things that were very French, like Amelie. Each marble starts to seem as if the author is giving reasons for and against suicide. The act is described as without hesitation, but the author finds reason in his suicides process. His wife didn’t have to find the body, decomposing. He had a tarp down. His was a traumatizing way, but most likely not uncommon. Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson killed themselves with their loved ones in the house with them. He writes of a mother that cries and cries for her oldest son. But writes of the people who knew the man, realizing the gift of being alive to perceive the banal coffee they drink. The friend who killed himself becomes more and more like the author; “you” are accepted into a prestigious business school; “you” are born on Christmas Day and the author on New Years Day. The “you” inner monologue of lonely nights away from home walking streets just to get to somewhere in the hope it would fulfill the promise of desire. But at times the “I” comes back in, and the “you” is seen from farther away, as drunk at a wedding and barbecue, happy and laughing not long before committing suicide. Trying to get help through antidepressants and getting so manic he was running all over town, and then at home acting crazy, wanting to dig a ditch, and then organize something else. The reader is left with a picture of a man: A good friend, fidelity in marriage, music lover, artistic, modest, but without a desire to live.

The book brings you back to the beginning with a question of why. The reader questions the impossibility of life, but also the shear possibility of life. He was on the verge of the rest of his life, only 25, and decided to end it. A “marble” in the beginning of the book seems chilling, true to art, yet chilling to life, “In art, to reduce is to perfect. Your disappearance bestowed a negative beauty on you. (pg. 19)”

4 Responses to Book review: “Suicide” by Edouard Leve by Brian McElmurry

  1. Pingback: 2 Book Reviews on “Suicide” by Edouard Leve | Newhandsweepstakes

  2. David says:

    No, I have to change what I thought and wrote before. This pair of posts is in point of fact tremendously interesting and compelling, disregarding the fact that you are my dear friend and that I enjoy hearing things about your life in any context. I do feel awful, though, for not reading them until now. I’d looked at them, read the lines. But I hadn’t give them their due. “Things came up,” I will say. Conference, out of town, scrambling to get something done in time. Things always come up. Which is why “things came up” is no real excuse. Hence, I will not ask for forgiveness. I will only ask you to keep writing, and to write more. For even if I am among the only readers, and even if my reading comes in a tardy way…I am a serious reader, and I read what you write with hungry eyes and with the deepest appreciation. And that counts for something. No man is an island. As long as you and I can inhabit it together, that is. Then we are not islands to ourselves–but an island together. And there’s no place I’d rather be.

    • Brian McElmurry says:

      Dave, you’re awesome. Not sure what you wrote before. My meta-review may have been boring. What I did was write the meta-review and then cut myself out of the review, like the quote from the book, “In art, to reduce is to perfect.” Got kind of down on the low stats, and made the “experiment” to test this “hypothesis.” No worry on being a tardy reader. I sent you a postcard on Saturday. I’m afraid I am an island, yet there exists boats that bring islands together, like this blog, letters, postcards and in-person visits when geographically possible. Thinking of the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton song “Island’s in the Stream.” And I wonder if it has a connection to the Hemingway book. “Island’s in the stream / that’s what we are / no where in between / that’s where we belong.” I think that’s how it goes. Somewhat random. Hope things are well :-)

  3. Brian McElmurry says:

    24 total hits as of 02/20/12

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