Henri Duchemin and His Shadows (New York Review Books Classics)
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An NYRB Classics Original
Emmanuel Bove was one of the most original writers to come out of twentieth-century France and a popular success in his day. Discovered by Colette, who arranged for the publication of his first novel, My Friends, Bove enjoyed a busy literary career, until the German occupation silenced him. During his lifetime, his novels and stories were admired by Rilke, the surrealists, Camus, and Beckett, who said of him that “more than anyone else he has an instinct for the essential detail.”
Henry Duchemin and His Shadows is the ideal introduction to Bove’s world, with its cast of stubborn isolatoes who call to mind Melville’s Bartleby, Walser’s “little men,” and Rhys’s lost women. Henri Duchemin, the protagonist of the collection’s first story, “Night Crime,” is ambivalent, afraid of appearing ridiculous, desperate for money: in other words, the perfect prey. Criminals, beautiful women, and profiteers threaten the sad young men of Bove’s stories, but worse yet are the interior voices and paranoia that propel them to their fates. The poet of the flophouse and the dive, the park bench and the pigeon’s crumb, Bove is also a deeply empathetic writer for whom no defeat is so great as to silence desire.
he bent down. Before lighting the fire, he had to pull the grate on the stove several times. The cloud of ash that rose settled on his shoes, turning them white. Old clothes hung on nails fanned out near the floor. There was very little air in the garret. A doily lined a shelf. On the shelf, a fork, salt, a tin. Everywhere, broken, ravaged furniture, the kind found in handcarts. The fire blazed. It could be seen through the stove’s bands. The old man was straightening things up. From time to
separating us was about to vanish. “Would you like a little wine, monsieur?” “As you please, my child.” My child. He said my child. This time, all my sorrow vanished. I was trembling as I poured the wine. He was about to get up to take his glass, so I said: “No, don’t bother.” And I brought it to him, not without spilling a little. He drank leaning forward, the way one drinks at a bar. I found this tactless. I don’t think he should have noticed that I had filled the glass too much because
had misjudged in her husband. That’s all. I took no one’s side. And had she treated me properly, had she answered me clearly, I would have had no reason to be angry with her. In the end, all this only confirms what I think about the world. Let her do as she pleases, it’s all the same to me. As for Paul, I pity him with all my heart, for it seems to me that, however this story turns out, he will not be happy. * * * When I left my friend’s wife, it had stopped raining. I took a few steps before
lucidity should be enough to show I am in full possession of my faculties. I know I may seem crazy at times. It’s true, it doesn’t take much for that to happen. But let’s be clear. To be sure, I may often seem crazy, but not so much so that two people would bother mentioning it to each other. I seem just crazy enough for one person to think so without his neighbor thinking so as well. And if I always provoke this feeling by some ridiculous action or question, I must say that I manage to stop
doubt, like many people, he favored a drink when he woke up. As soon as the proprietress had brought him a bottle of wine, he swigged two glasses in a row. He smiled, trying to strike up a conversation. “What awful weather!” Henri Duchemin did not respond. He liked to chat, but distrusted strangers. The customers, realizing their conversation was not changing the world, left the establishment. The proprietress arranged her hair with her damp fingers. The two men observed each other.