Dreamlike fragmentary chapters evoke a bleak post-apocalypse world, one where capitalism is the enemy and the collective the ideal.
Noted French author Volodine (Naming the Jungle, 1996, etc.) is better at describing the desolate world he evokes than at making the plight of his characters credible—or the ideas that ostensibly shape his ambitious tale. Each of the 49 short chapters, called “narracts—novelistic snapshot(s),” has to do with a brief incident involving one of 49 different characters, whose lives occasionally intersect. These people inhabit a world devastated by a disaster that’s never precisely defined, though the implications are that it had to do with nuclear fission. The disaster, in any case, has left the world with a minuscule population, a Mars-like landscape, and a food shortage. Survivors rear chickens in abandoned apartments, head out to cities where explorers retreat to their winter camp at “number 12 on the Rue du Cormatin,” or follow abandoned rail tracks that hug the shoreline. The third “narract” introduces Laetitia Scheidmann, who, along with the other immortal crones, has been sequestered by veterinarians at the Spotted Wheat Nursing Home. There, though it’s forbidden, she decides to fashion a grandson. She collects scraps of cloth and lint, presses them into an embryonic ball, then fertilizes and gestates it with the help of her fellow crones. They hope that Will, the grandson, will revive radicalism and revolutionary action, but, decades later, Will, instead, has restored capitalism, a crime for which they sentence him to death and order a firing squad to execute him. But before that happens, they are overcome by memories mixed with hallucinations from the pipes they smoke. Will, who develops a hideous skin disease, is the narrator of these stories, told to his grandmothers as the population drastically declines, gas-emitting meteorites become more frequent, and all forms of life begin to die.
Vivid in its details, but the self-consciously intellectual narrative fails to engage.