From the author of Monsieur (1991), etc., a moody, often claustrophobic, and viscerally intense evocation of the end of an affair that’s begun in France and ends in Japan.
The urban setting—Tokyo—of this brief but concentrated chronicle of the death of love enriches what could be a conventional story. Toussaint’s descriptions, in particular—of sterile contemporary hotels (“no noise anywhere, just the purring of the air-conditioning”), the bleak spaces of an art museum, and impersonal trains—suggest that the world the lovers are visiting has reached, like their affair, a similar dead end. The anonymous narrator begins his account as he and Marie, a dress designer and artist invited to Tokyo to show her clothes and her art, settle into their hotel room after the long flight from Paris. As he describes how their affair began, he also offhandedly remarks that he has a bottle of hydrochloric acid with him, which he hints he might throw at Marie. This acid is almost a third protagonist in the story as the narrator carries it with him or ponders using it. The two make love but are interrupted by a phone call, and he leaves the room and wanders round the sleeping hotel. He then goes outs into the snowy streets, where he finds Marie, dressed in one of her designs, also up and about. A minor earthquake, another ominous indicator, occurs as they walk in the dawn cityscape. Later, feeling ill, he abandons Marie at the museum where she’s supervising the installation, and heads to Kyoto. Feverish and disoriented, he stays for a few days with a French friend. Recovered, acid bottle in his pocket, he heads back to Tokyo on a strangely empty bullet train. After talking to Marie on the phone, his feelings about her still ambivalent, he impulsively visits the art museum after hours. There, haunted by memories of Marie, the acid still in his coat pocket, he comes to a decision.
Edgy prose that elegantly distills a disturbing take on love.