POTHOS by Philippe Malzieu


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A medical student navigates a dramatic love affair and a medical internship in this experimental novella.

This slim tale opens with the nameless narrator going to meet his lover, Juliette, in a cafe. It turns out that a man named Mark, also known as “butcher boy,” has harmed Juliette. A tense conversation follows, alluding to an S&M club, a trial and the characters’ own doomed love affair. The narrator goes on to recount how he met Juliette: While he was interning at a hospital, Juliette came in for an abortion; he drove her home and then slept with her. At his current internship in the psychiatric ward, he describes the patients there and their various forms of madness. An odd evening at the hospital ensues, including a demented conversation with a delusional banker, a sexually charged exchange with a female patient, and a long, intellectual discussion about what the narrator has for dinner: a pot-a-feu, or French beef stew. The narrator then tells of his affair with Juliette: After whisking her away to Rome, she disappears, and he later finds her with her lover, Mark. One night, the narrator insults Mark and goes off to find his friends and his girlfriend, Marianne, but he eventually ends up with Juliette again. After a brief return to the present-day psych ward, the scene shifts to the narrator driving to the S&M club, where he sees Mark exit, carrying Juliette in his arms. The two men fight, and the narrator rescues Juliette, but she’s angry that he intervened. He takes her away in a car, which leads to their last romantic encounter. The novel has a compelling premise: a med student on a psych ward and his tumultuous romantic life. However, the ambitious setup falls flat due to confusing jumps in time and excessive tangential episodes. Too many characters crowd this short narrative, and the central drama doesn’t quite carry the story from beginning to end. The novel never clearly explains why the narrator is so drawn to Juliette, for example, or why he assumes that she’s in danger with Mark. There’s some poetic language, as when the narrator compares pale-skinned Juliette to a character in a story who drains her own blood. However, these occasions are lost in the story’s jumbled chronology.

A passionate story that’s pulled in too many directions.

Pub Date: July 28th, 2014
ISBN: 979-1093525037
Page count: 58pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
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