A very slim, very French novella about conspiracy, coincidence and mortality.
Celebrated in his native France for his category-defying fiction that encompasses mystery, sci-fi, fantasy and philosophy, Belletto (Dying, 2010, etc.) receives only his third English translation with a narrative that the foreword by Stacey Levin describes as “a strange jewel,” “a work that hovers mysteriously between reality and artifice, natural and supernatural,” and “a puzzle.” It opens provocatively enough: “It is to me that we owe our immortality, and this is the story that proves it beyond all doubt.” Such proof, which involves a dictionary, doesn’t come until the novel’s very end. Before then is the first-person narrative of a man whose wife has been murdered, leaving him with a 6-year-old daughter whom he loves as his entire world. The daughter’s name is Anna, the wife was named Maria and the narrator goes unnamed, though one character refers to him as “my dear X.” The narrator lets his daughter visit with her maternal grandparents, who suspect him of having killed their daughter (and may have mixed feelings toward their granddaughter as a result). Another subplot involves a type of perpetual-motion machine, developed by the narrator’s father, which can only sustain its momentum for 24 hours. “Nothing perpetual, alas, except inertia,” says the narrator. The novel pivots on the discovery of some frozen clams in the narrator’s refrigerator, triggering his suspicion because he doesn’t know the brand and doesn’t like clams. As he starts to play amateur detective, one revelation leads to another, and the narrator finds himself at the birthday party of an old school friend, where he connects with a beautiful woman, whom nobody seems to know, and ultimately reunites with the friend’s sister, who wasn’t at the party. More mystery ensues, through what the narrator describes as a "series of coincidences and misunderstandings,” though admitting that “it was as if my mind were that of an insane person, closed to the outside world.”
Fans of Paul Auster’s brand of literary gamesmanship will recognize a kindred spirit here.