A French academic’s detailed description of his Paris apartment and its contents is full of humor and brainy mischief. But whether it’s fun is another matter.
Clerc’s first book to be translated into English is subtitled “A Novel” and presents a meticulous examination of the one-bedroom flat owned by the narrator, who is named Thomas Clerc. Each of the seven areas of the 50 square meters (538 square feet, or about the size of the average Manhattan studio in 2015) is described in a chapter comprising short passages with droll headings. The few physical feet of the “Entryway” chapter alone require 25 pages. Clerc constantly interrupts his inventory with asides, reminiscences, analyses. He recalls a 2006 burglary. His doorbell rings, but no one is there. He alludes to Hitchcock’s Family Plot. He says, “Functionalism follows the form of its function.” It’s Page 16. The doorbell rings, but no one is there. He laments the lost storage space of his pedestal-style bathroom sink, which is “privileging a columnar form for the sake of 1 sink’s singular function qua sink.” It’s Page 38 and time to ask: Is this mélange of acuity and silliness, of pseudo-sociology and OTT TMI (wonderfully translated by Zuckerman, BTW) enjoyable enough to accept 300 more pages of the same? Clerc offers a few motifs. He links his decor at several points to pieces from the game Clue. Is there an unsolved mystery at play here? Could it be tied to why he never expands on the date he bought the flat: Sept. 11, 2001? And there’s that doorbell, which repeatedly summons the narrator. He never finds anyone there. Maybe the door, like so much in the apartment, serves only to ring a bell. Perhaps the interior on display is Clerc’s mind, the flat no more than a metaphor.
An intriguing but potentially tiresome jeu d’esprit.