This book, by 2014’s winner of the Nobel prize for literature, is comprised of three novellas; Afterimage, Suspended Sentences and Flowers of Ruin. These are all exercises in memory, evoking a Paris of days gone past and people long gone.
“The more obscure and mysterious things remained, the more interested I became in them. I even looked for mystery where there was none.”
In Afterimage, the 19-year-old narrator makes the chance acquaintance of a photographer, Jansen. Over the subsequent few months in 1963 he takes it upon himself to catalog and index three large suitcases full of the artists photographs. This endeavor seems to mystify Jansen but he allows it, giving the young man a key to his studio so he can come and go as he pleases. The more he encounters and ruminates on those photos, the less he seems to understand him.
Suspended Sentences concerns itself with two young brothers who are sent to a suburb of Paris while their mother, an actress, is performing in North Africa. They stay with a motley crew of women; Annie, an unorthodox young woman in jeans and mans leather jacket; her mother, the dour Mathilde; Little Helene, a former circus performer and finally an au pair of sorts whom they call only Snow White. The women and their guests are great curiosities to the brothers, but they never really question the unusual circumstances under which they live. Even as the grownup older brother thinks back on that mysterious time, he has no real answers, only lingering melancholy.
Flowers of Ruin, tells the story of an outwardly happy young couple involved in an apparent murder-suicide after returning home from dinner one evening. Like the other novellas, there are more questions than answers. The lack of resolution was a little unsettling but not detrimentally so. I felt the echoes of those ghosts.