Review: Henri Duchemin and His Shadows by Emmauel Bove

I received an advanced review copy of this collection of short stories from The New York Review of Books.  The stories were written in 1928 in French and this English version has been translated into English by Alyson Waters

My Review:
Henri DucheminThis collection of short stories all feature men who are unhappy and looking for someone or something with which to identify.  In the first story entitled “Night Crime,”  Henri Duchemin, a forty-year-old man,  is alone on Christmas Eve in a pub lamenting over his poverty and loneliness and the last thing he wants to do is to go back to his cold, empty flat.  He wanders around the streets in the rain until he really has no choice but to go home.  But before he goes home, a woman whome he meets on the streets notices his sadness and abrasively suggests that he kill himself.  As he drifts off to sleep, thoughts of suicide and murder haunt his restless dreams.

My favorite story in the collection is written in the epistolary style.  “What I saw” is a letter written by Jean to an unnamed friend; Jean desperately wants his friend’s opinion about something that he saw involving his girlfriend that disturbed him greatly.  Jean’s letter begins with a description of his girlfriend, Henrietta, and her devotion to Jean.  One thinks she is the model woman until, one day, Jean sees her sitting in a taxi and kissing another man.

When Jean confronts Henrietta about the liaison, Henrietta adamantly denies ever being with another man.  Henrietta and Jean’s other friends try to convince Jean that he must have been mistaken and only saw someone who resembled Henrietta.  Jean wants so much to continue his relationship with Henrietta and as he finishes his tale he begs the recipient of the letter to tell Jean his true opinion about Henrietta’s alleged indiscretion.  Jean, like the other characters in the story, has a tenuous grasp on an important relationship in his life and he is eager and even desperate not to lose it.

Another story worth mentioning is “The Story of a Madman.”  Fernand, the narrator, makes it a point at the beginning of his tale to address the reader and inform him or her that he is not, in fact, crazy or out of his mind.  He goes on for a few pages giving us some background about his activities and frame of  mind so that when he carries out his plan, the reader will think he is perfectly sane in doing so.

Fernand then proceeds to have a meeting with his father and tells his parent that he never wants to see him again.  Fernand then makes his way to his girlfriend, Monique’s apartment;  He assures us that he is deeply in love with Monique and they have a fantastic relationship, but he informs her that he never wants to see her again either.  The next stop on Fernand’s list is his best friend, with whom he also breaks off all contact.

Fernand’s final stop on his break-up tour is with his sister and brother-in-law.  After a friendly conversation, he also informs them that he never wants to see them again.  So, we are left wondering why Fernand would alienate all of the people in his life that he loves.  There are hints throughout the story that Fernand is exercising his willpower and that he is attempting to make a plan and adhere to it no matter what others may think.  But the last few sentences of the story leave us with a haunting suggestion that maybe his motives for leaving are a bit more depressing and sinister.

This is a small yet powerful collection of stories that will leave you thinking about these men and their feelings of alienation and unhappiness.  Bove’s language is sometimes curt and sometimes poetic.  He weaves these small tales in such a way that we are never sure where they will end.  I highly recommend this brilliant collection of writing brought to us by The New York Review of Books classics collection.
About The Author:
E BoveEmmanuel Bove, born in Paris as Emmanuel Bobovnikoff, died in his native city on Friday 13 July 1945, the night on which all of France prepared for the large-scale celebration of the first ‘quatorze juillet’ since World War II. He would probably have taken no part in the festivities. Bove was known as a man of few words, a shy and discreet observer. His novels and novellas were populated by awkward figures, ‘losers’ who were always penniless. In their banal environments, they were resigned to their hopeless fate. Bove’s airy style and the humorous observations made sure that his distressing tales were modernist besides being depressing: not the style, but the themes matched the post-war atmosphere precisely.

9 Comments

Filed under France, Literature in Translation, New York Review of Books, Short Stories

9 responses to “Review: Henri Duchemin and His Shadows by Emmauel Bove

  1. As you may have gathered by now, I’m quite fond of NYRB – they seem to have a knack for unearthing these hidden gems. I’m on a book-buying ban at the moment but will keep it in mind for the future. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As Jacqui says another gem from NYRB love sound of this I like epistolary works so a short story one would be great

    Liked by 1 person

  3. kaggsysbookishramblings

    I liked the sound of this one when I heard about it recently – and your review has made me even more keen. I’ll keep an eye out for this one!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jonathan

    I’ve read some more about this book and it sounds like my kind of book….existential despair…..mmmm. That’s what I like about NYRB, Pushkin etc.: we get introduced to books we’ve never heard of before.

    Liked by 1 person

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