Arriving in Avignon

Daniël Robberechts, trans. from the Dutch by Paul Vincent, Dalkey Archive, $13.95 paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-56478-592-3
A thirst for knowledge and a craving for adventure run parallel in Robberechts’s book, written in the ’60s but only recently translated into English. Fiction, memoir, or hybrid of the two, it’s labeled a “record” of events by the author (who committed suicide in 1992). Beginning in his late teens, the unnamed protagonist finds himself inexplicably drawn to Avignon to explore nature, sexuality, and the town’s rich history. The narrative unfolds in a stream-of-consciousness, involving the reader in the protagonist’s quest for experience. Adding a layer of metafiction is an overly formal, omniscient narrator, who approaches the protagonist like an academic project. Yet the narrator is implausibly flesh-and-blood, able, for example, to interview two girls with whom the protagonist has flirted. There is not so much a plot as an accumulation; the trips are numbered, bringing structure to this “record.” A summer is spent in the great outdoors; a winter reading the Marquis de Sade sparks a predatory streak; a last trip to his wife finds her pregnant, “though she doesn’t know it yet.” The book succeeds because Robberechts’s intellectual curiosity dovetails beautifully with that of an avid, preferably Francophile, reader. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/16/2010
Release date: 10/01/2010
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