cover image Self-Portrait Abroad

Self-Portrait Abroad

Jean-Philippe Toussaint, , trans. from the French by John Lambert. . Dalkey Archive, $12.95 (84pp) ISBN 978-1-56478-586-2

Toussaint's (The Bathroom ) slender, charming travelogue pursues the wistful impressions of a writer as he observes the random passing of time and events in foreign capitals. The narrator is a middle-aged French author, tall and “very Prince of Savoie,” as he wryly describes himself, touching down briefly in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Berlin, Prague, and Tunisia for meetings with friends and to attend literary functions. His wife, Madeleine, and two children appear fleetingly, but, mostly, we follow the narrator as he, among other things, holds on for dear life on a motorcycle driven by a tour guide through traffic-choked Hanoi; accompanies “a passionate Francophile and skillful go-between” to a Japanese strip bar; and befriends two stranded women archeologists in Tunisia, who hitch a ride with him to Sfaz, where he gives a reading of his “really rather wonderful books.” Toussaint is a love-him or hate-him kind of writer, and this book perfectly illustrates why: there's no plot, and the narrator can be seen as either funny, sharply observant, and perhaps ingeniously ironic, or a clueless, narcissistic windbag. (May)