A Brief Stay with the Living by Marie Darrieussecq
A writer of considerable talents, with a love of word-play and allusion, Darrieussecq's prose poetry will not be to everyone's tastes: Brief Stay With the Living (Bref sÃ©jour chez les vivants) is a tad ostentatious, told in a dense, discordant, sometimes self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness. It often seems confused and is certainly sometimes confusing; the characterisation is paltry, the focus is uneven; but the attempt is brave, the writing vivid, the voice intelligent and the novel, whilst exacting, is ultimately prepossessing and entrancing.
Marie Darrieussecq's mesmerically book continues her concern with deciphering, understanding and writing loss. In her previous two novels (My Phantom Husband and Breathing Underwater) Darrieussecq had carefully and beautifully drawn the disorientating effect of being left or leaving, of grief without mourning (concerns about the presence of absence so much a fixation with Lacanians - like Darian Leader to whom, amongst others, she dedicates her book). And in Brief Stay, a novel narrated by four voices (a mother and her three daughters), she further investigates her theme by deepening it: here each character is trying separately to cope with the death of son/brother Pierre.
The story's miasmic grandeur is punctured by a powerfully human and moving denoument which nearly makes up for the sometimes rather convoluted narrative that has gone before. Marie Darrieussecq continues to grow into an important writer worth both reading and discussing but whilst Brief Stay is an arguably more ambitious book than her last I do not think it nearly as good. Her character's voices needed much clearer definition and her writing occassionally felt self-satisfied, indulgent and purposeless. But there are moments of invention and lyricism that make the flaws readily forgivable. And I will certainly be reading her next book.