Editions de l’Olivier, 2014
Alexandre Varlop is searching for a mysterious booklet with a yellow cover, “The Sun,” a manuscript rumored to have been owned at various points by Man Ray, Ezra Pound, and Cy Twombly before being stolen from the painter’s Mykonos atelier in 1961. Ever since the Surrealist era, a legend has circulated among insiders: this text would be, they have all been told, a “total literature.”
Where would these pages be hidden? What secrets would they contain? Who would author such a thing? These are the questions the make Jean-Hubert Gailliot’s fourth novel, winner of the prestigious Prix Wepler in 2014, a singular reading experience.
Varlop, thrown into uncertainty by these uncertainties, starts to lose all manner of things: his shadow, his sense of self, his way forward. Sidelined by a young woman on this Greek island, he finds himself descending into the myths of antiquity. As if he were following the sun itself, he flees to Palermo and gets lost in the town’s dodgiest neighborhoods, where he meets two brothers, owners of a strange cabaret . . . Hoodwinked by everyone he meets, he becomes convinced that the world is playing a cruel trick on him. But the ivory-white pages of Gailliot’s story offers surprise after surprise, down to a stunning eighty-page sequence printed on pink paper, a physical and emotional shock for the unsuspecting reader.
By turns an exhilarating hunt for a precious relic, a hypnotic journey towards the origins of all things, and a fever-dream of a meditation upon all that literature promises to be and indeed is, The Sun is an extraordinary adventure that, long after it ends, blazes unforgettably in memory like an afterimage left by looking straight into the sun.
The author: Jean-Hubert Gailliot is the author of six novels, all of which are part and parcel of an envisioned larger project that he might call The Studio of Reality. His various titles delve into the complexities of modern mythology, and his latest work, The Sun, was shortlisted for the Prix Médicis and won the Prix Wepler in 2014. Born in the south of France in 1961, Gailliot is known both as a writer and as cofounder, alongside Sylvie Martigny, of the avant-garde publishing house Editions Tristram in Auch.
The yellow-striped wasp, discombobulated in the early morning, came and went through the window’s bars. Varlop’s hand froze as he tried to guess what pattern of loops it would trace as it wandered off through the transparent air over the patio.
This wasp reminded him of another wasp that had appeared sixty years earlier in a draft of Ezra Pound’s Canto LXXXIV. The bars could have been those of a cage in the American army camp at Pisa, where the poet had been held in May and June of 1945. The biography, open to the Pisan chapter, was face down atop the pile, waiting patiently along with all the other documentation on the bedside table.
During his first night, he had lain awake on the unfamiliar bed, the books he’d hastily flipped through strewn around him on the sheets, his hands interlocked behind his head as he gazed at the still-bright sky past the window. The next day, he decided, he would adhere to a rigorous regime. Going to sleep, rising with the sun, long morning swims, reading until noon, small and regular meals, brief siestas, housekeeping and errands done attentively, two hours of walking at the day’s end—that would be his daily routine. No alcohol. No cigarettes. To rediscover those old sensations, his body demanded thorough discipline, and his entire body acceded to it. Dreamless nights. He woke up as had fallen asleep, on his back, alerted by wings flapping. The pages of his precious books flipping in a gust of wind.
The loops this wasp made as it entered the room once again reminded him of those seemingly awkward and childish but truly elegant curls of Cy Twombly’s drawings reproduced in an Italian catalog at the bottom of the pile.
The cottage, a single room with a patio, right by Agios Ioannis on the island of Mykonos, which was still fairly quiet this time of the year, belonged to a publishing friend who had made him agree, a few days earlier, to investigate the disappearance of a purported famous manuscript.
They had shaken hands on that agreement so abruptly that, at the moment, he didn’t want to think too much about it . . .
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