THE OLD WORLD DIES: In Jarrard’s satire, a prodigious artist and a multifarious cast of characters navigate their way through an unsettling urban landscape.
Paris is crumbling. Murderous gangs of teenage girls prowl the streets, and citizens are bracing themselves for a catastrophic civil collapse. Théo Carnot is a painter of nudes who wants to emerge from the shadow of his uncle Raymond, a distinguished watercolorist who recently died. Roland Jean-Marie Aymé is a taxi driver who’s bedazzled by the beauty of his partner, Marina, a “black-eyed creature from Mexico” with a beauty that’s almost “beyond believing.” Then there’s John Green, a suave, if overly bold, American who casually says that he owns a couple of paintings “by that fellow Monet, and I think one by his friend, almost the same name.” These characters intermingle with a vast, diverse network of other people in a dreamlike swirl. There is a plot here, punctuated by adventure and romance, but locating it is akin to discovering the eye of a hurricane. Part of the joy of the book is in forcing one’s way through what initially appear to be relentless, fragmented images and thoughts, in order to understand its central structure and how its characters fit together. The language often apes the moodily introspective monologues of 1950s French art-house films: “Do I look like another man? / The man I know, and there is this improvement. / Roland runs his hand over his head. / Younger? / And older. Both. There is this balance. It’s interesting.” The surreal elements, as when artists find themselves wandering in the Pyrenees looking for light, are reminiscent of André Breton’s Nadja (1928). But it’s all deliciously tongue-in-cheek. It’s a challenge to turn a page without finding an example of Jarrard’s inimitably observant approach to prose: “She had wanted to go out of the station and see Basseville for herself, this place where girl murderers come from, but everything is dark and smoky in the beyond and the high-rises stand like grave markers of a race of giants who died in the crepuscule.”
An intoxicatingly unique literary voice that demands further attention.