A Raskolnikoff by Emmanuel Bove
Translated by Mitchell Abidor
Red Dust Books, 105 pps
In the introduction to A Raskolnikoff by Emmanuel Bove, Brian Evenson refers to a “secret history” of literature, “a stratum of books and authors without whom contemporary literature would not be possible but who have somehow been pushed to the side, neglected, forgotten.” Bove is one of those authors, a writer whose work I’d never read before this one. He wrote A Raskolnikoff as part of a series of books based on the imaginary chronologies of fictional characters. Inspired by Dostoyeksky’s Crime and Punishment, we follow a pair of wanderers, Changarnier and Violette, in a raw and emotionally unnerving odyssey. Most of the story revolves around their relationship, both to each other and the society around them. Changarnier is brutally honest with himself, so much so that he’s torn by his own ambivalence. Life’s platitudes are no comfort and his seeming apathy is exacerbated by his remorse:
“What’s left to losers like us if it’s not moving forward with the hope that something new will happen? Aren’t we the mediocrity, the sickness, the weakness of the world?”
A Raskolnikoff brought back memories of all the walks I’ve had in my life, the random encounters, obscure sights, and secondary exchanges marked by a glance or a word dripping with intimation. Changarnier’s exchanges with Violet vacillate across the spectrum and it’s their whimsical, and sometimes cold nature, that make them feel authentic, even disturbing. Their jabs of cruelty to each other imbue the story with a sense of sorrow compounded by the unrelenting pressures of society. Time and emotion are inextricably bound, Siamese twins of tragedy that culminate in murder and eschew the tropes that are setup earlier. I couldn’t help but wonder, is the murder that takes place an illusion or a type of self-annihilation, a nihilism driven by a lack of direction? This journey has no home, and Changarnier’s all too aware of it even if others aren’t:
“The beauties of life attract him, and when he finds himself before another man, one like himself yet different, it would be just as mad for him to attempt to make himself understood as it would be to understand the other.”
The book is as much an emotional stream as it is a meditation, a contemplation riding through different stages of nonexistence. The best translations rarely draw attention to themselves and Mitchell Abidor gives us a seamless transition from French to English, evoking their air of desperation and guilt as Changarnier convicts himself of an atrocity that he may or may not be responsible for. Along the way, they meet a strange old man who regales them with the melodramatic vicissitudes of his life. Just when you think you can sympathize, that feeling morphs into anger, even disgust, and then back to more pity. The palpably plaintive scars of age wear Chargarnier down, but he refuses to let it hinder him. He keeps on walking and is relentless in his motion, driven by the kinetics of either a youthful delusion or a naive optimism.
“There’s nothing in the world that makes people as skeptical and is as difficult to revive for others as lost happiness. We describe it as we see it in our memory: that is, adorned with a sweetness it didn’t actually have, but which the passing years have given it. And yet I have to tell you that I have fallen short of reality, precisely so as not to fall into this trap, and if I wanted to depict it as it was I would be accused of exaggeration.”
It troubles me to think I’d never even have heard of Bove if not for a random notice on Facebook. Changarnier, through Bove, remains possessed by the undaunted spirit that treads forward independent of its fate and the fact that there is no final destination. The footprints remain, haunting, occasionally waiting to be rediscovered. It’s our own secrets, personal convictions, disappointments, and losses that Bove prods us with. It’s as though he reminds us, punishment doesn’t require a crime. The drive forward merits its own form of suffering.