Book Review

Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) by Hazel Jane Plante

a truly phenomenal novel but Scotty still depressed

cw: suicide ideation, cruelty, body image

This is the first time, in a very long time, where I have found myself reading something that I inarguably felt to be a perfect, flawless, novel.

I don’t think I’ve read a fictional text that matches its form with its content in such a perfect cohesion since Zone by Matthias Enard. Christ, I just followed that link and I was honestly taken aback by seeing a photograph of myself where I looked both bald and handsome. That was a long time ago, of course, three and a half years ago, but still: even then I wasn’t hideous.

Now, even though I exercise multiple times a week and don’t really eat terrible food that much, I’m fucking hideous.

I’m fat and disgusting and none of my clothes fit and I’m just so so so bored bored bored and these new meds are making me feel sluggish and hungry and tired and depressed. If I have to continue wandering through my own fucking life with a bit more emotional consciousness than I’ve had during the period of Welbutrin then it’s a terrible, untenable idea. If I’m not tired all the time I can clamber on through the tedium until I’m able to escape it, whereas if I can feel the tedium then I’m more likely to fucking break down again.

I’ve been crying a lot the last few weeks, and not just at sad books and television. At life.

Editing the proofs of my own book (The Pleasure of Regret, publication date tbc from Broken Sleep Books – please do buy their other books) has been an emotional strain. I think this is the big difference between it and Bad Boy Poet – though that book was serious and sad in places, it also had a lot of crass humour, which I enjoy. There are a couple of pages about teenage sexual experiences that are – to me – hilarious in their gross detail, but ultimately this next one is a sad book about all the things that have made me sad and how I’ve failed to become an adult because of a death by a thousand lashes, that kinda thing.

Nobody killed me, but everybody killed me.

Christ, I’m not dead. I wish I was dead.

I’ve been daydreaming a lot about hanging myself the last week or so. Just seeing it happening.

It’s been a while since I got so far as to tie one end of a chord around my neck, but I’m visualising it as much as I was the last time that happened.

I was in the sauna in the gym (lol such a lad) and just staring at the wooden slats wondering if there’d be enough give in the ceiling planks to loop my towel – plaited into a Rapunzel-like rope – through them and then hang myself there. I don’t think I’d feel too much guilt being found dead in the gym. Eurgh. I would hate the stain on my reputation of it, but out of everyone I ever run into I’d feel the least remorse for “traumatising” some fucking finance bro who sees a corpse hanging from a showerhead in the middle of a shouted conversation about property ownership.

Sorry.

I was planning on writing a gushing review of Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) by Hazel Jane Plante in this space, but that picture of myself when I was handsome upset me too much.

I look like a fucking wreck now, whatever I wear.

I’m dressing quite well at the moment, to be honest, but I feel like the proverbial turd rolled in the proverbial glitter. And I’m not even rolled in glitter any more. I miss glitter. I miss so much. I regret so much, too.

Oh.

///

Plante’s debut novel is like proper knockout phenomenal. It is a multilayered triumph of literary invention that is as powerful as covid-19 and if books were tweets it would deserve to be as viral. That’s an atrociously mixed metaphor, but who cares? Society might collapse soon.

I’m too distracted by too many things at the moment. But isn’t that always the way?

I’m not really “creating”.

I’d like to be writing more. (This blog doesn’t count.) I have a couple of editing projects to do, which I’m too shy to do. Then, once they’re done, I am at a creative loss. Maintaining this blog despite working like 70 hour weeks, exercising regularly, walking Cubby and maintaining a relationship is an achievement of sorts, right? Though I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been pitching. I haven’t been advancing. I haven’t been moving in a FORWARD DIRECTION.

Sorry, this is all about me. Normally the posts here are only like that when I’m discussing a book that I have nothing to say about. And usually when I have nothing to say about a book it’s either because it was achingly middle of the road, or because it was dire but I like the person who wrote it, so don’t want to be mean to someone I have humanised in my mind.

This is not the case here. This is one of the greatest novels I have ever read.

The novel takes the form of an alphabetised encyclopaedia about a TV series called Little Blue.

The narrator is writing the encyclopaedia as a tribute to Vivian, her recently-deceased best friend, who obsessed over the 10 episodes of the Twin Peaks-eque show, Little Blue.

The narrator writes about the show’s characters and settings and plots, and also about how Vivian felt about all of these aspects of the piece. We explore why Vivian (often referred to as Viv) enjoyed the show so much, and we also see why sharing it with close friends was important to her. Viv also introduced the narrator to Britpop when they became friends, and though there are a lot of Suede references (which I of course enjoyed), it was only with Little Blue that she was truly able to evangelise.

As the characters and the cinematography and the narrative arcs and the production of Little Blue is explored, the narrator segues into memories of Vivian that coincide with the ideas, places or types of people raised. We learn about Viv’s sister and her baby, Teddy, we see the narrator’s relationship with her brother, Christopher, and his struggle to understand the depth of his sister’s grief.

The depth of their connection is not because they were lovers – though the narrator was certainly in love with Vivian, though not in a possessive or reductive (or reciprocated) way – but because Vivian, who was a transwoman, was the essential pillar of support and stability for the narrator as she herself transitioned.

Though this is a queer narrative with a tragedy at its centre (a central character who dies young in unexplained circumstances), Plante’s choice to have her narrator deliberately avoid writing in depth about Vivian’s death rather than her life is powerful. We are told Vivian “didn’t commit suicide” but that is it: how she died doesn’t matter, it is who she was that is important, and who she was is evoked vividly in this beautiful novel.

Not only has Plante created a deeply knowable fictional friendship and a devastating portrait of grief, but she has also created a fictional TV series (Little Blue is not “real”) that is better developed than a lot of real shows.

Genuinely, this is jaw-droppingly effective fiction, and if it doesn’t even get longlisted for every single literary prize going then they’re all even shittier than we already know they are.

BUY LITTLE BLUE ENCYCLOPEDIA (FOR VIVIAN) DIRECT FROM METONYMY PRESS VIA THIS LINK

1 comment on “Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) by Hazel Jane Plante

  1. Pingback: Dinosaur by Adam Lock – Triumph Of The Now

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