Book Review

Poetics of Work by Noemi Lefebvre

rare writing depicting middle class rootlessness not as tragedy

(translated by Sophie Lewis – the book, not my blog, though maybe that needs translation into more standardised/positive english hahaha)

This is another book published by Les Fugitives, the excellent London-based publisher of previously untranslated Francophone literature. Or something like that.

They previously published Lefebvre’s novel Blue Self-Portrait a couple of years ago1, which was massively acclaimed, and this followup bears some similarities but is much less linear (than I remember, tho maybe I remember wrong (see the massive mental health footnote)). This time, as the title implies, it contains a discussion of “work”; work as a creator, as a poet, and of the difficulty to exist (“to be”) without it, without employment.

The narrator of the piece has written a successful novel that they hold in contempt: it was a bestseller, and the royalties, years on, continue to pay them enough to cover rent, food, and marijuana-cannabis. This, Obviously, is THE DREAM (aside from the “weed”), but then again I know from experience that not having to work and/or having a (limited) literary reputation is absolutely no guarantee of happiness2

Is there meaning to be found in anything we may find to do in life?

The narrator has dialogue with their father, who seems to live (without any sense of shame or guilt) off inherited wealth which the narrator (as yet) has no access to; possibly the father is a figment of the imagination, an alternative self; possibly the text is meant to be read symbolically, as imagery, as discursive: a discussion re the poetics of work, yes, but also purpose, family, intoxication, and poetry itself;

There is a cannaboid quality to the writing; one slips in and out of moments, of cohesion; ideas rise and fall gently, approaching in-depth discussions yet somehow unfocused; it is a heady pleasure to read, treading through the steps of someone who is exploring life and its meanings but without it being framed as a crisis, as tragic, as bleak;

It is so so so rare to find rootlessness and transience when applied to a middle class person in a novel where it is treated as OK: “Oh no this person with a degree who is clever likes getting wasted and writing instead of being a parent who works in an office”;

it’s rare for me and people like me to be depicted in a text where our lifestyle is considered acceptable or, at least, not unacceptable.

Why work a boring day job if you don’t need the money?

Why stick to the trad 7am-11pm hours of activity when you have nothing scheduled all day?

Why not get high, have a few beers and dance in the afternoon? Why make your bed when you’re not going to go outside today?

Lefebvre writes a directionless adult character who is able to be, to live triumphantly in the now and enjoy the time, which won’t be forever, until the book sales dry up and life must return to some unimaginative fuck’s idea of a good time. (Autocorrect on my phone very much missing the point there, as the average “unimaginative duck” likely has far more fun a boring, dry, human.)

It’s a great, short, book (short in a good way) and I’d highly recommend it to anyone else who is tired of seeing their existence only ever portrayed in literature as disgraceful.

Well, that’s all I’ve got.

Back to being sad for a while.

Order direct from Les Fugitives here

March 17th, 2021

1. Or maybe not a couple of years ago, time concertinas like an accordion in freefall, at least it does for me, and has done ever since I made my most geographically-drastic leap to escape from my inspirationless origins. Is the pandemic even a real thing happening to other people or am i just projecting it? They have me on pretty strong medication here and – as I keep posting on here wuhey wuhey – it’s stopping me from killing myself but is helping to erode my personality even – significantly – thinner, weaker. I still have my blog! I don’t even really have this any more lol. Fuuck fuuuuuuuck fuck. I’m typing as I walk, which is something I haven’t been able to do here for months and months and months. Spring is coming, slowly. It makes no difference to me: I’ll still be in this drudgey rut. I’m not even getting wasted any more. Even when I stay up late drinking alone I get bored and switch to water before I black out. There is nothing ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. No offence to my dog or my lover (who are two different people!), but tbh the sense of responsibility prevents me from killing myself and I hate that! I’m crazy medicated (in fact my mental health is so bad on paper that I’m eligible for vaccines in the same category as the morbidly obese and people who have had heart attacks! YOLO yeh!) And I’m “high functioning” but what does it mean that I’m high functioning when there is ah nothing beyond the function beyond the use of myself as a capitalistic tool, like a hammer, like a smartphone, like a can opener. I should probably stop taking my meds lol. But then what would I do instead? There’s nothing to do BUT “function” rn, right? I want to go places and do things, but the only place is home or work and the only thing is work, eat, sleep. Fuuuuuuuuck 2. Would it be different, for me, tho, if I had had them both at the same time? Doubt it tbh lol.

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