The High Life
By Jean-Pierre Martinet. Translated by Henry Vale.
Adolphe Marlaud’s rule of conduct is simple: live as little as possible so as to suffer as little as possible. For Marlaud, this involves carrying out a meager existence on rue Froidevaux in Paris, tending to his father’s grave in the cemetery across the street, and earning the outlines of a living through a part-time job at the funerary shop on the corner. It does not, however, take into account the intentions of the obese concierge of his building, who has set her widowed sights on his diminutive frame, and whose aggressive overtures are to trigger a burlesque and obscene tragedy. Originally published in 1979, The High Life introduces cult French author Jean-Pierre Martinet into English. It is a novella that perfectly outlines Martinet’s dark vision: the terrors of loneliness, the grotesque buffoonery of sexual relations, the essential humiliation of the human condition and the ongoing trauma of twentieth-century history.
Jean-Pierre Martinet (1944–1993) wrote only a handful of novels, including what is largely regarded as his masterpiece, the psychosexual study of horror and madness, Jérôme. Largely ignored during his lifetime, his star has only recently begun to shine in France, and he is now regarded as an overlooked French successor to Dostoyevsky. Reading like an unsettling love child of Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Jim Thompson, Martinet’s work explores the grimly humorous possibilities of unlimited pessimism.
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FROM THE BOOK"And Madame C. then turned to me, she told me she was afraid of suffocating to death here, in this tiny lodge, where she barely had room to breathe, among her green plants and color photos of Luis Mariano, she could no longer get past the third floor when she brought up the mail now, she felt like she was descending into the cellar, being attacked by rats, wading about in the humidity, probably my heart, she repeated to me sadly, passing her hand over her swollen eyelids, I’m always tired in the summer, I need a change of climate, I can’t take Paris anymore, Rue Froidevaux makes me sick, a change of scenery, ah yes, the beach, ah the beach, when I was a little girl my mother would take me to Biarritz, on the boardwalk, you could finally breathe, the casino vanished under the blue hydrangeas, they put on operettas there, what scenery, my little Adolphe, you can’t imagine, well, she didn’t exactly take me, my mother, she went with her employers, she was a servant, but the winter was very mild down there, the sky white, almost transparent, in December you could make do with cotton clothes, we’d eat apricot ice cream, yes, I saw The Land of Smiles three times with Mom, and I still know the tunes, yes, you want me to sing them for you, my little Adolphe?"
—Excerpted from The High Life.