by Emmanuel Bove, translated from the French by Janet Louth
Colette read the manuscript of My Friends (Mes Amis) in 1923 and launched the literary career of Emmanuel Bove. Rilke and Gide admired him. Though his work was eclipsed after the war, it never vanished entirely: Samuel Beckett and John Ashbery were among its advocates, and Bove has been rediscovered in France, Germany, and the United States. In The New Yorker, Jane Kramer described how Peter Handke (Bove’s Austrian translator) and the German filmmaker Wim Wenders “talk about Bove with the same sort of familiarity which Rilke felt.... For them the concrete and very precise language in a story by Emmanuel Bove is a language that addresses the eye, a language that the eye can read as images.” Bove was twenty-four when he completed My Friends and announced that he’d invented a genre, the novel of “impoverished solitude.”
The tone of My Friends is ruthlessly accurate: The narrator, Victor Baton, describes his world—of waking, washing, strolling, eating, and longing—meticulously and without a trace of irony. Baton drifts from encounter to encounter, looking for the elusive special friend. A veteran of unspecified battles, with some secret wound under his shabby coat, hungry for affection, he picks about the margins of life in Paris, a ghost encumbered by anachronistic rules of etiquette, pride, and vanity. His guilelessness and conceit are wonderful instruments for presenting a sequence of encounters that laughter makes timeless.
An ironic, beautifully understated and entertaining early existentialist novel.... Contemporary readers will find Bove’s world, of postwar Paris, fascinating and entertaining, and his skill in rendering it impressive.
[Bove’s] first novel is as buoyant as fresh bread. It is also sad, funny and engagingly written in short, sober sentences which seem to flow with the ease of everyday talk. Beneath this appearance, to be sure, lies the art which conceals art, for Emmanuel Bove’s style is thriftily pared down and his choice of detail cleverly persuasive. The surprise is not in learning that his books appealed in their time to Colette, Rainer Maria Rilke and Samuel Beckett, but rather that they should have sunk since then into near oblivion.
—Julia O’Faolain, Los Angeles Times