Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Mustache & The Class Trip

I've been taking a lot of recommendations from The Millions these days. The description of Emmanuel Carrere's The Mustache and Class Trip in this article was too much for me to resist.

Imagine Rod Sterling's voice here. Meet ____ (we don't know his name). About to set out for a dinner party, he decides to shave off his mustache. In this ordinary act, something extraordinary occurs. When he walks out of the bathroom, he will be entering - The Twilight Zone.

Ok, that was lame. But imagine you had a mustache for years. And you decide to get rid of it, just to see. But no one notices - not your wife, not your friends, not your coworkers. Your mustache, you thought, was such an obvious feature of your appearance that someone would comment on its disappearance...especially since some, like you wife, have never seen you without it. But no one notices. You begin to suspect they are all playing a trick on you, an elaborate joke. One night you ask your wife (named Agnes) why she hasn't said anything. And she informs you that you never had a mustache. !

You call some friends, and they say you never had a mustache either. ! You produce some photos from a trip to Java you and Agnes took, with your mustache, and Agnes dismisses them. In the morning, the photos are gone, and she informs you that you never went to Java, with or without mustache. The friends you visited the night before - Agnes tells you that you not only spent the night at home but that she never heard of these friends. !

Through all this, you find out that your father died the year before, but you don't thought he was alive and well. !

So...what do you do? Are you insane? Is Agnes insane? Is Agnes trying to convince you that you are insane for some reason?

___ runs away - hopping on a plane to Hong Kong, where he spends a few days riding a ferry back and forth and shaving over and over and over and over again. He moves on to Macao, and one night coming back to his hotel - there is Agnes, talking about going to the casino again, as if she had been along on the entire trip. He goes into the bathroom, and cuts off his face. There. All better.

The Mustache certainly isn't for everyone. I wasn't sure it was for me, given my New York Trilogy problem. But I actually really, really liked it. Sometimes I apparently have trouble relating to people who think differently than I do, to the point where it seems there are two different realities. So the concept of The Mustache - that what we feel constitutes our life, our reality - could be very, very wrong is extremely creepy. What if reality as I perceive it is as it is for the unnamed narrator? Not that I actually think it is - I'm not that crazy (I don't think!) but it is eerie nonetheless. There are tracts of Sartre and Nausea here.

The Class Trip, on the other hand, is very very different. No need to just go with it here, no need to suspend disbelief. Nicholas is a shy, outcast kid whose dad (a prosthesis salesman) insists on driving him to ski camp instead of letting Nicholas go on the bus with the other kids. He forgets Nicholas's bag in his trunk, but doesn't return to drop it off. A boy is found murdered in a neighboring village. What did Nicholas's father have to do with it?

This novel is understated almost to a fault. It's a horror story without suspense, with barely building any tension. It's a horror story that, 20 pages from the end, I thought of just abandoning. I knew what had happened and there was no need to see how it resolved itself. The reader is never given any perspective other than Nicholas's, so the story is really about a boy who comes to see that is father is a child murderer and not a hero as opposed to a story about the actual crime. It was interesting, but not compelling.

I could have skipped The Class Trip and not missed anything. But the concepts in The Mustache will stay with me.


Aleks said...

This sounds very interesting. The Class Trip sounds pretty lame though. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a copy of just The Mustache in print. Not in English, at least.

Kristin said...

I think in English they are exclusively packaged together. I got mine through interlibrary loan.