A few summers ago, I sat in on lectures at the Sorbonne, where it seemed to be the fashion for the lecturers to talk in metaphors. Beckett's prose was a snowball rolling down a mountain: you start with nothing, and as it picks up more snow, you end up with something. His novels were a washing machine: language is slung into the drum and turns until it comes out clean. This kind of talk is also a habit in Artificial Snow, the first of Florian Zeller's four novels but the last to be published in English, written while he was a student at Sciences Po and still subject to those washing machines and snowballs. What the protagonist actually takes the trouble to do isn't of much importance: what matters is what he thinks while doing it. Early on in the novel, he decides to escape a tedious dinner party and disturbs a threesome as he retrieves his coat from the bedroom:
I had absolutely no idea what to do and the images unfolding before my eyes weren't conducive to making a snap decision. If I retraced my steps, I had to leave without my jacket, if I kept walking, I gave myself away. I was trapped in what seemed to be an impossible no-win situation. Expressed as a metaphor, I'd say I was in the same position as the explorer who finds himself trapped in his igloo with wolves outside waiting to eat him if he comes out, while, inside, the cold is so cold that his breath is turning to ice on the igloo walls, gradually shrinking his survival space (broadly speaking, whatever he does, he's screwed). Eschewing crappy metaphors, I'd say prosaically I was in deep shit.
LRB 12 March 2009 | PDF Download