I ran away from home as a teenager, to London, via the North of France. And London is where I then lived for the next twelve years. I had packed a little suitcase, and instead of taking the train to work I took the train to Charleville-Mézières. In that little suitcase wasn’t a whole lot. A few clothes and toiletries. I also took two books that I hoped would provide some kind of sustenance over the coming months. Book #1 was Suizid by Jaques Rigaut (the German translation of Agence Générale du Suicide) and Das Buch Monelle by Marcel Schwob (the German translation of Le Livre de Monelle).
Why did I chose those two books, when there are many other, perhaps more practical books, I could have taken (for example, I did not take a travel guide or a dictionary)?
The choice to take a book about suicide did not come from desperation. Choosing to run away was a bet that hoped would end the malaise that had made my adolescence so difficult. I think I wanted to train myself in indifference, so that however this bet would turn out, I would not be disappointed.
I loved this quote:
“There’s no reason to live, but there’s no reason to die, either. The only way we can still show our contempt for life is to accept it. Life is not worth the bother of leaving it. Out of charity, one might spare a few individuals the trouble of living, but what about oneself? Despair, indifference, betrayal, fidelity, solitude, the family, freedom, weight, money, poverty, love, absence of love, syphilis, health, sleep, insomnia, desire, impotence, platitudes, art, honesty, dishonor, mediocrity, intelligence – nothing there to make a fuss about. We know only too well what those things are made of, no point in watching for them.”
I did in fact fall into a lengthy period of anhedonia during my first couple of years in London, so this kind of thinking failed to fully inoculate me. I became indifferent to almost everything life had to offer. Luckily I was able to extract myself over time.
Le livre de Monelle, I took, I think because it transformed harsh reality into fairytales and made life seem innocent, bearable. Once again, it failed to protect. London in Winter 1984 was a harsh place, especially for a language-challenged, teenage, not-so-pretty, scared, almost mute girl.
Ever since then I have been somewhat skeptical of literature’s powers to transform reality.