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Variétés Delphi by Nicolas Chalifour

Posted by Caitlin / September 17, 2012

varietes-delphi-2012-09-17.jpg"Variétés Delphi" is Nicolas Chalifour's second novel, published right here in our fair city. If you are French, bilingual, or just care to give reading in French a go (which is highly worth it), I urge you to delve into many of the dark stories published by the small, but extremely high-quality press, Héliotrope. They seem hell-bent on giving exposure to dark-humoured, sombre and engrossing emerging writers and this novel is no exception.

"Variétés Delphi" could be called a novel of games. The main character (whose name remains unknown for practically the whole novel, so I wouldn't just blurt it out here, now would I?) reminds me of a Shakespearean sprite that, upon first glance, seems to live for nothing more than being the thorn in the world's side.

While Puck plays cutesy tricks on lovers in the forest, this characters' antics are more along the lines of putting ecstasy in the soup of a pro-lifer who is about to give a speech.

Although this story often seemingly hides behind a veneer of hilarious pranks that rely on the humiliation of those perceived by the main character to be inferior human beings, we are reminded from as early on as the prologue that lurks beneath the surface.

The introductory pages place the reader in the strange hell of a father who thinks his young daughter is dead in his arms. The narrative then does a tonal 180 and lands us in the slapstick chaos of chic dining gone wrong.

This jarring shift accentuates the triviality of the character's life after being estranged from his wife and daughter, as well as exposes the baseness and artifice that grow like mould in the world with which he has surrounded himself.

At times, it felt like the author was pointlessly flexing his funny bone by writing tumultuous scenarios that seemed inconsequential to the plot and inevitably ended in catastrophe. Upon closer examination, though, these scenes of mounting disaster illustrated the truly grotesque sides of humanity that arise when inhibitions are watered down by liquor.

It's sometimes hard to tell if the character seeks chaos to bring out ugly truths or to forget his own. Somehow in his twisted games and deceit, we readers get glimpses that we also might be tangled up in one of his webs. This is pretty thrilling because there are few things that I find as exciting as realizing I've been playing the game an author has planned out for me.

Chalifour writes incredibly well paced descents into human baseness that expose his characters' desperation. Occasionally, these toils only reach their climax with death. He strings us along in an opaque mystery that I doubted so often, it almost drove me as mad as his characters.

This sombre novel full of underplayed tragedy often stopped my reading mid paragraph to enjoy perfectly satisfying turns of phrase, symbols and metaphors that for brief moments split the story wide open. Chalifour lets the reader see into the shadows just long enough to get close before he snaps the storybook shut again. Trapped in a book is my favourite place to be.nicolas-2012-09-17.jpg

234 pages

$21,95. "Variétés Delphi" can be purchased on Héliotrope's website, as well as in bookstores.

Photos Courtesy of Héliotrope



Fuddle duddle / September 17, 2012 at 02:44 pm

He seems to be able to nail his observations on the head - sounds like what one gets when a bunch of people board the bus on  leaving the half way house - the stories they share amongst themselves!

Hemingway had great insights also, but he also actually lived life to the fullest, in the thick of things, and not just like a sponge filter feeding on the periphery, occasionally extruding tidbits of his own personal sweet and sour sauce.

I wonder how different the world would be if every wannabee activist actually got up from the armchair instead of living vicariously through others.

Is this literature or merely the final wheezy gasps echoing from an empty husk of a life not so much well, but nearly completely spent.
Caitlin / September 17, 2012 at 03:26 pm
Hemingway was also a raging, abusive alcoholic. So, to each their own.
I'm not sure this book bears any proof of wanting to be activist at all. This book is about the book as object, the book as entity, about the deep and profound relationship between the reader and the book. I don't see how it could be literature any more than that. If everyone was an activist, all we'd be left with would be empty desk chairs, turned-off laptops and no one to aggrandize said activists in the first place. This is about emotions, people and order versus chaos, which I find pretty satisfying. It seems to be working for the author too, as well as keeping him away from shotguns.
Caitlin replying to a comment from Fuddle duddle / September 18, 2012 at 08:53 am
Also, if you want to read some local, militant writing, I suggest you pick up "Printemps Spécial" also published by Héliotrope. It might change your mind about certain authors "living vicariously through others".
Fuddle duddle / September 19, 2012 at 05:27 am
Well, I would not have considered it fair to come out and described the author as "also a raging abusive alcoholic", but from your defensive demeanor, we might infer a certain intimate knowledge of this "author"? Sounds a bit cowardly otherwise to make such a hopefully baseless accusation... 
Caitlin / September 19, 2012 at 07:43 am
No, I don't know the author. I was only referring to Hemingway's own notorious violent alcoholism, not Chalifour. The Hemingway card is just a bit of a glorified one I'm tired of seeing played. I'm sorry if my sentence mislead you, clarity and intention can get lost in syntaxe sometimes.
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awww, that's my friend eliane. she's a collector of folk art, and tramp art. very sucessful in her field. she's rather toned down in these pics i must say!
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