The Prix Goncourt–winning author of the scandalous The Kindly Ones returns with four new novellas that offer startlingly fresh depictions of age-old obsessions: sex and love, desiring and gazing, and the memories that take a lifetime to process. In The Fata Morgana Books, Littell crafts unique narrative voices by letting sensual feelings take the fore, whether the slippery promise of silk underwear, the dizzy intensity of abstract art, the languid torpor of a French beach, the shock of a bull’s goring horn, or the warmth of a fondled breast. The connections between events are left obscure, yet these novellas are as striking as a gust of frigid air, presenting a skewed reality in which the reader is drawn forward to figure out who, or what, is telling the story, and why. Narrated by what may be hermaphrodites or ghosts, wanders or wonders, Littell’s masterful, effortless sentences carry these stories that illuminate the shadowy depths of solitude, reflection, longing, and lust.
"In Quarters" is a Proustian ghost story, or maybe a memory, or a dream. Narrated by a man who may or may not exist, it follows him through a sprawling mansion where he cares for a sick child, though he has forgotten whether or not the boy is his, while stealing food from other's plates and having sex with a beautiful young woman. When he travels to a provincial city, the young woman reappears—or does she? Repeated brushes with shadowy men with umbrellas offer a hint of menace that forms the backbone of this strange tale.
"Story About Nothing" follows a man who cannot remember his birthday "or even the sign under which I was born" as he experiences transgenderism, a pornographic tape given to him by a mysterious stranger, and a Hemingway-esque series of bullfights under the hot Spanish sun. As Littell takes his narrator through a series of affairs, each more ephemeral then the last, it becomes clear that this is a story about the transience of sex, the way that desire evaporates in satiation and then reappears when two strangers share a long look over a strong drink. Anchored by striking images—a lime sorbet, children diving off of high rocks—Littell's tale becomes a trip through desire that is not soon forgotten.
Commanding in spite of their vagueness, beguilingly easy to read but full of depth and mystery, these novellas explore the in-between spaces: between thoughts, between bodies, between hungers and their satisfactions, between eyes and the things they look at.