I have to cram all of Nisard into this book, that he might in the end be ejected from it with one mighty blast, leaving no seed behind, no stump, no cluster of gelatinous eggs to doom my endeavor. I’ve set out to destroy Nisard, and my intention is most certainly not to give him a scolding, nor even a sound thrashing, nor to embellish his broad, pallid face with a shining black eye and empurpled nose: might as well man the pump that keeps his blood flowing! No, I want to erase the very memory of Nisard, down to the tiniest trace. Not reduce him to shards or powder: the wind would sprinkle those spores over some putrid soil where the would immediately put down roots. No seed scattered on the ground fails to find a womb in the end. Nisard has already annexed more than one uterus, more than one nest. That parasite would just as happily grow in a she-donkey’s intestine. He would thrive in the spawn of an eel. Viviparous or oviparous, Nisard can be hatched by all; no one is safe. And it’s always a painful delivery No little episiotomy will spare you. Forty feet of thread for the post-natal suture, I’ve heard. Is there no hope of regaining tranquility that reigned before procreation? Once there was nothing and then there was something, and as it happened this was a bad thing, for the result was Nisard.
Eric Chevillard is one of France’s most prolific writers, publishing over twenty works of fiction in that last twenty years. A postmodernist’s postmodernist, he is daring and courageous with his work. He veers off into directions without knowing the end, satisfied with the journey of a path never traveled. In Demolishing Nisard, we get the best of him – clever, bombastic prose that overwhelms and fascinates the reader regardless of a clear understanding of what his intentions as an author are. The unnamed narrator of this slim novel has a monstrous obsession with a nineteenth century literature critic named Desire Nisard. This obsession at turns violent and psychosexual, is also humorous and provocative. He becomes the narrator’s target for all problems past and present in the world. In his search to destroy and eradicate the very idea of Nisard from history, he goes on a hunt for a novel that Nisard wrote, entitled The Milkmaid Succumbs. Little evidence of this novel exists, but the narrator is convinced it is the key to solidifying his hatred for Nisard and for proving that he is a threat to the very foundation of society.
Throughout the novel, Chevillard incorporates snippets of Nisard’s criticism, quotes from the LaRousse bio of Nisard, and news items, present and past, that use Nisard as the culpable party from local deaths to weapons of mass destruction. Much of the narrator’s tirades are commented on by Metilde, the obviously devoted and tolerant girlfriend. Metilde is a calming presence in the novel, as if relieving the reader of responsibility for the unreliability of the narrator. So inventive and pitch-perfect is Chevillard’s prose, brought to life impeccably by Jordan Stump, it’s difficult to choose only a few quotes to demonstrate his brilliance. In this passage, he takes Nisard to task for his banal and boring perspectives on literature:
You’d like to buy a fedora to class up your look, a sombrero to brush up your Spanish, a riding helmet to spur your horse over the plains, a bowler to revive vaudeville, a cap to grow younger, a ski-mask to redistribute the wealth, a cloche to let women have their say, a crown to be obeyed, a boater to sport on your country outings, a top hat to marry Metilde, sorry, Nisard Haberdashers sells nothing but nightcaps.
Nisard represents the establishment to the narrator, the safe and reserved, the middle of the road, a classical, staid version of literature. Not only literature, but the mediocrity that plagues the masses. The narrator sees it as a miasmic plague spreading across time and space, infecting every crevice of culture. In the end, it seems even the narrator is infected and must destroy the Nisardian aspect that lives within his own mind.
While all of this is hilarious and fast-paced challenge of the status-quo, it’s a 135 pages of vituperative hostility. I suppose, as the reader, point could be taken; if we are bombarded constantly with the mediocrity and reserved nature of society, we are sure to succumb to it. So Chevillard’s railing mimics mediocrity’s constant assault on our senses. Of course, this is a subjective interpretation would could not have been his intention at all. Just like we need writers like Chevillard to break us out of our comfortable literary dens, the reader needs a break from the narrator’s tantrum.
Stylistically and thematically, there is heavy hat-tipping to Celine, de Sade, and Bataille. There is the non-stop ranting of Celine, the daring of de Sade and the food-sex combo of Bataille. These influences enhance the work as like-minded ghostly compatriots of the narrator’s objective. Definitely, this is a fun novel. Even though there is intense emotion in this novel, high levels of manic anger, it’s not an emotional novel. It’s cerebral, a modern antidote to the mainstream, intended for readers who don’t look to the bestseller list for the next read.