Sent to me by the fine folks at Invisible Publishing, L is the surreal story of Henry, a man with a troubled home life, the woman called L who moves into the cramped room above his café, and how the café and the city seem to shift and respond to their relationship and their emotions. At first I didn’t like the book at all. It felt awkward and lacking direction, and it didn’t help that Orti’s prose is incredibly strange. More than once I caught myself checking to see if L was in fact a translated work, because it had all the signs of having a serious case of translationese. And then, about halfway through, it hit me: L is a piece of French New Wave cinema. It is a Goddard film that has been transliterated from celluloid to paper. Once I realized that, everything made sense, and I found the book to be quite beautiful.
The unnamed city is itself a character, its denizens seemingly as mutable as its streets and walls, the café itself. The sense I get of the city is that it’s more kind to Rome or Venice than Paris, but the overall aesthetic of L is more À bout de soufflé than Ladri di biciclette. Or possibly Dave McKean’s Mirrormask.
I’m going to have to read this again, and that’s not a bad thing. I can’t decide if L or the city exist on—or in some way because of—the manuscript pages that characters keep finding floating loose throughout the city, but it seems to me a viable reading. More importantly though, I got the sense that there was more to this book than I was seeing in that first reading, and that’s always a good sign, even if the immediate outcome is that I have trouble talking about it. I think this is one of those books that you just have to read for yourself. And you should; it’s something truly challenging and original.
L (and things come apart) was my fourth selection for the Fourth Canadian Book Challenge.