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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Edouard Levé

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To purchase Suicide

Title: Suicide
Author: Edouard Levé
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 128 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Suicide - US
Suicide - UK
Suicide - Canada
Suicide - Canada (French)
Suicide - India
Suicide - France
Selbstmord - Deutschland
Suicidio - Italia
Suicidio - España
  • French title: Suicide
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Jan Steyn

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Our Assessment:

B : fine life- (and death-)account

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Berlin Rev. of Books . 8/3/2010 Hugo Wilcken
Bookforum . 19/4/2011 Laird Hunt
The Guardian . 1/7/2011 Christopher Byrd
The National . 29/4/2011 Scott Esposito
El País . 16/10/2010 Jesús Ferrero
Prospect . 5/2011 Andrew Hussey
Télérama . 31/5/2008 Jacques Morice
TLS . 24/6/2011 Hugo Wilcken
Wall St. Journal . 2/4/2011 Sam Sacks
Die Zeit . 4/11/2012 Peter Henning

  From the Reviews:
  • "Suicide is not a fictionalised account of Levé’s death; in some respects it is a negative image of it. (...) Ironically, Suicide represents a new departure for Levé: his previous books could be considered conceptual conceits, whereas Suicide is something else, a purely literary work." - Hugo Wilcken, The Berlin Review of Books

  • "Suicide, which has been translated into English by Jan Steyn, probably could have functioned successfully as a work of literature without the reader's knowing about Leve's fate. (...) But this is a novel that does not function on its merits alone, and the floor falls out from under us entirely when we recall how Levé -- who shared numerous autobiographical points in common with the suicide in the novel -- chose to end his days. Suicide is both fiction and final, nonfictional statement, both novel and memoir. It is we, as readers and participants, who stand at the center of these two mirrors hung opposite each other and find the author infinitely, diminishingly multiplied." - Laird Hunt, Bookforum (online)

  • "Suicide is packaged as directly as pornography. Its title leaves no room for ambiguity. Its marketing holds out the promise of voyeurism. The text on the back cover dictates how the novel will be consumed" - Christopher Byrd, The Guardian

  • "Suicide would be an odd and noteworthy work even if Levé had not killed himself. It is constructed almost entirely from short, lithe sentences written in the second person. (...) Levé uses all the tropes that we have come to associate with suicide, but he animates them in original ways. (...) Much credit is due to translator Steyn for producing language that carries with it an intense, original feel while maintaining the original's minimalist understatement. With Steyn's translation one gets a clear sense of how well-formed and original was Levé's artistic vision, how his work makes a virtue of its limits, exploiting its boundaries within the less abstract stuff of style, story, and structure to produce remarkably subtle, rich effects." - Scott Esposito, The National

  • "Nos hallamos ante una novela inclasificable que te deja la cabeza en una dimensión donde lo especulado, lo deseado y lo temido parecen conformar una única naturaleza, casi un único destino." - Jesús Ferrero, El País

  • "On the surface, all of this seems an example of the irritating and arty tactics that has made French fiction so unpopular. However, this novel is not so much an explanation or justification for Levé’s death as an insight into how the act of suicide might or might not confer meaning on an otherwise random life. (...) Yet this not a depressing book. The protagonist described the act of suicide as a "work of scandalous beauty" -- also a good description of the book, which like Levé’s best work as an artist and photographer, has a cold but very real sense of poetry." - Andrew Hussey, Prospect

  • "Suicide est un cheminement autour d'un noyau dur, qui serait moins une vérité intime qu'une vérité universelle. (...) Levé est resté artiste dans ses livres. Mais avec Suicide, il est passé à autre chose, au récit qu'on ne lui connaissait pas, lui qui était plus attaché à une forme de poésie non poétique." - Jacques Morice, Télérama

  • "There is a sense of something missing in the novel, that it is merely the written component of a larger event. But if the missing element is Levé’s own death, then that is not to say that the novel is a suicide note, or even a dry run. Whether or not Levé conceived of suicide as an aesthetic act, his novel’s narrator certainly does. (...) Enthralling and disturbing in equal measure, Suicide ultimately retains its mystery." - Hugo Wilcken, Times Literary Supplement

  • "In an ominous drumbeat of affectless and repetitive sentences (...), the narrator probes his friend's state of mind for clues to his death. As the examination runs deeper, the emotions ascribed to "You" -- the friend who committed suicide -- begin to seem more like eerie projections of the death-haunted narrator." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "Selbstmord ist das finster-triumphale Psychogramm einer Verstörung, fest-und sichtbar gemacht am prozesshaften Herausfallen eines Ichs aus seinem Leben und der es umgebenden Welt. Levé hat seinen Text als Monolog eines ganz und gar unerschrockenen Exorzisten angelegt, wie man ihn in dieser Offenheit kaum je gelesen hat." - Peter Henning, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The narrator of Suicide addresses the book to the dead man he writes about, a friend who committed suicide twenty years earlier, at the age of twenty-five. The narrator gives no explanation why he writes this account now -- though he notes:

     As my thoughts turn to you again, I do not suffer. I do not miss you. You are more present in memory than you were in the life we shared. If you were still alive, you would perhaps have become a stranger to me. Dead, you are as alive as you are vivid.
       The narrator describes much of the dead man's life, though it is unclear how he has such detailed knowledge of some of the episodes he recounts. The picture that emerges nevertheless remains relatively vague: one gets a sense of the suicide's character, yet he remains something of a mystery (most obviously also in the fact that he remains unnamed).
       The suicide wasn't a particularly social person, and generally wandered rather aimlessly (rather than being goal-oriented) -- while dreaming of knowing ahead of time what was going to happen next, so as to be able to prepare for what lay ahead. He did wind up married, but there's not much about this woman in his life ("When the two of you got married, you and I stopped seeing each other") -- though he staged the suicide carefully in such a way that she would be the one to find him. He experimented with antidepressants, but they didn't do much for him. Despite some obvious life-issues -- a general malaise and lack of focus -- he did not give the appearance of being dangerously suicidal; indeed, one of his projects was designing his own tomb (typically: "It would not be a family tomb: you would occupy it alone"), with birth- and death-date already hewn in the black marble, and the age of his death set at eighty-five (suggesting that the plan to off himself at twenty-five certainly wasn't always set in stone).
       In part, the book as a whole is an attempt to get to the root of the act, yet the narrator does not muse too much about the why. Even the odd clues -- the double-spread of a comic book left open at the scene which was his "final message" -- remain under-explored.
       Eventually the narrator concludes:
Are there good reasons for committing suicide ? Those who survived you asked themselves these questions; they will not find answers.
       But the narrator doesn't seem that concerned about finding a 'good' (or other) reason for the act; he wonders a little, but for the most part focuses on what's left of the dead man, the memories and image of him he retains, twenty years after the fact. And he notes: "Your suicide makes the lives of those who outlive you more intense."
       The narrator's limited perspective and the unanswered questions -- including why he chooses to write this account twenty years after the fact -- make for an intriguing if incomplete (and subjective) portrait of a man who chose to exit early in his life. Seen simply as such, Suicide is a solid if not entirely satisfying life- and death-portrait.
       Of course, it can't simply be seen as such.

       Clearly, the narrator does see suicide as an immortalizing act: "Dead, you are as alive as you are vivid", he wrote, and: "Your suicide makes the lives of those who outlive you more intense." And so on. No need to wait another six decades to fulfill the tomb-prophecy -- how much easier just to get it over with immediately.
       This attitude presumably reflects Levé's own, as Levé made a similar choice, albeit at a considerably later stage in life, offing himself at age forty-two. But Suicide is inextricably bound together with Levé's own suicide: he did himself in shortly after completing the manuscript, apparently waiting only until his editor confirmed that it had been accepted for publication.
       Suicide hardly reads like a suicide note, yet given its title and the circumstances it's hard not to see it as such. Certainly, it allows Levé to apologize and explain very publicly that, for example:
This selfishness of your suicide displeased you. But, all things considered, the lull of death won out over life's painful commotion.
       There's an appealing finality and absoluteness to suicide, making it a tempting ultimate (as it is, by definition) act for the artist. However, going about it as Levé did does, in this cynical age, also reek of a desperate (if hardly original) publicity-stunt; certainly by following Suicide so closely with suicide he irremediably attached a foul, foul stench to this work.
       Levé apparently had little faith in his art -- unwilling to allow it to stand on its own, insisting on not just overshadowing it (by eventually killing himself) but essentially obliterating it (by immediately killing himself, thus permanently tainting the work and making it impossible to read it in any way independently of the author and his act). Ironically, the impulse to do so seems to arise out of his misguided hopes for immortality: it's hard not see him having committed these acts (Suicide ! suicide !) in this close sequence specifically in the hope of finding that, like his protagonist: "Dead, you are as alive as you are vivid" (since he understands that independently neither would have made near as much of an impression and he and his art would have suffered the usual fate of artists and art, fading quickly and easily from memory).

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 May 2011

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Suicide: Reviews: Other books by Edouard Levé under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Édouard Levé was born in 1965 and committed suicide in 2007.

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© 2011-2015 the complete review

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