ISBN 978-0-9571213-0-0. Paperback.164pp Publication date: April 2012. Equus Press: London.
Price: € 8.00 (not including postage).
Shortlisted for the 2012 3:AM Novel of the Year Award.
Longlisted for the 2012 Guardian Newspaper “Not the Booker” Prize.
“Plus noir que noir.” (Goodreads)
“Armand has written a perfect modern noir, presenting Kafka’s Prague as a bleak, monochrome singularity of darkness, despair and edgy, dry existentialist hardboil.” (Richard Marshall, 3:AM)
“While Jim Thompson… provides inside views of the workings of intentional petty criminals, Armand gives us an inner view (note the difference) of someone not following such a path. The tool of his well crafted prose, necessary here to forge the events out of ambient background, is at odds with the ham-fisted telling of Thompson. Armand’s story worms its way out of an infested history beyond the control of the protagonist, wriggling unbidden like an ascaris from an anus. I would suggest that a more apt comparison might be Djuna Barnes.” (James Chaffee, nthposition)
“Armand has done to Prague what Genet achieves in Our Lady of the Flowers. Breakfast at Midnight is the most savage book I’ve read in years.” (Jim Ruland, San Diego City Beat)
“A pinball fever dream, sopping with sweat, booze, and sex, that bathes its confines in an unsettling atmosphere of grime.” (Benjamin Woodard, Rain Taxi)
“Breakfast at Midnight is a wonderfully executed nod to Kafka’s special brand of disorienting surrealism.” (Michelle Bailat-Jones, Necessary Fiction)
“A debauched, hallucinogenic noir… If Georges Simenon had smoked angel dust he might have come up with a style like this.” (Prague Post)
“Armand has achieved a dazzling level of literary expression.” (Ladislav Nagy, Hospodářské noviny)
“Mickey Spillane meets Georges Bataille on speed.” (Goodreads)
“When you finish reading this book you want to take a shower for a very long long time.” (Reads by the Beach)
“The sort of thing Iain Sinclair might write if he’d morphed with Chris Petit…” (Stewart Home, author of Red London)
“An impressionistic noir which teeters on the edge of being a thriller… Pitch-perfect.” (Robert Kiely, London Student)
“Recommended for readers who like their books creepy and surreal.” (Goodreads)
“A strange mixture of realism and almost schizophrenic fantasy, reloaded into a late 20th century context of border town bordellos, dysfunctional families, psychotic reactions and perverse sexuality.” (Phil Shoenfelt, author of Junkie Love)
Kafkaville. Blake is a pornographer who photographs corpses. Ten years ago, a young man becomes a fugitive when a redhead disappears on a bridge in the rain. Now, at the turn of the millennium, another redhead has turned up in the morgue, and the fugitive can’t get the dead girl’s image out of his head. For Blake, it’s all a game — a funhouse where denial is the currency, deceit is the grand prize, and all doors lead to one destination: murder. In the psychological noir-scape of Kafkaville, the rain never stops, and redemption is just another betrayal away…
Next thing we’re standing in the meat locker. Lights come on overhead. A row of sinks along a wall of scummed tiles that once were white. The stiff hands Blake a plain envelope then goes out. Without looking at it, Blake stuffs the envelope inside his coat. He’s a pretty picture, with his fox fur, his silver hair flaring out, stubble and red eyes and flying goggles around his neck – like some Luftwaffe pilot blitzed on pervitin.
In the middle of the room a gurney has been left out, draped with a green sheet. Blake takes out his camera and walks over to it. He waits until I’m next to him before he pulls the sheet away. It takes a few seconds to register what I’m seeing and then something inside me locks up. Bruised flesh leers pornographic – laughter, like a swarm of bees, swarming closer. I can hear the shutter of Blake’s camera clicking off one shot after another until the film runs out. Somehow that sound neutralises everything.
Behind my eyes images seethe and turn grey – my throat tightens around a scream that won’t come out – my head goes numb. Regen’s lying there, watching me. Red hair and jade eyes like an oriental fetish. A blur of stage-light on porcelain. Too naked. And then she’s gone again. Where she lay, there’s a corpse. Like a Janus figure. They might’ve been twins, but not quite. Two images reflecting one another through a gap in time.
Something happened once, ten years ago, in a place I want to forget. A memory, an image, a sickness. Old paranoias. I tell myself she’s dead, but it sounds fake, as fake as when I tell myself she’s alive, that she’ll come back, that everything can still be the way it used to be. I close my eyes and open them again slowly, forcing myself to see only what’s there. A slab of ruined meat. I can feel Blake watching me.
“It’s not her,” voice flat.
I stare at the corpse’s mouth while I repeat it – a black hole cropped out with teeth. “It’s not her.” Matted red hair. Eyes wide open, staring straight up – grey green, the corneas filmed over. Skin pale blue. But it isn’t Regen.
There are bruises across the dead girl’s breasts, her thighs. Crudely stitched autopsy incisions divide her abdomen. Crotch stubble. Abrasions on knees, shins, forearms. Supplicant. All of her fingernails are broken. Old rope burns wind around her wrists and neck like myrtle.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louis Armand (*1972) is a writer and visual artist who has lived in Prague since 1994. He has worked as an editor and publisher, and as a subtitles technician at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. He currently lectures in the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University and is an editor of VLAK magazine. He is the author of seven collections of poetry (most recently, Letters from Ausland, Vagabond: 2011) and a number of volumes of criticism (including Solicitations: Essays on Criticism and Culture, Litteraria: 2008). Clair Obscur is his third work of prose fiction, following The Garden (Salt: 2001) — characterised by Clare Wallace as a “thoughtfully and beautifully written [...] complex, multi-layered and ultimately undecidable tale, which defies reduction to a simple narrative” — and Menudo (Antigen: 2006), whose depiction of Mexico has been described by Jane Lewty as “barbarous and sadistic, yet beautiful [...], portray[ed] with an incomparable eloquence,” out of which springs its “soliloquy/monologue erupting from the psyche of a delirious being.”
Critics on The Garden:
Louis Armand’s The Garden exemplifies more bold trends in the internationalization of Australian literature. Written in an experimental form borrowing from the French recit as practiced by the likes of Maurice Blanchot, this work consists of a cascade of unpunctuated disorienting prose drifting between subject and object, traversing spatial and temporal warpings as well as boundaries of imagination and reality. At times, the flow momentarily twists into interjections seemingly reflecting upon its own possibility, which: functions in weightlessness against a vertical backdrop where everything is in suspense a cliff face echoing between lines of noise on the margins of a sea traversed by an emergence of meaning which is perhaps a mere surface effect concealing the abyss of the seduction of language a recit of the wave’s journey as it draws ever over to the receding shoreline… –Sebastian Gurciullo (Colloquy: Text, Theory, Critique)
“An idea began to form of her body as a hive of wounds that somehow pre-existed an implement a secret mutilation from within.” She is everywhere here, and yet always she is not quite. The text is always too early or too late to hear. The more it chases her the more she slips the line of its noose. Text working a different time from what it desires. “I opened my mouth and a stone fell out.” This is a text haunted by feeling. It deals in abstract emotions, delicately. “Fragments of lost intimacies.” There’s a practice, an ascetic aesthetic, for moving toward feeling in the pure form of its impurity. “But to experience oneself as cut off from others is also to hold open the possibility of transcending this isolation entering into all of those lives experiencing them like a mirror in which no division of time or space prevails.” You sense it when you think you can’t. –McKenzie Wark (Saline)
Louis Armand’s The Garden is a single text, presented as prose, but definitely “poet’s prose” (to borrow a term from the US critic Stephen Fredman used for the kind of hybrid poetry / prose work of Gertrude Stein, Robert Creeley and William Carlos Williams). What Armand presents us with here is a poetic novella produced as a single unpunctuated sentence; but a disjunctive one, where the viewpoint of the narrative switches fluidly between two principle characters: an unnamed man and a woman called simply “m”. There is another subjectivity, a writing “presence” which could be Armand, could be an extension of the male character (or both?). The fluidity covers time as well, we keep looping back to the same few important scenes, glimpsed in different ways from each perspective. One thing is apparent — somehow somebody has died, and it becomes clear that it is “m”. The atmosphere of The Garden reminds me a lot of the work of the French fiction writer and theorist Maurice Blanchot – sparsely described interiors, characters who remain effectively faceless, an atmosphere of cold yet sometimes desperate alienation. It’s an utterly European Modernism, rather than the American-influenced modes we mostly receive — but then Armand lives in Prague. The writer-figure interests me: his own consciousness seems to flow out exhausting itself in a stream of words a literal death sentence & and what if it goes on write until you can’t stand it any more then give it up if you don’t want to give up go on until you can’t stand it any more This pinpoints a kind of obsessive drive in the writing which becomes particularly extreme towards the end of the book when the male character is clearly trying to come to terms with (the manner of) m’s protracted demise and things get a little too surreal, a little too gratuitously violent. At that point you almost lose the really exciting aspect of the poem, which is just this shifting between narrative aspects and subjectivities, a kind of stream-of-consciousnesses. –Keith Jebb (Poetry Review)
Critics on Menudo:
“Menudo is a thump to the head… unrelenting, a flying wedge, an encyclopaedia of the wasteland, an uzi assault pumping desolation lead… inspiring!” –Thor Garcia
The true heart of darkness can be found in Menudo, a soliloquy/monologue erupting from the psyche of a delirious being, “an almost familiar figure, barely cohering & already coming apart” who nevertheless possesses the all-seeing eye, as in Alain Robbe-Grillet’s La Jalousie. The territory is barbarous and sadistic, yet beautiful — a hallucinated Mexico that Armand portrays with an incomparable eloquence: a “danse macabre of mundane, trivial items, while elsewhere, under the ground their doubles are stirring.” And the dead, “how do they know they are not dreaming us? not reenacting us in the afterlife of dead gestures, dead words?…this is where your thinking has led to…someone else has been here before you. washing the blood from the hands, arms, neck, face.” Detailing a descent into madness and fugue, unfamiliar terrain, ritual and torture, Menudo sets out to refute the idea of its own searching, “of trying to recover. of following all the routes back. as though such a thing were possible.” Instead, “it will have always come back of its own accord despite the detail of enumeration.” What is presented to us is only a thing “in place” of the real event: “a captive piece of inertia. to stand in place of you…haunted by figures who are even patiently converging. menacing. pursuing through nightmares.” And if what lies ahead is “a silence to be filled. a space to be invested with meaning” then what of this insistent horror “plucking the liver nightly from our sides”? Whose dream are we in with its interminable analyses? “a methodology of chance operations. to arrive at the fortuitous encounter with something “‘like’ the truth?” A place where “one kills oneself the way one dreams,” where one is “outside the situation of your body. & that is what it is. & that is what it is forever.” –Jane Lewty, “Implied Offerings in This Universe: The Poetry of Louis Armand” (Thresholds)