Good morning! OGIC here. I first posted about Edie Meidav’s Crawl Space over there. Herewith are a few further observations that didn’t make the cut for that first post.
• Emile Poulquet's mind, though warped and morally atrophied, is also quick and discriminating and very richly responsive to whatever he encounters. So Meidav gives us the enlightening spectacle of his old-world, very nearly premodern sensibility making sense (or sometimes not making sense) of, for instance, punked-out homeless teenage girls—or show us his highly xenophobic mind encountering people from other places whom he finds he not only likes, but needs—and further contradictions. All of these encounters are fascinating. And since Emile's mind is so sharp, and he is very feeling on certain registers, you feel acutely the waste and the shame. This may seem strange, but one book I have thought about in relation to Crawl Space is Lolita, only because of the way in which both books' narrators are such perverse and troubling characters and at the same time such fascinating, charming, and erudite guides to their own emotional damage.
• One of the guiding interests is of course to find out what makes Emile tick—someone who could do what he has done, consigning thousands to deportation and probable death. It's not primarily a question of why he did it—though we are certainly interested in that, and we get glimpses of the constellation of experiences, the feelings, and especially the lacunae of feeling, that made his actions during the Occupation possible. It's also a question of how having done that then affects someone: the processes of guilt, self-justification, and simply imposing some kind of sense on a world that vehemently renounces you. For Emile, accepting that judgment would void him of a self.
• The subject matter of Meidav's novel is so sensitive and demands so much attention—just to answer the question of why you want to read a book told from the perspective of this kind of person, with all the associated risks (i.e., you might empathize with the person)—that it’s easy to neglect to say how beautifully this novel is crafted. I'm afraid my post last week did give this quality short shrift. When I reread this book in preparation for posting about it, as I do when I’m reading a book for review, I kept a running list of pages with particularly beautiful or striking things, and my list for Crawl Space goes on and on and on. The character is witheringly snobbish, but he’s a funny and perceptive snob. The way Meidav has occupied this figure and imagined his experience is astonishingly meticulous and absolutely engaging.
• This spring, while rereading Crawl Space, I saw the Jean-Pierre Melville film Army of Shadows, which was made in 1969 but released in the US for the first time this year. It is about people working underground for the French Resistance, the other side of the wartime story that Meidav’s novel tells. It's a devastating film that shows how thoroughly that shadow fight against the occupation forces brutalized these people—it required that they become remorseless, even vicious, at any hint of betrayal. The people in the film are heroes, yet it is unclear what they are achieving in real terms, and along the way their fight kills or dehumanizes them—or both. It’s the other side of the coin from Emile Poulquet’s story. And in fact, some of the most interesting material in the novel is its view of the Resistance from the point of view of a collaborator. Emile is acquainted with some key Resistance figures, and moreover romantically obsessed with one. At a critical point in his history, these acquaintances actually help get him his job as prefect, imagining that he sympathizes with their cause and will use his authority to help their efforts. They couldn’t be more wrong. He not only won’t put himself at risk, he finds their politics to be so much moral puffery. So the book and the film turned out to be a thought-provoking set of companion pieces.
I would love to hear from anyone who has read the novel or is reading it now—the comment box is open for business!