I spent what seemed to me a considerable amount of time flushing out what I thought was a bit of leek stuck between my upper right incisor and its neighbouring canine – first with my fingernail, then with the corner of a business card, and finally with a sharpened matchstick. But there was no piece of leek. It was an erroneous message that my gums were sending me, themselves misled by some previous irritation.
From its starring role in sex and illness to the chorus line of contagious yawning and behind-the-scenes picking one’s nose, through the kitchen-sink drama of heartburn, nosebleeds and insomnia, his body takes the stage in all its defeats and triumphs, its pains and pleasures, its humanity. Although he’s resolved to expunge the social and psychological entity that this body enables, he inevitably discovers that the physical cannot be completely split off from the psyche. Just as his body is composed of multiple systems we meet his different selves: frightened boy; curious adolescent; diligent student; freedom fighter; lover; doting father; senior civil servant (I think); grandfather; friend.
I did wonder, in that sometimes irritating stolen-head device some writers draw upon to contextualise their fiction, about the narrator’s decision to bequeath a diary about fucking (among other things) to his daughter. And, because I’m much more interested in character, I did occasionally lose interest. But mostly I found Diary of a Body a warm, moving and humorous story about what it means to be human, refreshingly different albeit with echoes of The A-Z of You and Me. Translated from the French by Alyson Waters, it’s published in the UK by MacLehose who kindly provided my review copy.
If you have time, and haven’t done so already, you might like to check out my own writing about the body, including my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, which explores the drive for bodily transformation and features a visceral description of self-harm in the opening chapter, as well as several short stories you can read for free by following the links from my virtual annethologies page, along with a few associated blog posts.
Although I can type a little, my hands, arms and fingers are so affected that I can’t even bear to watch someone else typing, especially if they are using an older and somewhat noisy keyboard (or even, my personal bugbear, an electronic keyboard programmed to sound like a typewriter). As I understand it, it affects me this way because we experience imagined movement in our bodies similarly to real movement (I think that’s what this study says, and apologies that I couldn’t find the less specialised article I’m sure I’ve read in the past) and mirror neurons cause us to react to movement of others as if it were our own.
None of the pictures flashing through her mind made sense. A conference of elephants in England? An Arabic instrument midway between a zither and an oud? A motorbike, churning up the peat, miles from a road? Sadly, the latter seemed most likely and it was the Ranger’s job, if she could, to persuade them to stop.
The noise grew louder as she stumbled through the heather, wondering if she should radio in for help. Then she saw them, heads down, antlers locked, a guttural groaning protesting each was king. Every October it surprised her when the deer rut began.