The Address Book by Sophie Calle
Siglio (September 30, 2012), 104 pp.
The premise is writer Sophie Calle came upon a somewhat battered, lost red diary with a black spine lying on a French street. Upon investigating it, she came up with what's either an extremely innovative or extremely creepy idea of contacting the people whose names were listed in the book, setting up interviews in order to find out more about the owner, to re-create a portrait of him based on the impressions of others.
Had this happened to me, should I lose such private information, my flesh would crawl at the thought of a stranger sneaking around behind my back, contacting everyone I know. What an invasion! The mere thought of it titillates, I'll admit, so long as it's happened to someone else. That's why I read the book. But when I think of it more, it's really outrageous.
Some of his - Pierre D. - contacts agreed to meet her, some didn't. From the interviews she did manage to set up, she learned he was somewhat a Bohemian, 30ish man who worked in the film industry. He lived alone, wasn't involved in any romantic relationships and was described as a kind, funny man with a great deal of creativity - an interesting man who knew many interesting people, rather than a workaday everyman, conveniently.
The question is, how much of Calle's book is truth and how much embellished? From the style it's almost impossible to tell. As a whole, it has the feeling of a French film, appropriately, exuding a feeling of performance art with the associated vertiginous quality I always feel when I'm engaged in a work of French film or literature. I don't always enjoy that discomfiting sensation, which probably says quite a lot about the sort of person I am. Abstraction is fine when used judiciously - i.e., when I'm comfortable with it - but an overabundance provokes in me a certain quality of revulsion, a pulling back. Nightmarish grotesquery is not in my comfort zone.
For a while there was enough
normality to keep my interest, in the writing and the lovely black and white
photography. The novelty wore off, however, before the book ended. I
became impatient with it, losing interest in Pierre D. I'd had enough of him, especially realizing I'd never "meet" him in the course of the book.
I'm glad the book was short, that I borrowed it from the library and didn't buy it. For a certain audience it would probably be better appreciated, but for me it was too "look how artsy I am!" I'm looking for a complete story, not merely a character sketch, when I engage with a book. The overall effect was too distanced, too detached. Not a satisfying read at all.
If the premise sounds engaging to you I say go for it. Maybe you'll appreciate it in a way I couldn't. I'm just grateful to be done with it, after some rapid skimming as I approached the end. I'm glad I tried it but enough was truly enough, which is why I found this quote from the LA Review of Books amusing:
Before this work appeared in the newspaper, in the early 1980s Calle was known, if at all, for her experimental games such as The Sleepers (1979) for which she individually invited strangers to sleep in her bed with her for eight hour shifts. She observed them, photographed them, and interviewed them — in a sense, she was already manipulating her guinea piglike subjects in real, physical trials at the budding age of 26. In 1980 she had also published Suite Vénitieene — an early entrée for Calle in becoming a pseudo-detective. For 13 days she followed a man, “Henri B.,” around Paris and then to Venice because she was intrigued, or possibly enamored, or maybe just bored. But the path led nowhere: after a brief confrontation between them Calle concluded, “Henri B. did nothing.
So it wasn't just me. I love when that happens.