Book: Eléctrico W
Author: Hervé Le Tellier
Published: June 2013 by Other Press; translated by Adriana Hunter
First lines: “We were heading toward Rossio in a taxi the color of olives, green and black, an ancient Mercedes 220, one of those rounded sedans from the sixties.”
Rating: 4.43/5 women you drive away before they ever have a chance to love you back
Recommended if you like: Books that take place in Europe; flawed main characters; reading books that are sometimes uncomfortable but that ring with truth.
E-Galley provided by Other Press.
My lovely friend Tara over at BookSexyReview says that Le Tellier is actually kind of a big deal and he belongs to a movement of writing called Oulipo. If that floats your boat, I urge you to head on over to her post and check out information about that. For me, I’m much more clued into art movements than literary movements, so I’ll let better minds than mine field that while I talk about the reading experience of this book.
It is a testament to the skill of Hervé Le Tellier that this novel can be so compelling while also featuring as its main character a man who, had he been born 25 years later, would have been a prime candidate for Nice Guys™ of OKCupid. Vincent is so much of a textbook case that I was furiously making notes about his Frustrated Beta Male Syndrome within the first chapter or so. Most authors couldn’t tackle a character like Vincent and make him anything other than a whiny, absurd caricature; Le Tellier manages to do the improbable and makes Vincent a character that, while you still kind of hate him, you feel just enough sympathy for him that you can read the book fluidly and enjoy it without complications.
Le Tellier does this by cheating the perspective a tad; in paintings, artists often take liberties with “true” perspective to get more of the picture in the fame. You end up with impossible tables that couldn’t hold up a bowl of fruit in real life, but you get to see everything the artist wanted to paint. I feel that, in writing Vincent, Le Tellier employed a similar technique; Vincent is self-aware enough that he is able to admit his flaws, even while being fully captive to them. I don’t think most people like Vincent would be that self-aware, but it is a necessary cheat.
The book starts with Vincent, our tragically unloved hero, fleeing Paris to escape the wiles of the beautiful Irene. Irene has dragged his heart through the muck and stomped all over it by rejecting his constant mewling to be loved. He sets up house in Lisbon, picks up a few hobbies, and tries not to cry every time he thinks of her (which is all the time).
Sidenote: it is a fact that I once was friends with a man who, despite my clearly telling him over and over and over that I was not in the slightest romantically attached to him, persisted in trying to win my heart. I was approximately twenty-one years old at the time, and not smart enough to realize that this wasn’t a real friendship; I let him fly across the country to meet me, against my better judgment, and I shit you not, he was already trying to make out with me within 24 hours. There were no mixed signals; my signal was a clear no. He sobbed like a child when I wouldn’t kiss him; he had been fully expecting me to succumb to his charms against everything I’d ever said. So, Irene, I feel you, girl.
A serial killer is caught in Lisbon, and Vincent is assigned by the newspaper to cover the trial along with photographer Antonio Flores. Antonio is everything that Vincent wants to be, and Vincent kind of hates him for it from the get: Antonio is a man who has women approach him, who has an achingly romantic lost-love story, who has gained notoriety for his photographs. Vincent, on the other hand, drags the albatross of the feeling of failure everywhere he goes. He claims it is a necklace of quirkiness and underdoggish victory, but we can see its true feathers.
The two men form a tenuous friendship (if you can call a relationship where one person is wildly jealous a friendship), but that is largely undone when Vincent learns the identity of the French woman who pines away for Antonio: of course, it is Irene. And she is coming to Lisbon, where the men have adjacent hotel rooms. Vincent crafts quick (and terrible) lies to save face; he invents a girlfriend, Lena Palmer. Secretly, he hatches a plot to reunite Antonio with his long-lost love so that he will abandon Irene, and Irene will be as wounded as Vincent (and, he won’t let himself admit, available to him).
Things go awry, as do they always. Irene does turn out to be a flaming bitch, but again, Le Tellier masters his craft in such a way that we can see her without being filtered through Vincent’s lens of bitterness. She does not stand in for all women who turn down Nice Guys™; she is her own woman, and she just happens to be a bitch, even though she’s totally right about not going out with Vincent (because honestly, he’s kind of a creepo). There are other women who wander into the story: Aurora, who is a bit Manic Pixie Dream Girl for my tastes; and Manuela, who doesn’t put up with any of Vincent’s shit, much to the reader’s delight. Also to my delight, there is character growth. Vincent makes a few choices differently than the old Vincent would have. He turns right a few times instead of left. They are small choices, but they are redemptive.
This is a book that made me think, and I think I like that most of all. I have little Kindle notes (and I so love being able to do Kindle notes, y’all) about literature sprinkled all through the book, ones that make me feel like kind of a smarty-pants, and I enjoy that feeling. His writing style is smooth; the translation is wonderful. The setting is lovely and the book is interesting. (And, did you see that cover art? I didn’t notice it until after I finished reading, because Kindle. LOVE.) Overall, I highly recommend it.
(Sorry for the word count bloat. I’M OUT OF PRACTICE.)