Murder by Danielle Collobert
Review by S. D. Stewart
Not so much a single narrative as a serpentine network of fragments, character sketches, and poetic-philosophic meditations, many taking place in a generic city, possibly the same one, peopled by unnamed and sometimes ungendered characters, narrated either in first or third person. Stylistic shifts occur with frequency, sometimes approaching more straightforward realism, other times recalling the interior journeying of the philosophical fiction of Maurice Blanchot (both pre- and post-Murder) and Hélène Cixous (post-Murder). Also present are shades of Kafka and Beckett, particularly in the wearying resignation to carry on in the face of inexplicable callousness and outright violence, the continuing threat of ignominious defeat, the fear of one’s inability to reach the end.
There is a restlessness to Collobert’s prose, a perpetual unsettled feeling, and an underlying current of menace, carried through scenes of implicit and explicit violence, both physical and emotional, likely informed in part by her involvement in the Algerian independence movement, yet transcending any specific historic moments. As with her poetry in It Then, she is able to write her way around events and experiences without naming them, yet still branding their implications upon the reader’s mind (though in the later It Then her approach is even less direct, employing an impersonal pronoun, and leaving a certain distance between the reader and the text, allowing one to touch the edges of the isolation and pain without fully absorbing it). Here, in Murder, a fractured yet forceful portrait forms of the bleakness of existence, with no hope beyond that same beleaguered resignation to keep moving forward to the end.
Little by little, abandon sets in. One does not die alone, one is killed, by routine, by impossibility, following their inspiration. If all this time, I have spoken of murder, sometimes half camouflaged, it’s because of that, that way of killing.