Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Clearly, the theme of “the couple” and its variants (copulation, conjunction, recombination) is paramount—so much so that the novel can usefully be considered as an experiment in generating dyadic structures of social interaction. No fewer than thirty couples populate the novel: Edouard plus (Maria-Barbara, Florence, Angelica); Alexandre plus (his mother, Eustache, Daniel, Sam, Murillo); Thomas plus (Christ, Alexandre); Jean plus (Paul, Denise, Sophie); Paul plus (Jean, Sophie, Shonin, himself); Meline plus (Justin, Paul); Fabienne plus (Alexandre, Alexis); Deborah and Ralph; Olivier and Selma; and more. Each couple represents not only a different pairing but also a different type of pairing, based on such variables as anatomical sex, erotic preference, demography, intellect, and age group. Some couples, such as East and West, Time and Weather, Christ and Spirit, Venice and Constantinople, bind philosophical categories rather than people.

In order to interpret this exploratory formation of novel couples, many levels must be coordinated. First, the mere act of manufacturing so many different couples expresses some desire for fulfillment. The novel’s last word suggests a sublimated desire for autosodomy. The key episode of the Gemini binoculars militates for a stereoscopic vision of life: one framework enhanced or adjusted by another, an “objective” correlated with a “perspective.” Alternating voice narration dubs this idea of perceptual accommodation—as does the repeated conjunction of bisymmetric geographies—and creates an adversarial atmosphere of witnesses and testifying. In treasuring rubbish and scorning valuables, Alexandre inverts the social hierarchy of Majority and Minority. The proliferation of nonstandard pairings suggests a groping for a new order. Pairings are created, tested, and extinguished as they prove nonviable. Of all these pairings, none is “normal,” and only the last survives. In the terminal pairing, Paul’s mind absorbs that of Jean, then pushes it out as an extrusion, from Paul’s own side, to act as a bridge with nature: Genesis retold, with Eve as a man.