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  1. Hate: A Romance by Tristan Garcia, translated from French by Marion Duvert and Lorin Stein Garcia is hot property in France where this, his debut novel, won the Prix De Flore. A philosophy graduate, he has previously published a book of philosophy and this is reflected in this novel which is one of ideas and politics more than action. The story, set during the ‘80s and ‘90s, is narrated by Elizabeth, a journalist on the left-leaning paper Liberation, and revolves around her and three friends. Doum is a fellow journalist on her paper. Brought up in a left wing home in Corsica where his intellectual doctor father had links to separatists, he is deeply political, although with the advent of AIDS his left leanings have crystallised into concentration on gay politics, in particular that of prevention. Will is an inarticulate and cerebrally slow but beautiful young man who has an ill-fated relationship with Doum. And Leibo is a married Jewish intellectual with whom Liz has a long affair. Much of the story is narrated via conversations recorded or remembered by Liz. The novel is a Hadron Collider where these four atoms move at great speed and collide in explosions which leave a mass of destruction. The ‘hate’ of the title refers to the dramatic switch from love to hate that occurs when one relationship here sours. Garcia inhabits his female narrator well, creating a woman who is inexorably drawn to the wrong men: ‘I seem to have a weakness for the forty-something routine…Midlife crisis as come-on. Perhaps it’s…maternal instinct.’ This thwarted protectiveness finds an outlet in her devotion to the initially vulnerable Will. At many times during the book her acceptance of Will’s egregious behaviour towards her and others without censure borders on implausible, and only the indulgence of a blindly committed parent renders it credible. As you would expect from a philosopher, the core of the novel is intellectual dialectic. The inherent conflict between contrasting viewpoints provides insurmountable barriers off which characters bounce. Doum is passionate about reducing HIV transmission among the gay community while Will believes – perhaps just to be contrary – that gays should be free to choose whether to toy with death or not. Leibo pours vitriol on the political victim culture whereby any minority can claim it is oppressed and so be automatically embraced by the left; he rails against ‘cowardly totalitarian political correctness’. He clashes with Will’s new lover Ali (who is staunchly pro-Palestinian), and argues the Zionist cause. Garcia’s background is evident in the many philosophers and writers who are referenced by the characters – Montaigne, Spinoza, Foucault, Kant, Pascal, Tocqueville. There are also knowing nudges – Leibo surprises the intellectual world by writing a book about love; an arch reference to Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse – although Leibo’s is – hypocritically – a rhetoric on the importance on commitment. As an illustration of the devastating consequences of clashing ideologies, especially those fuelled by personal feelings, Garcia’s novel is powerful and surprisingly accessible. It’s just a shame it’s so theoretical as opposed to human. We are told what characters feel about each other by Liz rather than seeing this for ourselves: despite the five year relationship between Will and Doum, we only glimpse one domestic scene, towards the end of the relationship, and this seems to be there as a cursory explanation for its demise. There are similarly few illustrations of the relationship between Liz and Leibo – it’s all very cerebral. The saving grace is that since Liz is narrating in the first person, this may be construed as her choice rather than the author’s. Still, the book could have been improved by expansion in the human arena. Garcia offers us fascinating flashes of peripheral relationships which we crave to hear more of: Leibo’s attempt to culture his much-loved but happily working-class parents, for example, or his connection to his children, who must have been one reason why he remained married (although we also know, almost without Liz acknowledging it, that Leibo truly loved his wife as well as Liz.) Another minor problem is occasional lapses of Will’s voice into that of an intellectual: it is clear that he is irrational, illogical, has a low IQ and that he spouts nonsense or incendiary diatribes much of the time, so the occasion where he uses the word ‘paradigm’ jars. Despite these shortcomings there is something about the novel that ensnares. Many of the short chapters end with the promise of secrets and excitement to come: ‘that’s what touched Doume’ and did him in.’; ‘Six months later they’d broken up.’; ‘…that was the day it began.’; ‘That’s how it all got started. That was all it took. That, and of course all the history there was between them…’ At one point Liz tells us of Will ‘for him, falling out was a form of love.’ It’s Garcia’s skill in making us believe in such strange characters as well as the flawless translation that render this novel tight and readable despite its esotericism.
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