“Le Client E. Busken”, by Jeroen Brouwers: the literary soap opera of Tiphaine Samoyault

“Le Client E. Busken” (Cliënt E. Busken), by Jeroen Brouwers, translated from Dutch by Bertrand Abraham, Gallimard, “From around the world”, 256 p., €22, digital €16.


Jeroen Brouwers’ latest book is explicitly a book of the end; it was also published in the Netherlands in 2021, a year before the death of its author, who knew that this novel would be the last. How to write this background of pure anguish which transforms everything else into burlesque comedy? The narrator is trapped in three ways: at the end of his life, in a hospital that is both nursing home and asylum, and in his flow of messy words, on the edge of consciousness and dementia, going back to in disorder all the moments of his existence, bumping into the tenacious reality of the present situation, oscillating between tragedy and pathetic irony. This long monologue is all the more disturbing in that it emanates from a character who has decided to remain silent for good, who no longer responds when someone speaks to him, manifests himself only through facial expressions or violent gestures when people try to take care of him, caregivers or others ” clients “since that’s what we call patients now. Client E. Busken is a terrible book, which takes speech and language to their limits, where meaning is both sharp and fleeting, where reality shifts while refusing the slightest exit.

The clichés of literary criticism (“hallucinating monologue”, “dreadful tour de force”, “unheard-of language”) are of little help in describing what one really reads; as are the references to Beckett and Joyce given on the back cover. “Modifying existing words, disguising, avoiding, biasing, leads to a bastardization of language and thought, which I object to, being myself as vigilant in the use I make of the word as in the elaboration of my thought. My mother, this shrew: What are you doing in the middle of these books, you’re far too stupid for that…” Thinking about the work of the translator perhaps allows us to say something about it. Bertrand Abraham, who translates from Dutch both novelists and authors of the human sciences (in particular the great sociologist Abram de Swaan), does not transpose only one language here. He translates a rhythm, a breath, an orality, a body inseparable from speech, a body which retains and which lets go, imprinting sounds and cadences which are obviously not the same in the target language: this obliges him sometimes making notes to help understand what is happening, but most of the time he plays the game by transposing hesitations, memory lapses, inventions of this great overflow, mute song, sum of a brilliant life , banal and without future.

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