The Carousel of De­sire

Eric-emmanuel Sch­mitt Howard Cur­tis, trans­la­tor Kather­ine Gre­gor, trans­la­tor

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER

Europa Edi­tions Soft­cover $21 (672pp) 978-1-60945-346-6

The hu­man dra­mas in Carousel re­ward the voyeur’s eye.

A Brus­sels neigh­bor­hood is the site of a grand ex­per­i­ment in hu­man con­nec­tion, in Eric-emmanuel Sch­mitt’s the Carousel of De­sire, an in­ven­tively grat­i­fy­ing libertine com­edy of er­rors.

The res­i­dents around the Place d’arezzo bum­ble about their daily lives with vary­ing

de­grees of res­ig­na­tion, li­cen­tious­ness, and unan­swer­able need—that is, un­til a mys­te­ri­ous bene­fac­tor (or pos­si­ble tor­men­tor) aims to prod them into new ter­ri­tory by de­liv­er­ing each an anony­mous let­ter: “Just a note to tell you I love you. Signed: You know who.”

At first, the re­cip­i­ents of this mes­sage re­spond in pre­dictable ways: those who have given up on love al­ready are an­noyed or an­gry; those happy in their ro­man­tic sit­u­a­tions are flat­tered; those in­clined to guilt feel that, as well. But then the notes prompt move­ment: Pa­tri­cia, who hates her body and loves the Ado­nis who cares for the court­yard, is de­lighted to find that he de­sires her back; Nathan and Tom, danc­ing around their af­fec­tions, feel en­cour­aged and so­lid­i­fied by the sen­ti­ments, and take next steps in their re­la­tion­ship.

But no one can be forced into hap­pi­ness, as the au­thor of th­ese notes—who sees much, but can­not see all—soon learns. Piece by piece, cou­ple by cou­ple, the neigh­bor­hood re­builds it­self in un­ex­pected new ways.

The gift of The Carousel of De­sire ex­ists in the vivid­ness of its prose: in its hun­gry ex­plo­rations of wan­ton­ness un­fet­tered, or in the be­mused un­pack­ing of the neu­roses of those who feed off con­nec­tion, but who never see far be­yond them­selves. Po­lit­i­cal fam­i­lies de­light them­selves with their own clev­er­ness; artists in love are im­pressed by their abil­ity to adapt. Bod­ies con­tort to meet un­ex­pected needs, and lips come to­gether in un­hoped-for af­fec­tion. Love, sex, di­vorce, birth, and death: the cy­cles of hu­man lives are cov­ered in star­tling and sen­si­tive ways.

Lan­guage through­out is play­ful and provoca­tive, and even Sch­mitt’s most self-con­sciously shock­ing char­ac­ters never cease to sur­prise. The hu­man dra­mas in Carousel re­ward the voyeur’s eye, pro­duc­ing a mix­ture of vul­ner­a­bil­ity and sala­cious­ness, cru­elty and kind­ness, that is con­tin­u­ally com­pelling. This mon­u­men­tal novel is sat­is­fy­ing at all turns.

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