Me, Only More Beautiful
Original title: Moi en plus beau
Xavier is walking across the hillside surrounded by the natural world. A railway archaeologist, he is searching for the traces of abandoned lines which had not been profitable enough and were ripped up – a move that destroyed whole villages which until then had had a railway connection. The life ebbed out of them and these little human communities were dispersed to the four winds. A tiny little station, a sheltered platform, the whistle of train in the middle of nowhere: all of these things have fallen into abeyance.
Xavier’s work takes him through the French countryside but also around the world as he tries to detect the traces of this past, prompting him to walk ever further and every higher into the natural world. For years, like a sociologist, he has been seeking out the vestiges of human presence – of humans who have been absent for a very long time. Although he actively chooses to explore on his own, this academic is never completely alone in life because he is the older brother (only a year separates them) of a man who is slightly different to other people. Benoît, who is in his forties, seems to perceive things with particular acuity. The two brothers advance through life together, as Xavier had always promised they would ever since children. He also promised that he would care for his brother, who presents signs of autism, when his parents were no longer around.
This story opens a little over a year after they have lost their mother. As they come to terms with their grief, Xavier sets about reconstructing what he knows about her, what he remembers, and what he never knew. But entirely unexpectedly, it is Benoît who finds a means to fill the gaps and get nearer to her untold story by filtering his memories through language and the imagination.
What are we to do with the continuing existence of the dead? What is the poetic route that our memories and then our imaginations take to liberate our loved ones from their assigned roles and transform them into unforgettable characters?
These are just some of the questions explored in this singular novel which reads like an investigation into these distant places: the hidden ruins in the woods, the lost objects, and the abandoned houses which turned us into what we have become before they disappeared.