Gailly, Christian 1943-
GAILLY, Christian 1943-
PERSONAL: Born January 14, 1943, in Belleville, France.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, University of Nebraska Press, 1111 Lincoln Mall, Lincoln, NE 68588-0630.
CAREER: Novelist, jazz saxophonist, and self-taught psychologist/counselor.
AWARDS, HONORS: Prix France Culture for Nuage rouge; Prix du Livre Inter, Prix des Amis du Scribe, and Prix Grenette, all 2002, all for Un soir au club; International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award nomination, 2005, for An Evening at the Club.
Dit-il (title means "He Says"), Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1987.
K. 622, Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1989.
L'air (title means "Air"), Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1991.
Dring, Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1992.
Les fleurs (title means "The Flowers"), Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1993.
Be-bop, Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1995.
L'incident (title means "The Incident"), Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1996.
Les évadés (title means "Escaped Prisoners"), Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1997.
La passion de Martin Fissel-Brandt, Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1998, translation by Melanie Kemp published as The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2002.
Nuage rouge, Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 2000, translation by Brian Evenson and David Beuss published as Red Haze, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2005.
Un soir au club, Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 2001, translation by Susan Fairfield published as An Evening at the Club, Other Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Dernier amour (title means "Last Love"), Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Christian Gailly is a French novelist who turned to writing in his mid-forties after working variously as a jazz musician and self-styled psychologist. He has written numerous minimalist novels and novellas since publication of his first work, Dit-il, in 1987, several of which have been translated into English. Sergio Villani, reviewing the French edition of that debut novel in World Literature Today, found it an example of the formless "'new, new' French novel." The writer/narrator is a desperate man who contemplates suicide and is filled with ennui. "Thus he describes the inconsequential in his world, such as the minute details of his taking out the garbage can," according to Villani, who also thought that Gailly's description of a writer is at times "humorous, even disturbingly so."
K. 622, Gailly's second novel, takes its title from the catalogue number of one of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's concertos the narrator hears on the radio. Subsequent events follow this narrator as he "attempt[s] to recapture this experience of beauty," as Raylene O'Callaghan noted in French Review. O'Callaghan went on to note that K. 622, "a tale told by a post-existential hero," is also "a surprisingly moving experience of intellectual and emotional pleasure."
Minimalist and absurdist elements also inform Gailly's third work, L'air, "a novel pretending to be a novel," according to Karlis Racevskis in World Literature Today. Adrian Tahourdin, reviewing the same work in the Times Literary Supplement, was more positive in his assessment, calling the book "quirky and entertaining" as well as "deceptively simple [and] sophisticated." With his fourth work, Dring, Gailly again reverts to musical composition to give form to his fiction, this time using the Goldberg Variations as inspiration. The title is taken from the sound of a doorbell ringing, which sets off the action in the novel: the delivery of a package. This ultimately leads to murder but not in any suspense-thriller sense. Instead, Gailly continues a minimalist approach. Brian Evenson, writing in World Literature Today, compared Gailly's work to that of Nobel Prize-winning Irish writer Samuel Beckett and Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, describing Dring as "a poignant and brutally amusing journey whose disturbing qualities are tempered by burlesque routines." Robin Buss, reviewing the novel in the Times Literary Supplement, similarly noted, "Gailly's humour, more overt here, has a menacing edge." Evenson, also writing in Review of Contemporary Fiction, found Dring "mesmerizing, hypnotic, and often startling."
In Les fleurs Gailly presents a story that takes place within the span of about one hour, as strangers meet on a train and find a bizarre coincidence in their destination. Evenson, reviewing the work in World Literature Today, called the book "a lively and entertaining commentary on the nature of the fictional enterprise." Be-bop, Gailly's sixth novel, again deals with coincidence as well as musical matters. Evenson, in World Literature Today, noting the author's "minimalist line," concluded, "Though he allows himself little, Gailly manages to do a great deal."
The first of Gailly's novels to be translated into English is The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt, a characteristically minimalist offering and one with jazz-like syncopations in its spare and brief sentences and chapters. Again, a murder or hints of a murder provide an edge to this narrative about a French engineer. From a clue delivered by Martin's cat, the reader receives the information that Martin may have murdered his wife. Following an ex-lover, Martin even makes his way to the jungles of Southeast Asia in this "story that questions itself minutely, thereby raising far vaster questions about the nature of stories and the way we apprehend them," as Warren Motte noted in a review of the French-language edition for French Review. Reviews of the English translation were generally favorable. A contributor for Publishers Weekly, while observing that Gailly's writing is "an acquired taste and demands a suspension of linear thinking," thought "readers who like to be surprised won't get shortchanged here." Similarly, a critic for Kirkus Reviews called The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt an "excellent introduction to a very entertaining writer." Ray Olson in Booklist had higher praise, calling the book an "exquisitely fascinating experimental novel," while Joseph Dewey, writing in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, commended the "harshly melodious prose that reads like the hard, steady improv lines of Charlie Parker sound." A reviewer for Complete-Review.com felt that, "for all its minimalism, and despite its brevity, The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt is action-packed. A great deal happens."
Gailly's tenth novel, Nuage rouge, was described by Times Literary Supplement reviewer Oliver Robinson as "an artful and ironic portrait of love and friendship." Evenson, writing in World Literature Today, maintained that the novel, which was translated into English as Red Haze, "shows Gailly to be a lively artist, one who continues to develop rather than resting on his laurels."
With 2001's An Evening at the Club, Gailly "tries to create a verbal version of jazz," according to Clarissa Behar in Review of Contemporary Fiction. In this, his third book to benefit from English translation, he tells the tale of a former jazz musician who takes up his instrument and the bottle after more than a decade of neither playing nor drinking. For Buss, again writing in the Times Literary Supplement, the work "occupies that space somewhere between the novel and the short story."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 2002, Ray Olson, review of The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt, p. 991.
French Review, February, 1991, Raylene O'Callaghan, review of K. 622, pp. 541-542; February, 2000, Warren Motte, review of La passion de Martin Fissel-Brandt, pp. 590-591.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2002, review of The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt, p. 142.
Publishers Weekly, January 14, 2002, review of The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt, p. 38.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 1993, Brian Evenson, review of Dring, p. 260; fall, 2002, Joseph Dewey, review of The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt, p. 162; summer, 2003, Clarissa Behar, review of An Evening at the Club, p. 151.
Times Literary Supplement, February 14, 1992, Adrian Tahourdin, review of L'air, p. 15; July 17, 1992, Robin Buss, review of Dring, p. 21; December 29, 2000, Oliver Robinson, review of Nuage rouge; February 15, 2002, Buss, review of Un soir au club.
World Literature Today, autumn, 1988, Sergio Villani, review of Dit-il, pp. 629-630; spring, 1992, Karlis Racevskis, review of L'air, p. 302; winter, 1993, Brian Evenson, review of Dring, p. 146; autumn, 1994, Evenson, review of Les fleurs, p. 776; summer, 1996, Evenson, review of Be-bop, p. 650; summer, 1997, Evenson, review of L'incident, p. 553; summer, 1998, Evenson, review of Les évadés, p. 585; winter, 2001, Evenson, review of Nuage rouge, p. 137.
Christian Gailly Home Page, http://perso.wanadoo.fr (May 11, 2005).
Complete-Review.com, http://www.complete-review.com/ (May 11, 2005), reviews of The Passion of Martin Fissel-Brandt and An Evening at the Club.