Stripping Style

For those who care about such things, the second novel by the Lauserre brothers will be published, in French, at the end of next month (otherwise known as September).

This, as these things go, is somewhat of a big thing. Not massive, mind you, but big. Which is to say it isn’t a blue whale of a thing, or even an elephant of a thing, but neither is it a dormouse of a thing. It’s a sort of portly buffalo of a thing, if you can imagine that. I could say ‘obese bison’ if that makes it any easier. Or even ‘fat cow-like creature’. Yes? No? All right.

Having cleared up the size of the news, let’s consider the news itself. Those who know anything about the Lauserre brothers will know that their books take a long time to write, which explains the nine year gap between this work (named, I believe, The Scent of Lime) and their 2000 debut, We Are Bread. Not bad work when you consider the fact that the novel was written three times over during this period. Firstly, in French, by Philippe Lauserre; secondly, translated into English, by Louis Lauserre; and thirdly, translated back into French by Matthias Lauserre. A three-part editing process in which each brother plays a crucial role, led from the front by Philippe, the conceiver, but controlled in no small part by Louis and Matthias, whose textual transformations recast the story, twice, adding as they do a subtle sprinkling of their own personalities.

It’s a strange way to work – and who’s to say it’s the best way? After all, we never get to read the first two versions. When the English translation appears, it won’t be Louis’, but a translation of Matthias’ French version. The novel, as written by Philippe and Louis, is burnt. It is, they say, ‘meaningless’: a means to an end. They put their faith in Matthias, the youngest brother, to carry the story through to its final form.

When I say ‘put their faith’, I really do mean this. People think of the Lauserre brothers as a team, which is in many ways correct. However, in so far as it goes, they don’t work alongside each other. When they write, they don’t seek advice from one another. In fact, they don’t even talk to one another. When Philippe passes on the manuscript to Louis, Louis has no idea what it contains, likewise when Matthias receives it from Louis. Whilst working on their translations, Louis and Matthias never go back to Philippe, or turn to each other, at any point in the procedure. Matthias never reads Philippe’s manuscript: he takes his cue from Louis – and does his bit alone.

The obvious question leaps like a salmon from the dribbling stream of our thoughts. What is the point of all of this? The truth is, it’s hard to say. Since we never know how Philippe’s story differs from Matthias’ story, we can’t say what is gained, or lost, in the somewhat tortuous process. All we can say is that the brothers themselves believe that this is the best way of working. Although Matthias will never see Philippe’s novel, Philippe will always see Matthias’, for this is the version that will be published. This is the book. And Philippe is never less than confident that Matthias’ version (or the version) is far superior to his own. ‘Sure,’ he says, ‘I may create the story. The characters, the plot, the essential mood of the book is mine. Maybe even some of the style. But at the same time, much is stripped away. Not chapters, not sentences, not anything of any size. And yet everything changes, everything shifts. And this shift is for the good.’

Questioned as to whether he is ever disappointed, even slightly, by the final result, he is adamant. ‘My style is stripped in the translations. It is washed in the machine of my brothers’ minds. This is as it should be. Oh yes it is’.

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