I won’t go so far as saying that p.52 is purposeless. I shall never read the fifty-second page of a novel in the same way again, I’m sure of it. But I am unsure as to how to deal with Monsieur Sertin. In the end, what is he good for? A lovely line, a funny idea or two: a writer of cheery confidence, with a tendency towards self-indulgence. An adjective too far, perchance? Indisputably, irrefutably, incontrovertibly, incontestably. p.52 is a depositary of spare words: too much cream on the cake, my dear sir: too much seasoning in the sausages, too much gravy on the pie, too much sugar in the tea. (Sebastien Cheraz)
Thus spake Sebastien Cheraz, in his review – not of J-P Sertin’s p.52 – but of Jarni Kolovsky’s …And I Lost. Cheraz’s fears were, however, echoed by other writers. Andrew O’Hara (whose own response to Kolovsky is collected here) also threw down some thoughts on Sertin’s experimental novel:
Sir, – It is with regret that I must express my alarm at your promotion of the very dangerous work by Jean-Pierre Sertin, ‘p.52’ Given my deep respect for you and your publication, I must assume this was a hasty decision made without careful thought as to the consequences, the consequences to our children, our purity of essence and our precious bodily fluids.
At first blush, ‘p.52’ might appear to be a simple and quite amusing exercise to be tackled by any person, particularly those who enjoy solving and even constructing their own convoluted puzzles. I cannot help, however, but be disturbed by several aspects of this seemingly innocent game and what it truly represents.
First, it stretches the imagination to believe that the number 52 was chosen so randomly, so casually. Why not 25? Or 53? Oh, we are assured, it was most likely chosen by this Mr. Booth for no reason at all. I would happily accept such a notion if I did not immediately recognize some alarming clues that I believe are being used by Sertin, surreptitiously and most maliciously, to promote his own frightening agenda. It is hardly coincidental, for example, that there just happen to be 52 Nag Hammadi ‘religious’ texts discovered in 1945 that now threaten the very moral fiber of our society by suggesting heretical Gnosticism replace Christianity and name Thomas as a fifth disciple (note the five again, coupled with a ‘second’ religion, equals 52)! Such timing for p.52 to come out now, would you not agree? And do you not find it interesting that it’s page 52 of the Satan Bible that describes how the Devil calls on the forces of evil to overcome the powers of light?
Further, the well known socialist, Pythagoras, in the 52nd verse of his ‘Golden Verses’ declared ‘Thou shalt likewise know that according to Law, the nature of this universe is in all things alike’ (i.e, from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs – familiar sounding, yes?). To be more scientific, as the sum of four combinations of the first 15 prime numbers, the number 52 has major significance to mathematicians, astronomers and tax preparers.
Finally, it has until recently been a closely kept secret that the British government has been stockpiling Adrenomudullin, a 52-amino acid peptide that is suspected of stimulating adenylyl cyclase activity in a platelet bioassay. How many ‘natural deaths’ can be attributed to the undercover use of this volatile substance? How is it that the author is so conveniently aware of what is, to most, a very obscure chemical? Once again, I find all of these things, combined, to be hardly coincidental with his choice of the number 52.
And don’t think for a moment it went unnoticed that, in the index, a page number was deliberately left out (to divert us) for ‘wooden telephone box’. I wasn’t fooled by Sertin’s little tricks. It took me an hour of repeated readings but I found it on page 52.
No, 52 was not a casual choice at all. It is a little noticed but highly significant number. I fear – for us all – that Mr. Sertin actually taunts us by using it. I can go on and on but will spare you further examples of the danger presented by this number. I will only add, however, that I am immediately suspicious when sensing so transparently hidden an agenda, regardless of which it might be. You will forgive me, I hope, for feeling a strong need to express my skepticism and refusal to be manipulated so easily.
I have an even greater concern. Even if this particular exercise does not turn the weak of our society into atheistic anarchists (as well I suspect its purpose may well be), I am concerned for the health of those who might enter into this folly thinking it a mere amusement. Bartlebooth is an excellent example – he goes blind and clearly quite mad, dying a miserable death, torn by frustration in which he forgot the number 52 and became preoccupied with the letter ‘W’.
I’m happy to point out that a recent study by Doctor Oskar Zweiundfünfzig of the University of California strongly suggests that forcing children to do puzzles (or complex exercises such as these) causes idiocy and hastens the onset of senility and even madness in adults. There are 217 uses of the number 52 in this book – enough to drive anyone mad! For these reasons alone, I feel measures should be taken to have this book removed from the market immediately and banned.
I am reluctant to take so strident a stance, for I do truly oppose censorship, but too few people are aware of the dangers inherent in this number 52 and what it can do in the hands of someone so reckless as Sertin. Until public education can increase awareness and prepare people for the dreadful impact of ‘fiftytwoness’, we cannot allow the spread of books like these. Think of the disruptions alone–people missing subway cars while trying to figure out which page to bookmark (52?) and MFA teachers trying to maintain order in their classes (‘Everyone turn to page…?’) Very truly yours,
J JIMSTON, Editor, the Jimston Journal
Still further rumblings (and/or grumblings) on the topic of Sertin’s prose can be found here. And the novel itself? Why, here it is.
As for Mr. Sertin: more on him a little later…