March 19, 2012 by markstani
It is sadly difficult to escape the notion that Tristan Garcia’s <a href="http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Hate-Tristan-Garcia/9780865479111
“>Hate: A Romance (pub. Faber) was a novel contrived to make headlines. Thanks to its longlisting for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, it has just won itself a new round of publicity.
Garcia’s chronicle of the spread of the AIDS epidemic in eighties Paris won the Prix de Flore when it was first published in 2008: it now appears in English thanks to the translation by Marion Duvert and Lorin Stein.
There is an undeniable air of shock-tactic about this book. Its central protagonist, Will, is a young novelist and gay activist who dismisses the health campaigning which has sprung up to combat the spread of the virus, instead blatantly advocating drug use and unprotected sex.
“It’s like a gift, it’s a mystical thing. Spinoza. I fertilize them. Right now I’m putting together these conversion parties, across Paris, you know, kind of an underground thing, these orgies where guys who are positive get together with guys who are negative and want to be fertilized. We get them pregnant. Or else its Russian Roulette, you know, it’s a blast. Maybe it’s the fuck of death, maybe not.”
Garcia is a former philosophy student who is too young to recall the hedonistic era of which he writes. That in itself is no bad thing: far from it, it is reason enough to admire the author’s ambition. The problem is, it shows.
There are strong points, such as the author’s choice of a female, Liz, a friend of Will, as the book’s unreliable narrator; Garcia’s evocation of a particular sector of politicized Parisian society is also wholly believable. But there is an overall lack of compassion, and philosophical references weigh down the narrative to the extent that you can’t help but feel Garcia is trying too hard to impress.
This is disappointing, because Garcia broaches an important subject, and for a large part he does it well. But perhaps not as well, and certainly not as sensationally, as his champions would suggest. As Richard Canning said in his review in the Independent: ‘its acclaim elsewhere… stems from a widespread need to historicise this epidemic, rather than from any conviction that ‘Hate’ revitalises its subject.’
‘Hate’ is a book that wears its ambition on its sleeve. It ticks almost every box in terms of headline-making, Prize-longlisting appeal. But Garcia’s eye for controversy has left us with a classic example of style over substance.