Pascal Quignard: On Wooden Tablets: Apronenia Avitia


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An introductory biography places our heroine in Rome, in the turbulent 4th century, when the Roman Empire cumbles, invaded by the “Barbarians” from the North as well as infiltrated from within by the Christian “party.”

Then follow Apronenia’s notes written on wooden tablets, somewhat in the manner of Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book. She seems quite indifferent to the momentous and ruinous events she witnesses. It’s true, she does not like the Christians, who are getting powerful, but her tablets concentrate rather on the daily life of a Pagan matron. It is a most vivid record, full of wry observations, earthy smells, colors and sex, as well as nastiness and powerful emotion, as when she sits by her dying husband or feels the approach of her own death.

Quignard has redefined historical fiction as both hoax and enigma.

Pascal Quignard is one the most important Frenc writers. Beside his eighty-four Little Treatises and many novels, he has translations from the Latin, Chinese and Greek. Among his many honors is the coveted
“Prix des Critiques.” Three other novels are available in English: Albucius (The Lapis Press), The Salon in Württemberg (Grove Weidenfeld), and All the World’s Mornings (Graywolf Press). He is the recipient of the Prix Goncourt for 2002.

Bruce X has written fiction (Century of Clouds, My Walk with Bob), and essays on Duncan, Spicer, O’Hara. Beside Albucius by Pascal Quignard, he has translated Georges Bataille and Jean-François Lyotard. He lives in San Francisco.

‘Think about polishing toenails,’ Avitia reminds herself. As an empire is crumbling? In her inability to take her era seriously, Avitia comes off as a monster, but a monster not unlike Kafka’s Joseph K…. This is historical fiction that has attained the level of poetry, in an elegant translation by Bruce X (aka Bruce Boone).

-Marc Lowenthal, Rain Taxi