Trysting is a book about love. Not in a vague, slushy sense. Nor in the sense that Hollywood uses when they try to sell you tickets to rom-coms. Rather, the scraps that Emmanuelle Pagano’s book is made up of are hard and visceral; love is a force for her, not in an immaterial sense but in a very material sense—the force of two bodies slamming together. The fragments that make up Trysting almost obsess over the material and the bodily—one of them begins “When he plays, I don’t hear the music, I hear his hands”—and it’s in the mundane, the physical, and the quotidian that Pagano’s prose finds its power. Rubber bands, wind turbines, and shampoo; earplugs, suitcases, and collar-bones. That’s what Pagano’s love is made of.
It’s hard to describe what Pagano has written as a novel—perhaps prose-poem would be a more apt description. Or, perhaps, a series of prose-poems. Trysting is composed of a multitude of shards, some several pages long, some barely a line in length. Each of these fragments glints in the sunlight, reflecting an object, a sensation, an emotion, which in its turn describes a whole world in aphoristic, lapidary language. There isn’t anything too small to escape Pagano’s microscopic attention, and when she turns her gaze onto something (or some thing) that anyone else would miss, what she reveals is near-boundless in its generosity and its scope.
Pagano’s world shares something with that of the now-late Leonard Cohen—the ability to find the erotic in everything. Tea and oranges all the way from China; moulded earplugs bearing the imprint of one’s lover’s ears. And within the erotic is a world of dark, swirling, stuff: sex and death and pleasure; love and hate tearing at each other within the most mundane of objects. This is writing that lives in the shadow of Barthes, of the realisation that every object and every meaning is filled with mythology—not in a dry, academic way, but that everything is alive with a jouissance that can never quite be pinned down in words.
A review copy of Trysting was generously provided to me by And Other Stories.