Florian Zeller is scarily young for a novelist. He’s younger than me, so is only ever going to be younger than me, and eternally scary. That’s a sobering thought for a Wednesday night.
More recently, he’s become more renowned for his emerging presence on the French theatre scene (as playwright and director), but Neiges Artificielles, his debut novel was published in 2002.
Zeller is often bracketed together with one of my favourite novellists, Michel Houellebecq, so it made sense that I check him out. Whilst there are a number of similarities between the two – both show an inherent cynicism and could easily be bracketed together as Nietzschean, neither shys away from the overtly erotic, both are urban and ultimately contemporary, there are a number of telling differences betweeen the two. Benchmarking Zeller against the his older contemporary is probably unfair because he doesn’t (yet?) bring the same real world baggage to his work and hasn’t (at the time of writing this) hasn’t evolved fully as a writer.
Neiges Artificielles (Artificial Snow) is a coming of age novel for both the first person narrator of the tale and Zeller himself. In fact, the story does seem to be largely drawn on Zeller’s romantic experiences as a young adult. (Hmmm the fact the narrator is called Florian Deller is probably a bit of a giveaway). Location-wise, its set in the types of places in Paris a young, relatively well-to-do Frenchman would be likely to hang out. Bascially, he’s living a good, vibrant life, filled with booze and sex, but like any intelligent, over-educated young man, he’s psychotically unhappy.
As a result, he’s finding it terribly difficult to get over a failed relationship with his beloved Lou. The novel is a testament to him struggling with this, as well as his own place in the social structure – days spent wandering the streets and Metro of the French capital do little to make him feel any better, despite the box cutter permanently in his grasp. To this extent Zeller is obviously more Romantic than Houellebecq. The obvious recurring motifs, the missed underground train, the images of birth, the mud and of course the snow of the title bear witness to that.
Neiges Artificielles is clearly a juvenile work, but one that is well restrained, focused and emotionally powerful. The personality insights we get at towards the end of the book are particularly evocative. I’ll definitely be checking out more of his work. And not just for the rude bits.