On Philippe Delerm’s Blogger Novel “Quelque chose en lui de Bartleby” (2009)

« http://www.antiaction.com est pris d’assaut. Beaucoup de compliments, qu’Arnold a d’abord trouvés
outranciers, mais on s’habitue vite. Ces enthousiasmes sont souvent signés d’un prénom féminin
accompagné d’une adresse e-mail, mais M Spitzweg s’est promis de ne pas répondre. Certaines
correspondantes comprennent cette attitude : “Ne perdez pas votre temps. Continuez seulement à
cueillir le meilleur des jours.” Cueillir le meilleur des jours pour des Stéphanie, des Valérie, des
Sophie ou des Leila, voilà qui n’est pas sans flatter l’ego d’Arnold, même s’il cueille davantage
encore pour des Huguette ou des Denise ». Arnold Spitzweg crée son blog : l’employé de bureau discret jusqu’à l’effacement cède à la modernité mais sans renier ses principes. Sur la toile, à contre-courant du discours ambiant, il fait l’éloge de la lenteur. Ses écrits intimes séduisent des milliers d’internautes…. Comment vivra-t-il cette subite notoriété ?

I have read a few novels by Philippe Delerm and especially Autumn, his historical novel on the life of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his muse Lizzie Siddal, is an absolute favourite of mine. As a matter of fact I liked it so much that I keep his second novel on the life of another famous painter (Carl Larsson), Sundborn, unread on my TBR pile. Unfortunately only one of his books, La première gorgée de bière aka The Small Pleasures of Life has been translated into English. It’s a series of impressions and descriptions of life’s little pleasures. I did like it but not as much as his other books, some of which are novels, others are a combination of little sketches and photos (Paris l’instant).

Quelque chose en lui de Bartleby tells the story of Arnold Spitzweg, an invisible little clerk who is working for La Poste in Paris. Originally from the Alsace region he still loves Paris as much as when he first arrived. He lives an uneventful life, dreams of a unlived love affair, has an occasional lover, but all in all he likes to be left alone and just watch life pass. When someone tells him about a new phenomenon called “blogging” his curiosity is piqued. After a few inquiries he immediately starts his own blog in which he notes in minute details all the little things he observes around him, explains his way of seeing life, of enjoying the simple things and staying outside of it all as a pure observer.

It doesn’t take long and his blog has the first comments. After a while there are more and more until he is a real celebrity, even mentioned on the radio. While at first he wrote exactly what he wanted to write, fame makes him self-conscious and he starts to censor himself. When he realises that he doesn’t write for his pure pleasure anymore, he simply stops blogging.

Quelque chose en lui de Bartleby takes place during one hot summer in Paris. While everyone is gone on holidays, Mr Spitzweg, walks all over Paris, discovers and rediscovers streets, places and little corners and enjoys the city to the fullest. Since I love and miss Paris, I enjoyed all these details. They are well captured. And the parts on blogging are really interesting. From the start Spitzweg doesn’t answer comments or only rarely. He wants to be read but he doesn’t want to get in contact with his readers. I have noticed that there are quite a few bloggers like that out there. I often wonder what is in it for them. The reasons for blogging are probably as numerous as the bloggers who write the blogs. On the other hand I know from my own experience that a blog that gets many comments doesn’t necessarily have many readers, and you may have numerous readers but hardly any comments. I know that I wouldn’t want too many comments as I want to respond to each and every one. The more, the harder. It’s as simple as that. I’m not a crowd person and the people I call “friends” are well-chosen. The same goes for my blog, I suppose. I “know” those who leave comments on my blog. It’s not a crowd of strangers that I cannot place.

I could really understand Mr Spitzweg when he started to feel self-conscious. It did happen to me a few times. Fortunately I got rid of it but occasionally (on my German blog) I have thoughts like “Who is going to want to read this?” or “Oh my, what are they going to think?”.

And what about Bartleby? In the novel Arnold Spitzweg thinks that we are all a little bit like Bartleby and since he emphasized this so much I thought I need to read Melville’s novella. The review will follow tomorrow.

I’m not sure whether what I wrote made it obvious or not but I really liked this little novel. It isn’t one of his best but it contains everything I like in Delerm and I liked his character Spitzweg a lot. He is a very gentle and atypical man who gets picked on quite a lot. Especially by other men. There is also a little bit of gender discussion hidden underneath it all.

Delerm’s novel is not the first blogging novel I saw. I think Joanne Harris has written one and I vaguely remember another one. Has anyone read a novel about blogging?

15 thoughts on “On Philippe Delerm’s Blogger Novel “Quelque chose en lui de Bartleby” (2009)

  1. Hi,
    I was intrigued by this one after you mentioned it in a comment on Gut Gegen Nordwind, I think. I have a “negative” image of Delerm as someone always so pleasantly happy that can be called naiveté. (un espèce d’optimisme béat et niais, je ne sais pas comment dire ça) But you already made me reconsider reading him.

    About blogging, like you I’m not a crowd person. I’d rather have a few readers who leave interesting comments, want to discuss books and bring something to the discussion than have many hits. I like to follow their blogs too and take time to read carefully and leave messages.
    What’s the point of blogging if you don’t want to interact with other people through the comments? Have a diary then…

    • Autumn isn’t such a joyful novel, it’s quite dark. But knowing your dislike for Wuthering Heights, Romanticism, Gothic etc, I think you wouldn’t like it. It has a Gothic feel. Quelque chose en lui… has also a sad undertone. The way the men treat him is quite sad. just because he isn’t a “typical man” whatever that means.
      I think bloggers who do not want to interact see blogging like writing a book. You cannot interact with all of your readers once you are a published writer. In the case of a book it would be OK for me, I would even like to publish with a pseudonym but I think blogging is different. I like the interactivity of it. I don’t even mind a negative comment as long as I see the person has read the post. I try to always read carefully and that’s why I do not even go on all the blogs on my blogroll that regularly although I would love to. It’s actually out of respect and not the contrary. There are some bloggers who write excellent posts but I can just not read all of them.

      • Ah, I hadn’t thought of published writers. I’m not tempted to read their blogs, I’d rather concentrate on their books. If a writer I love is a jerk, I’d rather not know it. I’m aware that it also makes me miss wonderful interviews.

        Same for me, I can’t read all the blogs I’d like to. I don’t have enough time.

        Btw, Max (Pechorin’s Journal)wrote on his blog he’s going to post about Bartleby soon. You might want to read his take on that book.

          • After reading your post on Bartleby, I suspect that the title of this novel is a marketing idea of a reference to the song “Quelque chose en nous de Tennessee”. I immediately thought about it when I saw the title and I’d never heard of Melville’s novella. I think I reacted like the average French reader.
            Do you know that song?

            • I don’t know the song. I’ll have to listen to it, maybe he did have it in mind. Books play a role in the novel, Simenon’s Maigrets for example, therefore it’s not completely unjustified but the resemblance didn’t strike me.

  2. I think of blogging as such a recent phenomenon, I’m surprised there’s a novel about it. I’m very intrigued.

    Can’t imagine getting hundreds of comments every day, because I too like to answer them. And I get self-conscious from time to time, worrying if people will like the content. Just have to move beyond it sometimes.

    • I was surpised when I saw Joannae Harris’ novel. I think it’s quite dark which is not typical for her. I didn’t get but when I saw this one I had to have it. It’s only in parts about blogging, it’s more about a very contemplative man who starts blogging out of curiosity and then discovers his own uniqueness through it. It certainly made me think about blogging once more. I do that quite a lot recently. It’s a fascnating “phenomenon”. I also wonder about my motivations sometimes. I know why I started (to get into the habit of writing daily) but that’s not the reason to keep on doing it.

  3. The only blogging book I can think of is Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. I love the idea of a novel about it and have been intrigued by Philippe Delerm before – I will certainly think about reading this one.

    • I thought it was an appealing idea and enjoyed reading it. Since you can read in French I would really recommend Autumn as well. But La première gorgée de bière is lovely too.

  4. Pingback: Herman Melville: Bartleby the Scrivener. A Story of Wall Street (1853) « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  5. i am really intriqued by this book…a book about blogging, i have never read any book concerning blogging.

    I often wondering at people who left their comments unreply but I guess they have their own opinion. I tried replying all my comments, tho sometimes (quite rarely) I left it unanswered. Blogging is fun to express myself and have great friends…that’ why I always visit back any new commenter coz they might turn out to be great friends…like you 🙂

    • Aw, that’s sweet, thanks Novia. I think the same. Sometimes you pass once or twice on a blog but there isn’t any connection then I might still go on reading it but only very occasionally and as a so-called “lurker” but will not comment anymore.
      I always try to answer. If I don’t I didn’t see the comment for one reason or another.

  6. It’s a pity this has not been translated as this sounds like something I would enjoy! Maybe eventually…? I can only think of food bloggers who have had their blogs turned into books–like Litlove mentions Julie/Julia, and the food blogger Orangette also wrote a book that I think was revamped blog posts, which I read and enjoyed but the name escapes me at the moment…

    • Yes, true, I got Julie/Julia, I think it is quite good as well. Funny enough Delerm doesn’t write a blog. This is really a novel about a blogger and not a blog turned into a book. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Joanne Harris. Did you not read it yet? I was very intrigued by the story.
      I’m sure you would like Delerm. Maybe this book has a chance to be translated.

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