John Lewis/Brown Books
There are no cups or bottles, just a bottle of mercury – and smoking. Over a dreamy four-month period, Pierre Pierre, a young student, meets Madame Le Poisson – who runs a soup kitchen – has a brief fling with a blind painter, falls in love with a decadent aristocrat who’s also the comic relief in the troupe of fancy-dame drag queens he’s touring, and stumbles on a poison-pen love letter sent to the prostitute who has employed him. But Pierre Pierre’s experiences are as discomfiting as his prose style – an incongruous mix of the syntactical and metaphysical, peppered with pithy aphorisms, poetic banalities and sharp observations.
One lovely story is of his father, a wine merchant in the Paris district where the art-house film about homosexual lives, No Exit, was set. Pierre Pierre reads him the note: “What I hope will kill you”, and changes his name to Jainas. He also learns to be a poet, to point his editor to a poetry booklet containing “their code of conduct”, and to record their togetherness in a diary.
His best friend is Jack Mertens, a radical who, having served his time in prison for provoking a riot, becomes Pierre Pierre’s pen pal. Between puffs on the cocoa pot, Pierre Pierre tells the riddle of the World’s End fountain. The letter comes from someone, he notes, who doesn’t like wine or flowers. “You heard?” writes Pierre Pierre in exasperation. “That’s a theme I’ve heard so many times. I could be right. I could be wrong. I honestly don’t know. I guess I’ll drink it and put it in my will.”