on ‘Sphinx’ by Anne Garréta

Sphinx-by-anne-garretaChris Clarke at The Quarterly Conversation:

Sphinx is a typical love story only in the way that it’s the tale of two people who have fallen in love, and things don’t go smoothly. Beyond that, there is something drastically different going on here. I’m afraid I’ll have to let the cat out of the bag: as reader, you have no idea of the gender of either half of this romantic equation. This information is artfully withheld by the author (and again in English by the translator, Emma Ramadan). While explaining the constraint at play is necessary to us for the purposes of this review, I’ll refrain from a full-out spoiler by not unveiling the final solution to the enigma. In Sphinx, which is told in the first-person, there are two principal characters. I, the genderless “me” of the narrator, and the object of this person’s desire, A***. It can take a little while to notice; as in some literary works, this sort of descriptive information is released gradually, over time, but eventually it becomes clear that we are missing a detail that we are not used to going without. Eventually the Oulipian constraint becomes not only evident but demandingly so. Is the narrator a man or a woman? What about A***? Is this a gay couple? Straight? Unconsciously mimicking the division of which the reader is beginning to become hyper-aware, the act of reading is also split in two. Or, if you read like me, in three. First, the love story goes on. Beautifully, musically, and tragically. Second, the hunt for hints or clues that will solve this riddle becomes equally important. And third, curiosity and wonderment at the craftsmanship involved in concealing such a simple detail.

more here.