Marco Roth at Bookforum:
The style of To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life is more restrained and controlled than these earlier works, but full of well-noticed contrasting details that combine to create an effect that Guibert—apropos of The Compassion Protocol, his last work before his suicide in 1991—characterized as “barbarous and delicate.” An ambulance pulls up to unload a patient in front of a half-abandoned hospital in the midst of shutting down: “slippers in a crate with ampules of potassium chloride . . . a basin from an intensive care unit with a coating of snow on the bottom.” At another hospital, the nurses who draw his blood for the dreaded regular T-cell count “slip on their latex gloves as though they were velvet gloves for a gala evening at the opera.” One of them comments on his cologne, “It’s Habit Rouge isn’t it? . . . I do like that perfume, and to catch a whiff of it on this gray morning, well, you know it’s really a little treat for me.” Disease, as those who’ve spent time in the presence of the sick know, is never quite dramatically life or death, but always life in death and death in life. No moment of one’s life as a terminally ill person or a carer for a terminally ill person passes without this double acknowledgment.