Louis Armand, Glasshouse (Equus Press, 2018)
A murderer is loose in Paris. More than one, in fact. Actually, the town is full of them, like every other town on earth, and for the people whose job it is to clear up afterwards, nothing is a surprise anymore.
Welcome to the midnight world of Louis Armand’s Glasshouse. A grim study of the residents of a Paris housing block that mixes black humour and grotesquery with pure cynicism to produce a concentrated burst of bad-vibes brilliance.
The book is short, 128 pages, but captures a wide panorama of down-and-out city life. It is built up of short sections, each concentrating on a specific character and delivered in a different style. These are tied together, to an extent, by the murder of a schoolteacher.
Schönbrunn is the hard-boiled detective tasked with solving the crime. He is faced with an abundance (and therefore also a scarcity) of suspects. Any of these nutters could have done it. The crime scene itself shows all the hallmarks of a sexual motive, and yet, mysteriously, it also features an unidentifiable ectoplasm.
Is it ghostly, or perhaps extraterrestrial? Schönbrunn is damned if he knows. “Shit,” is the favourite of his many exclamations. To which his partner unwaveringly replies; “with spangles on”.
The collection of deviants inhabiting the glasshouse each carry the stylistic marks of prior authors in their linguistic DNA. Qwertz, the sailor-turned-artist, speaks in ellipses… very clearly… in reference to… Celine. Gep, meanwhile, speaks in cracked poetry, reminiscent of beat poets and British experimentalists like Ann Quin.
Yadlun and Madame Lenoir, by contrast, feature a more straightforward, yet still allusive prose. Early Burroughs is lingering here, as is the transgressive tradition that comes after him.
The picture of life that Armand conjures in the first section of Glasshouse is one that is by turns bleak and captivating. It is transcended by the second section, which features characters post-death. The victim talks, as do the ants that inhabit her body. I found this section even more fascinating than the first.
When Armand moves from presenting characters to ventriloquizing the objects that move them – the Scaffold and an umpire’s chair, for example – we feel the abjection of his world disintegrating into something totalizing. The fabric of the universe itself seems to cry out with the anguish of the glasshouse.
Voices of the mob punctuate this section: exclamations in English and parallel French. The local cats are heard, as is a “fathomless” hole in the ground.
When the second section collapses into an act of violence, a brutal counterpoint to the first, we are left waiting for the third and final section. Our synthesis, however, is eternally deferred. There is, Armand makes clear, no end to the violence and counter-violence that shakes the glasshouse.
In this brutal little novel, there is only entropic pleasure and entropic pain.
Recently longlisted for The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize, Glasshouse is a highly readible work. For readers who have yet to stumble onto the bad side of literature’s tracks, the book will provide a perfect short sharp shock of transgressive awareness. For those who already enjoy the dark side of writing, there is more than enough innovation here to keep you hooked.
A murderous little book, and a fun one at that!
– Joe Darlington