– I mean, if someone is dead, then that person is gone. A gravestone does nothing to fix that. And if it makes a place that others can go to be near the body of the dead person – then how does that help anything? It just prolongs the grieving. Better to simply pass on along the road, thinking nothing of it. But,
He kicked at the grass with his foot.
-But, if life is just that, just being reasonable, then there is nothing in it – nothing worthwhile. So, the yearning that we have to keep dead things living – to to make unreasonable things reasonable. That is why a person should live.
I usually leave a review for a few days after finishing the book. I need to let the ideas and my feelings about them percolate for a while, to form a measured response. But this time, I think that was a bad idea. Jesse Ball’s A Cure for Suicide is a strange, deeply affecting novel. There is so much to it, delivered in such a subtle way, with this distance I think I’ve lost touch with how it made me feel. Let me describe the story to you.
It starts with an examiner meeting her new client for the first time. She is responsible for teaching him how to live in the world. She explains simple things, this is a chair, this is a picture, today we will sit together and eat breakfast, I will say something and you will say something in response, because that’s the way people behave. She explains to him that he was very sick, that he was dying, but that he came to her for help. She helps him by allowing him to dissociate from his memories, he is a new person, he takes on a series of names that are not his, his past is like someone else’s dream, distant, perhaps confusing, but not painful. But the process does not work. He must go through it again, the treatment, the drug, the rebuilding of his psyche. Each time he goes through it more is lost of his brain, his ability to think, to process, to become the person he once was. But this is what it takes to give a person a new life.
The second part of the novel involves a man meeting the Interlocutor. He requests the cure for suicide. He will not be forced into anything, he will decide of his own will whether this is the cure he wants. The man tells his story, the events that lead up to his wanting the cure. It is a story of a love and a loss and an unwillingness to go on. The Interlocutor shares his experiences, and discusses the nature of the cure, which is such that it removes a person from their life that is unlivable and gives them another. Drug administration will remove memories that are painful, and he will live in a series of villages in which he learns again how to live. He will never see his family or friends again, they will receive a yellow slip in the mail explaining that he has taken the cure for suicide. He is a new person.
It is strange. It is philosophical and sad and compelling. The publisher’s blurb on the back describes it as a novel of “love and illness, despair and betrayal”. But it’s also about something deeply, hideously human. What makes us who we are? How much are we willing to give up, how can we bear the unbearable? The prose is simple, almost distant, but the concepts are so rich that you’ll be glad for the economy of language. In some ways I wonder if Ball is being a little too clever for his own good, but in others I’m so glad he wrote this bleak novel. It’s wonderfully imaginative and disturbing. Recommended.
A Cure for Suicide, Jesse Ball: five stars.
Read it to: find out if you’re human.