Hysteric, Nelly Arcan, translated by David Homel and Jacob Homel, 168 pgs, Anvil Press, anvilpress.com, $20.00
In this agonizing chronicle of the twisted end of a love affair, the writer claims she has no future. She subsequently reveals that she is actually planning to kill herself when she hits 30. This rings uncomfortably true when it comes to the real-life tragedy of author Nelly Arcan, who killed herself in 2009 at the age of 36. Arcan’s suicide undoubtedly breathes a sense of honesty and credibility into Hysteric as she struggles to come to terms with a relationship turned sour and her self-imposed expiry date. Written in the same style as Arcan’s critically acclaimed Whore (2004), this daunting exploration of self-identity reads more like a ghostly, disturbing memoir than a fictional novel.
At first, Hysteric seems akin to a basic sob story, giving the reader access into the diary of some tortured, heartbroken lover unable to let go of the past. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that Hysteric isn’t simply about a breakup. With the streets of Montreal as a backdrop, Hysteric conveys the writer’s struggle to survive in a society infiltrated with sex, drugs, techno music, and Internet porn as much as she struggles to survive her relationship. As a result, Arcan produces a valid, unapologetic critique of modern culture and its obsessions, where “without the threat of eternal damnation at the end of the rope, suicide has become a real option.”
Hysteric showcases Arcan’s terrifying ability to disturb while always remaining within the realm of possibility. At its core, Hysteric is fiercely questioning the human will for survival, and Arcan demands her readers proceed with caution. (Chloe Stelmanis)