Guillaume Lecasble: Lobster (Lobster)
I have read a few books and know of many more, featuring an animal with human qualities. These are often children’s books but there are examples in adult books, most famously Animal Farm. However, I can safely say, till reading this book. I have never read nor am unlikely to ever read again, a novel featuring a lobster with human qualities.
The first thing that struck me about this book is that it is called Lobster in the French original. The normal French word for lobster is homard. However, for an author who has written books in French with the titles Cut and Serial Dog Killer, Lobster is not a big leap. Moreover, I feel that the word lobster has a more colourful, euphonic sound to it than homard which, frankly, sounds a bit bland. My apologies to any French-speaking readers who may be reading this.
Lobster is called Lobster throughout the book, despite the fact that we meet his parents and learn of his brother. Indeed, we meet the three of them as they are being caught by lobstermen(humans stink, he comments ), the brother having been a previous victim. They are all sent to restaurants and are dumped into aquariums to be chosen by diners. All three remain together.
From the aquarium they can see the diners. The father is the first to be taken and our hero can see his unfortunate father being brought out. He is eaten by a woman he learns is called Angelina. Then his mother goes and finally it is his turn. Just as he is dropped into the pot, there is a huge bang and the pot falls on the floor and he can escape.
It is at this point that we learn where they are – on the Titanic. It has just struck the iceberg. In real life it took a while for the water to enter but clearly this is not a realist book. Water pours into the dining room. Angelina’s companion, Maurice, who is only her companion so other men will not pester her, dies but grips her arm before doing so. She cannot free himself. However she has a knight in shining armour, albeit in the form of a red shell, who has decided that he is attracted to a shell less body and he is able to do what no human could, cut through Maurice’s wrist and release Angelina. The ship is sinking but there is no holding back lobster lust (and human lust).
Angelina goes to her cabin, grabs her coat and heads for the lifeboats Lobster nestled between her breasts – She loved the sensation of his little claws on her skin. However in the lifeboat, a fellow passenger sees Lobster and sees him as food. A tussle ensues and Lobster returns to the deep.
We now follow the fate of the two lovers. Lobster and his fellows are snacking on the Titanic passengers while Lobster is doing well as the lady lobsters like his red colour and his smell of bay leaves. (Could a lobster smell bay leaves under water? Yes, I know, it is not realistic.)
Angelina is back in New York with her father. Her mother was French and died some time ago, so she has stayed with her father, Alfred. She still craves lobster love but when she tries with other lobsters, it does not work out. There is only one Lobster for her.
The plot gets somewhat complicated as Angelina, accompanied by her father who seems to have a somewhat incestuous affection for his daughter, heads for Paris. We meet Jules, a lobsterman who wants to be a tattoo artist and whose life is seemingly saved by Lobster and who also heads for Paris. The course of true love never runs smoothly as Lobster and Angelina still miss each other.
So what are we to make of this? Some readers will say that it is silly. Is The Wind in the Willows silly? Watership Down? Sex/love between human and lobster is no more improbable than what happens in these books and countless other books about animals with human qualities.
Some will say it is surrealist and they will have a point. Dali’s lobster telephone famously shows that the Surrealists saw lobsters as a symbol, not least because of lobster’s alleged aphrodisiac qualities. Gérard de Nerval, though not a surrealist, famously had a pet lobster. Lecasble will have been well aware of both of these.
However, I think there is something else going on. I have not read anything else by Lecasble but I have read summaries of some of his works. In Le chou et l’hôpital [The Cabbage and the Hospital], we have a thinking cabbage. He discovers that he has pesticide on his leaves but also learns that that he is to be used as food in a hospital and is very concerned about this. In his SDK Serial Dog Killer several dogs are found dead, killed by being bitten by a human. It is clear that Lecasble’s modus operandi is to subvert conventional reality to help tell his story and make his point, a very valid technique and one which works.
So this is not a silly book at all. Indeed it is a very intelligent book looking at life in a different way. While the sexual/love relationship between the two is key there are other things going on, all of which makes it well worth reading.
The book is apparently part of series of books which you can read on the Eurostar between London and Paris. I estimate that you will come to the key scene on the Titanic as you enter the Channel Tunnel and should easily finish it by the Gare du Nord. Fortunately, they do not serve lobster on the Eurostar.
First published in 2003 by Editions du Seuil
First published in English in 2005 by Dedalus
Translated by Polly McLean