Books

Xavier Hennekinne and Phil Day
Lost Words

Lost Words is an unusual book, bringing together text fragments by the French–Australian writer Xavier Hennekinne and drawings by the Australian artist Phil Day. Unlike in a picture book or graphic novel, the text and images relate to one another only elliptically – in fact, the effect is like having two books in one. This is intensified by the fact that Hennekinne’s text fragments create a coherent picture of an autobiographical subject, while Day’s images are more generic.

The narrator of the textual component of Lost Words is a French–Australian man in his mid-40s, whose reference points include Claude Sautet’s film Les Choses de la vie, the philosophy of Nietzsche, the poetry of Charles Juliet and the literary talk show Bouillon de culture. Boredom is the existential problem of the narrator’s youth; his relationships with young women provide another preoccupation. His first-person vignettes, however, are not solely Proustian remembrances of things past. Other fragments, for example, reflect on his contemporary condition as a father of three.

In one, titled “Imagination”, the narrator reflects on his son Julian’s obsession with video games. Conceiving of the imagination as a space that can ideally be filled and then emptied by the act of creation so “it becomes space again, virgin and available to once more do whatever one wishes”, the narrator wonders if video games have permanently invaded Julian’s imagination: “Are they now occupying all of that space? Without ever vacating it?” In another fragment – again featuring Julian – the narrator attempts to explain dreams to his young son. Unable to grasp the concept of a mind, the child asks nervously before bedtime: “Is there a dream in my bedroom?”

Hennekinne’s style is direct, witty, evocative and engaging. The sparks of connection that emerge through repeating motifs – for instance, the moon in “The Reinvention of Dreams” and in “The Empires of the Moon” – generate an additional luminosity. It would have been a tough order for any artist to visually “match” Hennekinne’s prose – and more difficult still, indeed impossible, to “match” the images that form in a reader’s mind. Day’s drawings sometimes pick up on motifs in Hennekinne’s writing, but at other times do their own thing, favouring distorted close-ups of everyday objects. The images planted in my head by the text, however, are what prevail.

Maria Takolander

Gazebo Books, 128pp, $24.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 1, 2020 as "Xavier Hennekinne and Phil Day, Lost Words".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

Reviewer: Maria Takolander

Our journalism is founded on trust and independence

Register your email for free access or log in if you already subscribe

      Keep Reading                 Subscribe