Hervé Guibert

 'Herve Guibert’s To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life (A l’ami qui ne m’a pas sauve la vie), published in French in 1990, is a first-person account of a young writer’s confrontation with a range of physical, psychological and social effects of HIV, dating from 1980 to 1989 and thus spanning the decade in which the first clinical reports of what would provisionally be termed Gay-Related Immunodeficiency were made public, GRID yielded to AIDS as the rate of infection rapidly attained epidemic proportions, and the earliest generations of treatments were first heralded and then rapidly encountered the limits of their potency.

'Within the narrative’s precisely delineated historical parameters – hence, crucially, in the absence of a vaccine as well as a treatment regime sufficiently effective to counter the virus over time – its introductory claim, uttered in the first person and the past tense, lends itself to understanding as fictive: practically no “serious and authentic” testimony of the time could truthfully, rightfully include this sentence, for between 1980 and 1989 most anyone who had AIDS for three months, period, would be writing it on the far side of death. And indeed, despite numerous overtly autobiographical elements (chief among them the young writer’s recurrent self-identification as “Herve” and “Guibert,” as well as the transparent figuring of the author’s friend Michel Foucault in the character called Muzil), the French edition declares its status on both cover and title page: roman.

'But at several telling junctures in To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, a fundamental law of the novelistic genre is transgressed when author and narrator converge to become indistinguishable. These instances, at least six in number, prove to have two traits in common: a reference to the work itself as it is being written, and an act or event of dating that demarcates its provenance. The unsettling experience of reading these passages leads us to ask (among other things, certainly) what the co-presence of these traits inscribes in the relations between novel and autobiography, fiction and testimony.'


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