a review by Caitlin Stall-Paquet
Espaces is Olivia Tapiero’s second novel, which is quite impressive considering that she was born in 1990. However, Tapiero’s age is inconsequential because she has produced a beautiful and deeply unsettling piece of writing that provides insights into people’s deepest fears that are wise beyond her years. While the setting is typical of a coming-of-age story, a university dorm at the beginning of the school year, the content is anything but hopeful and carefree.
From the opening paragraph, we see the world through a skewed lens, from the perspective of a deeply pained young woman named Lola who is moving into her university dorm.
In Lola’s world, everything is slowed down and every word on the page as loaded as an awkward silence. The weight of the world presses down on her point of view and yet the language is crystal clear.
For Lola, the simple act of meeting her roommate sucks the air out of the room; minute details take on apocalyptic proportions. The first time she steps into their shared bedroom, she sees how exactly half of it has been occupied, “with a geometric precision.” In her eyes, everything is loaded with significance; she lives in a world of symbols and metaphors.
It is therefore no surprise when subsequent events send her over the edge, inwards into a world of violent loneliness where no one seems able to reach her. This roommate, someone she was arbitrarily assigned to, is the figure the narrator addresses throughout the book.
Here the strength of female connections is evoked simply, without show. The one masculine perspective comes from Lola’s professor, though, in the end, two other female characters are the only ones capable of reaching through Lola’s silent void to bring her back to life.
Tapiero is able to speak volumes through silences and hints at a world of violent colour living beneath a blank canvas. She infuses blank spaces with meaning.
Espaces is published by XYZ, a small house that clearly understands the importance of the book as an object that embodies the story printed on its pages. This novel is not marked by chapters, but rather by empty white space that recalls the emptiness and silence where Lola loses and finds herself all at once. ≈
by Olivia Tapiero
≈ translated by Caitlin Stall-Paquet
I arrived before your silence.
In the hallway that led to our room I felt everything, the whole world beating in my temples after bringing me here, from one beat to the next, perhaps by chance. I remember the shock of my first impressions, my senses heightened by the changing smell of yellowed pages that filled the air, this terrifying smell of life dancing out its torture, caught between the thickness of time and the erosion of reading.
I had a room in the dorms and, moving towards this new, still-unknown space, I felt borders reappear around me, borders which, through books, I had long since stopped believing in, borders that divide up time so we don’t waste it, and make bodies rigid and silent in the sad hours of the everyday.
When I opened the door to the room they had assigned to me, I saw you for the first time. You were stretched out on your bed and looked up to me as you put your book down on your stomach.
I didn’t answer, I couldn’t, I don’t know why. I nodded. I didn’t know how you knew my name, how you could have remembered it, stored it in your skull, awaiting my arrival. With your head lighter, you dove back into your reading. I don’t understand what happened, why I was unable to ask you your name in return, I don’t know, maybe it was this silence that was too dense to cross, this silence that had drowned the room, yes, it’s because of this silence that I never knew your name.
I put my suitcase down on the bed parallel to yours and immediately understood that it would be impossible for me to claim this room. In a closed space the presence of fixed and solid materials, objects either belonging to me or not, makes me uncomfortable, as if inanimate objects occupy space in a fuller, denser way than I do. I felt out of place and yet, on a list somewhere someone had written that this bed would be mine. I tried imagining that list with all its room numbers and, somewhere, my name typed on a computer in the same format as all the others; I had a desk, books, and clothes.
With a geometric precision that could have sliced the window in half, you had not occupied my side of the room, but that changed nothing.
I felt myself evaporating. I wanted to lock myself up in a tiny metal cube with walls that would make my bones resonate if I tried to spread my arms or unfold my legs, yes, to lock myself in or to let myself be devoured by your presence. Unable to occupy this place, this silence, I left.
I had already forgotten the sound of your voice but your face had remained etched upon my retina. Now, I can no longer find that first face, oblivion has eaten away at my eyes. ≈