The colonel does not sleep

Man-Thing Poetry

Jyoung prodigy, Emilienne Malfatto is a photographer, journalist and author. In 2020, with his novella That the Tiger laments over youshe wins the prize Goncourt from the first novel then repeat with The snakes will come for you the following year which is rewarded with the prize Albert-London.
Continuing its momentum, Emilian arrive today at basement editions with a novella under Buzzatian influence: The colonel does not sleep. What does the French author have in store for us on this new journey into unknown lands?

“What do you believe
I would have liked me too
be happy
have the feeling of
and not to go through existence as
a field of ruins
I’ve seen too many ruins
so that my soul began to resemble them. »

“He is a specialist. »
This is what happens on a cold, rainy morning at the City’s command center. A specialist at the rank of colonel. A specialist, yes.
But of what ?
As the Reconquest continues, an anonymous general receives a greyish colonel accompanied by his orderly. In the Palace, silence.
We are in an unknown country, which could be Iraq (where Emilienne Malfatto covered the revolution as a photo-reporter) or anywhere else, in one of the many countries at war across the globe.
The colonel does not sleep is a story-fable, a universal story which can be applied to everyone and which displays its shifting contours.
At the Palace, the general who goes mad plays a solitary game of chess with an enemy he does not see, bogged down in a war he no longer fights, delegating to a zealous subordinate the news of the front which no longer concerns him. . The colonel’s unexpected help is a double-edged sword for him, because the ” specialist is sullen, her blurred face and gray clothes seem contagious.
Sent to the tanners’ quarter, somewhere in this city without a name destroyed by the war, the colonel practices his art underground. In the circle of light, under the gaze of his orderly who retains a few rosy reflections on his cheeks, the colonel works. He cuts, slices, sections.
It’s a ” specialist », we said it. A specialist in the art of not killing too soon “. And the men who pass through his hands become dehumanized things, they have to.

“Now he is a specialist. The specialist, some even say, as if he were the only one. Not his equal to carry out a delicate operation. Or to dismantle a network. Or to break a man. A virtuoso, truly, say his superiors when they introduce him to important figures in the new regime who shake his hand warmly but avoid meeting his gaze. Perhaps they are afraid of meeting ghosts there. »

It is this trio of characters that forms the skeleton of the short novella (barely 110 pages) ofEmilienne Malfatto. In this story, everything is gray, like a message about what war does to men and to the world, washing out flesh and homes with the same impassiveness. The colonel does not sleep becomes elliptical and hazy, the better to trap the reader in the horror of a conflict that has no name, in a City that has lost its own and is haunted by characters who can no longer be named.
In the center, the famous colonel, our ” specialist “, a torturer who, by dint of abuse, is pursued by ghosts. He becomes a martyr, both executioner and victim, deprived of sleep and color.
Emilienne Malfatto manages to capture all the darkness of the situation but strangely draws from it a singular poetry declaimed by the colonel in the first person. It is the suffering of the soldier who spreads out, the torments of the Devil who no longer wants Hell and the tortured souls of which he is jailer.
In The colonel does not sleep, we are struck by the description in levels of gray enhanced by bursts of color almost out of place, we are dumbfounded by the beauty of the pen which captures everything to show the absurd and the flight of men, the abdication of life and of reason. From fish-men to thing-men, the human being becomes an almost supernatural creature, to avoid thinking, precisely, that we have just killed, tortured, mutilated.
Here, there is no longer any culprit, since meaning has disappeared. Everything is leaking, everything is falling apart. And sleep, a basic human function, becomes the redeeming Grail of our narrator who has nothing more to hope for.
In an empty Palace, the drops are falling, the general is hiding, the orderly becomes a witness and the colonel, he is still looking for sleep.

No matter what novel or novella, Le colonel ne dormit pas seizes by its poetry and its darkness. Universal, the story of Émilienne Malfatto tells what happens when war takes away our human colors, waiting in a marble palace or near a circle of light hidden in the basement. And on you, reader, lament the executioners who have become victims.

Rating: 9/10

The colonel does not sleep