I recently finished reading The Babylonian Trilogy by Sébastien Doubinsky. The author is French, and this is his first book to be published in English. It’s one of those brain-rattling books that come along too rarely. I’m hoping it will help my current writing, slide some things around in my head till they find a better position.
Paul Witcover, in his review in Locus magazine, called it “a book whose images and characters seduce you one minute, then sucker-punch you the next.”
The setting is Babylon, a melted and mashed metropolis filled with decay, sensationalism, corruption, and beauty. The book is broken into three parts, “The Birth of Television According to Buddha,” “Yellow Bull,” and “The Gardens of Babylon” In “The Birth of Television According to Buddha,” multiple story lines and narrators alternate, including several amazing short-shorts about (or by) various colors, including:
Blue is the color of strangeness and tomorrows. It is the color of eyes and oceans. Seven is its number, and the sky is not a window. Painters use blue to express rage and lust. Blue is androgynous. Blue is the last color we will need for now. But blue is always where you expect it to be. For blue is the color of your shadow. Walk on the sunny side of the street on a cold summer day, and you will see.
“Yellow Bull,” the middle section, is the most straightforward, taking the form of a police procedural in which Georg Ratner, a disinterested police detective, is aided by dreams and nightmares to catch a serial killer. “The Gardens of Babylon” returns to a format of multiple story lines: Poetry, Death, and Dope (writer, assassin, junky).
The multiple stories and styles make it a difficult book to describe plot-wise, and in a way the plot is irrelevant. But despite its experimental clothing, the book builds story and character, characters who the reader cares about, creating a satisfying and intriguing whole.
To see some of what the author has to say about his writing, there’s a good interview here.
PS Publishing will release two more of his books next year, which is cause for rejoicing.