Anonymity comes for us all soon enough, but it has encroached with mystifying speed upon the French writer Hervé Guibert, who died at 36 in 1991. His work has been strangely neglected in the Anglophone world, never mind its innovation and historical importance, its breathtaking indiscretion, tenderness and gore. How can an artist so original, so thrillingly indifferent to convention and the tyranny of good taste — let alone one so prescient — remain untranslated and unread? ... Whatever his subject, he possessed an aloof, silvery style — a cool envelope for the hot material. Flinch, cringe, weep, laugh at his books; only indifference seems impossible ... His candor can be so extreme as to feel like provocation, and his love of provocation can tip into outré pornography. Even he could be disturbed by his brutal scenarios ... How free is a writer? And how ought we use our freedom? This is the pulsing question in Guibert’s work ... he hurtles toward all he finds frightening, anatomizing and eroticizing his terror and disgust. There can be something showy in his systematic attack on various taboos, but his inquiry is never flippant and never boring. There is a strangeness to his sentences, in their coil and snap, that gives the prose a freshness and ease. He seemed to write with enviable effortlessness. His drafts...contain few corrections or evidence of hesitation. He simply seemed to pour out onto the page ... The book is a homage to a friendship as well as a record of its gaudy betrayal. Guibert revealed to readers that Foucault did not die of cancer, per the public record, but of AIDS-related complications. He aired his friend’s laundry with ruthless efficiency ... The breach of trust still disturbs me, even as I think I understand Guibert’s brand of logic — for him, it was a commitment to a higher truth.
Although [Guibert's] narcissism may give an antic energy to his prose, fortunately it does not hood his observing eye. His characters are very real indeed and his betrayals as succulent as those Genet promises but seldom delivers ... One of the successful aspects of this book is the portrait of Foucault – something new for Guibert, the observation of someone outside the orbit of his obsessions. The worst part is the recital of grudges, the settling of scores – against Adjani, because she lets her whims interfere with his chance to earn some badly-needed money, and especially against Bill, the friend who did not save his life ... The scandal caused by Guibert’s novel apparently convinced the American drug company in question not to conduct a trial for the Salk vaccine in France, which was judged to be too disputatious a nation.
... reveals a writer of courage, beguiling flair, and sometimes maddening nastiness, who made the body his subject long before his own turned against him ... the rare book that truly deserves the epithet 'unflinching.' Its author may be afraid to die, but on the page his voice doesn’t crack, his hand doesn’t tremble. He suffers throughout—passed between quacks and celebrity homeopaths because of mysterious symptoms; reliving sexual encounters as nightmarish premonitions—but along with this comes an exhilarating lucidity. Guibert feels transparent, as though walking around with “denuded blood,” but the world, too, has been stripped naked, revealing charlatans and saints, startling moments of ugliness and grace ... the novel is both surgical theatre and social tableau ... In Linda Coverdale’s masterly translation, originally published in 1991, To the Friend powerfully evokes the aids epidemic’s uncertain early days. Guibert writes with hindsight but preserves a sense of each moment’s confusion and foreboding ... The best that can be said of such moments is that, with racism as with aids, Guibert does his readers the favor of being shamelessly transparent about his sickness ... Perhaps it’s this mischievous affirmation of life’s mess and sensuality, even in the face of death, that will define Guibert’s contribution to the literature of illness. Rejecting its taboos, he scaled aids’ very long flight of steps and fearlessly recorded what he saw on the climb.