Pierre Mertens: Les éblouissements (Shadowlight)


The most recent addition to my website is Pierre MertensLes éblouissements (Shadowlight), Mertens’ best-known novel. It tells the story of German poet Gottfried Benn, starting with a section on his participation in a Belgian literary festival in Knokke in 1952 but then with each subsequent chapter taking place ten years after the preceding one, starting in 1906, when he was twenty, ending with his death in 1956. Mertens gives us a portrait of Benn the doctor (he was a doctor for most of his adult life, specialising, initially, in venereal diseases), Benn the man (three wives, lots of prostitutes, a survivor of two world wars, the first spent mainly in Brussels as a military doctor, the second in Berlin, where he was banned by the Nazis from both medicine and publishing) and, of course, Benn the poet. We see little of his actual poetry, though he does discuss poetry and other art forms with family and friends but we do see a man who observes life (and, very much so, death) and clearly uses his life experiences in his poetry. Mertens gives us a superb portrait of this complex man, right up to his death. This novel has deservedly been acclaimed and, though currently out of print, it has been translated into English and is fairly easy to find.

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