Translated, with an afterword, by Annette David / October 2015 / 6 x 9, 168 pp. / 978-1-939663-13-9
Exemplary Departures consists of five exquisitely wrought novellas depicting five “exemplary” deaths in various exotic locations around the globe: a gentleman spy disappears with his secrets into the Malaysian jungle; a young woman agonizes atop a ruined castle overlooking the Rhine; a writer succumbs to alcoholism in the streets of Baltimore; a salesman expires as a vagabond in the sewers of New York; and hermaphroditic twins are assassinated in a stagecoach. Drawing from the remnants of real-life anecdotes—from Edgar Allan Poe’s final days to the agonizing tale of Idilia Dubb—these stories are imagined descents into the death’s supreme indifference. A true modern inheritor of the legacy of the French Decadent writers, Wittkop spins these tales with her trademark macabre elegance and chilling humor, maneuvering in an uncertain space between dark Romanticism, Gothic Expressionism, and Sadistic cruelty. “Death is life’s most important moment” Wittkop had claimed; Exemplary Departures offers five particularly important moments for the English reader’s dubious delectation.
First published as a set of three novellas in 1995, this translation is of the 2012 edition of five novellas, which include the previously unpublished “Mr. T’s Last Secret” and “Claude and Hippolyte.”
Self-styled heir to the Marquis de Sade, Gabrielle Wittkop (1920–2002) was a French author of a remarkable series of novels and travelogues, all laced with sardonic humor and dark sexuality, with recurrent themes of death, decay, disease, and decrepitude. After meeting Justus Wittkop, a German deserter, in Paris under the Occupation, she hid him from the Nazis and then married him after the war, in what she described as an “intellectual alliance.” He would commit suicide in 1986, with her approval, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Her first novel, The Necrophiliac, appeared in 1972, but a number of her books have only been made available since her own suicide in 2002, after she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“Readers would be well advised to don a Hazmat suit before wading into the thrilling, pestilential world of French writer Gabrielle Wittkop.”
—Matt Seidel, The Millions
“[T]he five stories collected in Exemplary Departures—all culminating in the deaths of their protagonists, ‘[drawn] from the remnants of real-life anecdotes’—are expansive in design, traversing disparate forms and styles, each itself illuminating differing perspectives on death, existence, and the material cosmos.”
—Mark Molloy, Music & Literature
“Each of these lives is elegantly depicted in taut prose and then mercilessly withdrawn, in the narrative just as it was in history. Despite its stylistic refinement (credit is due to Annette David for so gracefully walking the tightrope of its prose), this book is also urgent. You can feel Wittkop piecing something together through these shattered vessels.”
—Heather Cleary, Literary Hub
“A fine little collection of stylish, beautifully crafted morsels”
—M. A. Orthofer, The Complete Review