Reading Key

Chloé Delaume

Translated from the French
by Dawn M. Cornelio

My name is Adelaïde Blanchard. I’m 37 years old. I was trained as a Lacanian psychoanalyst, but I’m what they call a bibliotherapist. I heal with books, well, with reading. I prescribe readings. Excerpts of works that are comforting, pages of novels that are reassuring. Stanzas that calm, lines of verse that energize. Thick tomes that put the reader to sleep, pamphlets that get them excited, essays that get things under control. Esthetic experience and neuronal circuit. Literature as a tool and poetry as a remedy. I’ve been practicing for almost 5 years. Usually, I do my best. I have a pretty good reputation.

I use all available Media, whether paper and digital: the reading experience is not just about content. A leather-bound volume can have an effect just like an e-reader can. The five senses are useful for good projection. The subject is fragile, sometimes not very concentrated, their psyche is porous to the environment. The type of interface has to be a match.

Typography is another factor, that plays into the dosage. A balanced font is like a classic alexandrine, it has soothing virtues. In my field, Book Antiqua is linked to tranquilisers, and Comic Sans to strychnine, but that’s true everywhere. I use short-term therapy, I have little patient follow-up. So, of course, I didn’t see the problem coming at all.

My specialty made the cover of the Nouvel Obs two months ago. Bibliotherapy: Getting Better with Books. And more than just books: reading techniques, as well. I have an interview on one page and my picture opposite. I explain my work, that I combine the medium and the content for an optimal result, electroshock or harmonisation. I give examples, too. Rather than a cognitive-behavioral therapy, I use a frontal approach to fight phobias. Total darkness and a backlit e-reader. To get over vertigo, Frison Roche’s First on the Rope High Tower Text. For fear of clowns, Stephen King’s It, unabridged, in Curlz. I even talk about a therapy that’s still in the experimental phase, getting over social phobia by trolling on Twitter with quotes from the Duc de Saint-Simon’s Memoires.

In hindsight, of course, the exposure was a big mistake. The journalist gave it the title Blanchard the Healer, stating “she succeeds where all other therapies have failed.” I just worried a little about some gnashing of teeth from certain colleagues. There are so many alternative therapies nowadays, competition is tough, you have no idea. Yet it’s obvious, “Blanchard the Healer” was doomed from the start.

My office is in the 20th arrondissement in Paris, always busy, but since the article came out, I admit, I’m snowed under. Especially since I have cases that I never treated before. Blanchard the healer brought me all kinds of new patients. Completely different profiles. Until now, I got mostly seasonal affective disorders, very slight neuroses, some post-traumatic syndromes. A lot of melancholy. I get very good results with melancholy. With Emil Cioran in Calibri 12 on a tablet, ten aphorisms at bedtime, five first thing in the morning. It works. People want it to work, my therapy has been proven. That’s why they don’t come back, they don’t need to come back, and I, of course, forget them.

What my captors reproach me for is having failed them. Countertransference patients should never read The Count of Monte Cristo. I made mistakes, including the diagnosis. I paid, and a very high price at that, for my ethical failings. I didn’t know that people dissatisfied with bibliotherapy had a thread on the Doctissimo forum. That’s where they met. And where their idea has sprouted. They put their plan together quickly. Astonishingly quickly, without the least bit of confusion. The idea man was Paul Ravier; the others, basically, just followed. Besides, his cellar is where they held me.

Paul Ravier has obsessive-compulsive disorder. Counting. A form of arithmomania. When I took him on last month, he had enormous problems with concentration, his ritual was devouring him. He couldn’t read, couldn’t access the content. He counted the number of letters per word, words per line, lines per page. I’m a proponent of shock treatments, I prescribed GeorgesPerec, ten pages of A Void every day. Obviously, he had a bad reaction. Since then he’s developed a form of morbid obsessional neurosis with me as the subject. And as your men have found, getting the better of him isn’t easy.

When he showed up when I was closing my office Tuesday night, I admit, I didn’t recognize him. No more than the other three who suddenly showed up right after him. Jeanne Lorrigan, Martin Despraves, Amandine Smith. First they hit me on the head, then they knocked me out, they probably gave me a shot of something, when I came to my senses it took me a long time to understand where I was. And even more to grasp what they actually intended to do with me.

Jeanne Lorrigan, I remembered her. No illness, just a drab life, depression in the making due to lack of stimulation. A dentist husband in the suburbs, children left to live their lives, regrets and apathy. I started by prescribing Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, by having her borrow it from the library. Because it was important that when she was aware, as she read, that she was part of a reading chain, that she was the umpteenth woman to free herself from her condition with this text. She was much better after that. She got a job and left her husband. And then she came back because she wasn’t better anymore, she was becoming gloomy again, losing interest in everything. It would take a powerful serotonin booster, some momentum, a flow. Unfortunately, Jeanne Lorrigan had a bipolar underlayer, I wasn’t able to see it, she only saw me in the office twice, during depressive phases. Athalie’s dream, in the play by Racine, morning, noon, and night, was too strong for her, even in paperback. I induced a manic phase. While I was in the basement, I never managed to calm her down. To repair what I had done. With all of them, I failed.

It lasted five days. The ophthalmic examination chair was Martin Despraves’ idea, he found it online. He wanted to be sure that I couldn’t look away, holding my head still was the only option, he explained it to me. Out of all of them, he’s the most dangerous. He really wanted to put out my eyes, he could hardly stand it. The worst, I must admit, is that he didn’t show any symptoms, nothing serious, when he came to see me. I vaguely remember an idle, bourgeois man, looking to use his neurosis as a way to exist. He complained too much, certainly, bad time, bad day. I assume. I would have prescribed a facsimile copy of Antonin Artaud’s Ivry notebooks. I think I wanted to shake him up, just to make him understand slightly what suffering, raw suffering, is. Of course, the lines drawn by Artaud’s hand, for his brain, an electroshock. I could see it in his excitement when he handled the two eyelid holders. He was doing shots of Pierre Guyotat every three hours. It’s really my fault that he rocked.

With Amandine Smith, it’s different. I thought I gave her a perfectly appropriate treatment. She has chronic lethargy, chronic fatigue and anxiety. I had her read Lydie Salvayre, absolutely everything by Salvayre. She regained her intellectual pep but developed a phobia of bailiffs. Unfortunately Amandine Smith works for a collection company. Actually, she is on sick leave. She was mad at me, but she’s the one who called you. I am so grateful to her. She put an end to my ordeal. Those five days, they were so difficult.

Torture equal to the harm I had inflicted on them. That’s what they think, Commissioner. That’s how they got their revenge. The old ophthalmic examination chair, tied down, head back. With or without eyelid holders, for five days, forced to read what they offered me. They took turns holding the iPad. Just a little break every four hours. A selection of appropriate text, texts they sometimes manipulated, I had to read Proust without the letter e, Agatha Christie without the end, Stéphane Mallarmé in PHP. They had fun disrupting my concentration, making noises with their mouths, reading along with me and making comments. They made me read Hamlet and forced me to listen to Johnny Hallyday’s rock opera at the same time. I was also treated to a crime novel with random chapters, too. They made me do complete exercises, too, do a summary of what I’d read every seven pages. Including The Tartar Step.

Their goal, as Paul Ravier kept repeating, was not only to thoroughly extinguish any pleasure I had in reading, along with my relationship with the key tool to my work, it was to annihilate me. To just annihilate me. That’s why Amandine Smith dropped out, and she contacted the police. It was all going too far. When you arrived, it had been going on for hours and I could not take it anymore: Michel Houellebecq’s Sérotonine in Gothic letters.

The neurologist told me that I’ll have after-effects. I don’t know what will become of Paul Ravier, Jeanne Lorrigan, Martin Despraves, Amandine Smith. Kidnapping with forcible confinement, psychic violence in meetings, acts of barbarism. But from a criminal point of view, they’re not responsible. As for me, I’ll be telling my story tonight on BFM.