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When my mind is spinning, my thoughts leaping from one random worry to another, I find that one of the best ways to get centred is to sit or lie down with a good book for a few minutes. If I’m feeling especially tense or unfocussed, then I may have difficulty for a short while in actually understanding what it is I’m reading. So, I breathe slowly and reread what I have tried unsuccessfully to read so far. Eventually, my mind will settle, I will lose myself in the story or poem in front of me, and emerge refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the day, or perhaps even to do a spot of creative writing myself.

Most recently I’ve been reading an outrageously funny novel, The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster by Éric Chevillard.1 Chevillard is a sort of cheerful Samuel Beckett, tapping into a long tradition of French absurdism.  Collected in this volume are the supposed remaining works of the late Thomas Pilaster (while reading I kept forgetting the fact that Pilaster is an entirely fictional character), compiled by (fictional) fellow writer, Antoine Marson, who, according to the spoof blurb on the back of the book, was a ‘longtime friend with whom Pilaster maintained a healthy rivalry’. In reality, as we read Marson’s introduction and commentaries on the works, we quickly realise that there was no love lost between them and that Marson is seeking to undermine the reputation of Pilaster at every turning. The commentaries grow more and more acerbic as the book progresses. It also becomes clear that Marson is deeply jealous of Pilaster because he himself is secretly in love with Pilaster’s lifelong companion, Lise, ‘a stunning brunette with a pale complexion, and the most beautiful woman to ever set foot on the Earth’ (p. 172).

The ‘posthumous works’ comprise: a ridiculously pompous diary of young wannabe author; a most unlikely detective story centred around the murder of a one of three identical triplets (each of the triplet’s wives comes initially under suspicion because the triplets have apparently been using their identical appearance to swap the wives around); a series of obscure and vacuous aphorisms on nature; a history of three attempts to introduce tigers into the French countryside with unexpected consequences (for example, some tigers are looked after by ‘merciful old women’, p. 98, while one tiger throws himself under the wheels of a lorry); a disastrous ‘lecture with slides’ about the desert supposedly taking over the world; a jaundiced diary of the middle-aged Pilaster, whose bitter self-dramatization is hilarious; and finally a collection of almost non‑sensical haiku. The book ends with a chronology of Pilaster’s life, compiled by his so‑called friend, revealing a series of embarrassing details, such as the fact that at school, he was:

short, with big feet, and is given the nickname Right Angle. However, he buys leniency from the strongest, and his weekly ordeal does not really begin until Wednesday, by which time the supply of candy his mother fills his bag with on Monday mornings is exhausted. (P. 168)

There are so many funny one-liners throughout The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster that it is difficult to pick out my favourites, but here are just few of them from the initial ‘1952 Diary’ and the collection of so-called haiku at the end:

My despair is so ineffable that words jostle about in my memory, then on my lips. (P. 26)

All these short fat bald men! Is it because of being short and fat that one goes bald? (P. 27)

Please allow me to point out to you that the years are going by and here we are, still waiting. (P. 36)

There are words that injure, but not one that can swat down this annoying fly. (P. 40)

He suffers from insomnia and constipation. According to his doctor, all that is missing is willpower. (P. 41).

I have my whole life ahead of me, which considerably multiplies the risk of an accident. (P. 42)


I’m so nearly blind

that I would not see an elephant

right behind me (P. 159)


By hill and by vale

incognito goes

the camel (P. 161)


My chubby neighbour

has a slender dancer’s silhouette

as I watch through the keyhole (P. 161)

These and other gems from the book, besides offering delight to readers, can act as great starting points for us as creative writers. For example, after reading, why not take hold of a pen and notebook (or laptop or tablet) and write your own series of aphorisms, observations or small poems, making them as ridiculous and hilarious as you possibly can! Of course, creative writing takes time and work, but it can also be great fun!


[1] Éric Chevillard, The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster, translated from French by Chris Clarke (Seattle: Sublunary Editions, 2021).

Dr Ian Seed is Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader for the Combined Honours BA in Creative Writing. He is also editor of the Department of English’s online magazine Pandora’s Inbox and general editor of its sister print magazine, Pandora’s Box. Ian’s collection of prose poems and flash fiction, New York Hotel, was a Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year. His most recent book is The Underground Cabaret (Shearsman, 2020).


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