Aymé – Le passe muraille

This book is a collection of short stories by Marcel Aymé – who writes in a fantastic Parisian realism – that is at the same time evocative and realistic, and another fantastical. I love this collection. Read it enthusiastically in grad school – even though it is rarely read in an acdemic context (not “serious” enough maybe).

A man named Dutilleul lived in Montmartre. Having just begun his forty-third year, he discovered that he possessed the strange ability to pass effortlessly through walls. This new-found ability bothered him a bit so he went to see a doctor, who prescribed intensive work and medicine as a cure. Dutilleul led a rather inactive life, however, and a year later still retained his ability to pass through walls, although he had no inclination to use it. This disinclination changed, however, when his new boss at the office began to make the his job unbearable. Dutilleul began using his power to pester his boss, who went mad after about a week, and was taken away to an asylum. Dutilleul then began to use his ability to burgle banks and jewellery shops. Each time he would sign his pseudonym “The Werewolf” in red chalk at the crime scene, and his criminal exploits soon became the talk of the town. In order to claim the prestige and celebrity status “The Werewolf” had gained, Dutilleul allowed himself to be caught in the act. He was put in prison, but used his ability to frustrate his jailers and escape repeatedly. Eventually, he grew tired of his fame and changed his appearance so that nobody would recognize him. Finding even the thickest walls too easy, Dutilleul dreamt of going to Egypt to try the more challenging walls of the pyramids. He then fell in love with a married woman, and lost all interest in leaving. This woman’s husband went out every night and left her locked in her bedroom. Dutilleul used his power to enter her bedroom and spend the night with her while her husband was away. One morning, Dutilleul had a splitting headache and took two pills he found in the bottom of his drawer. His headache went away but later that night, as he was leaving his lover’s house, he noticed a feeling of resistance as he was passing through the walls. It turned out that the pills Dutilleul had thought were aspirin were, in fact, the medicine his doctor had prescribed for him a year earlier. As he was passing through the final outer wall of the property, he noticed he was no longer able to move. He realized his mistake too late—the medicine suddenly took effect and Dutilleul ended up trapped in the wall, where he remains to this day.

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