Invisible by Hugues De Montalembert

This is a thought-provoking book, and I walked away from it thinking I knew a little bit more about myself and the world around me.

Invisible: A Memoir

Length: 144 pages
Author: Hugues De Montalembert
Price: 21.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2009-01

Invisible: A Memoir by Hugues De Montalembert is a strange little book. Literally.

Most memoirs tend to be longer works; most memoirists, it seems, like to write about themselves and tend to tell audiences everything. De Montalembert’s memoir is a scant 130 pages, and many pages only contain a couple dozen words.

The narrative technique is also unique. The book’s average paragraph length is probably about 15 words, and the book uses both blue and black type. At times, the narrative style is almost jarring -- short sentences, short paragraphs, vague pronoun references, no quotation marks -- all contribute to a slightly jolting experience. For example:

In the middle I stopped and they said, Why did you stop?

-- Because there is an obstacle in front of me.

-- Yes, what is it?

-- I don’t know; usually there is no obstacle there.

At other times, the book is written much more traditionally and often with beauty, style, and grace. De Montalembert describes going on a walk at 3AM::

The night is warm; it touches my face, my hands. I stand still for a while, my long fiberglass cane held in front of me like fencing foil ready for a duel with darkness. Immobile, I create a vacuum inside myself; become a nocturnal animal blending into the night. Sounds of emptiness echo from the neighboring garage, drawing me in.

Some may find the juxtaposition between these two narrative styles too jarring to be enjoyable. To be honest, for the first few pages, the narrative style irritated me a little, but then I found my reading rhythm and the seemingly opposite narrative techniques began to fit together.

The narrative style is so unique it almost upstages the plot of the memoir, but there is an interesting story and message in this book. The book begins in 1978 and tells the story of De Montalembert, an artist and photographer, who is blinded when he walks in on two men robbing his home. The robbers throw paint remover into his eyes, and De Montalembert relates:

Paint remover. It’s not an acid, it’s a base. If you wash a base with water it doesn’t go away. It continues to dig. While I was fighting with the big one, the little one threw that paint remover in my face. I understood that something quite serious had happened.

(Keep in mind that in the book each one of these sentences is a different paragraph.)

Readers follow De Montalembert through the attack, his physical recovery in the hospital, and his mental and emotional journey as he tries to regain his independence and to avoid falling into the pit he claims society tosses the blind into. The book jacket states “part philosophy, part autobiography, part inspiration, Invisible will change the way readers understand reality and look at the world”. I would argue the book is part philosophy, part inspiration, with a smattering of autobiography thrown in.

Advice, words of wisdom, and sage observations seem to form the most important part of this book. Early in the book De Montalembert tells the audience:

If you love somebody and you cannot look into the eyes of the person, something is missing. All the rest, her beauty, the shape of her body, you see everything, but -- the expression in her eyes, that is something you will never be able to touch ... How many time have you walked in the street or been in the subway and you just make eye contact with somebody and something happens? And maybe it will even change your life.

This passage is only loosely connected to De Montalembert’s life and the inference that the sighted need to be reminded about the importance of eye contact is clear.

The book may be written in a unique narrative style and is more self-help/philosophy than memoir, but for the most part, De Montalembert’s thoughts make sense. After noting the number of people who would sit and tell him everything, De Montalembert explains:

... in the Catholic church they have those little boxes where you make your confession and it is very dark and you can’t see the priest and you hope he can’t see you. And so you feel free to confess your sins. For the same reason, many couples talk in the car because they don’t have to make eye contact.

Not all of De Montalembert’s musings are so concrete, however. Much like the writings of Annie Dillard, this narrative occasionally has an intangible quality, and some of De Montalembert’s thoughts are definitely open to interpretation. He relates, for example, “To see, one should liberate oneself from the immediate. Looking beyond opens the world to where beauty has become one with truth. The harmony of the invisible is always more beautiful than the one of the visible”.

Invisible might not quite be as life altering a read as the book jacket suggests, but thoughts such as these give readers a lot to ponder. The tone is honest, and even though a great deal of advice is given, De Montalembert never sounds preachy or pompous nor does the book ever feel didactic -- even though I did learn something. It just wasn’t about De Montalembert. This book really seems to be more about the audience than the author, and I didn’t walk away from the book thinking how much I knew about De Montalembert -- I walked away thinking I knew a little bit more about myself and the world around me.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.