With the designation roman that twice punctuates the French title, Guibert’s text declares itself from the outset, before any further experience of reading, a work of literature, a narrative of a certain duration whose first person would not be the author, but rather a narrator not bound by any commitment to historiographical or autobiographical veracity, freed by author and reader alike from responsibility to what might actually have happened. And for the most part it is indeed readable as such a fiction, according to what the first person will belatedly term a “novelistic logic” (the logique romanesque evidently posed no problem for the translator). [Translation cited hereafter as E; French text cited hereafter as F.] This is the case for the provocative opening sentence as well as its qualification in those that follow, adumbrating the plot and the central predicament of the narrative:
More precisely, for three months I believed I was condemned to die of that mortal illness called AIDS…. But after three months, something completely unexpected [un hasard extraordinaire] happened that convinced me I could and almost certainly would escape this disease, which everyone still claimed was always fatal…. That I was going to make it, that I would become, by an extraordinary stroke of luck [par ce hasard extraordinaire], one of the first people on earth to survive this deadly malady [cette maladie inexorable]. [E 1; F 9]
But at several telling junctures in To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, a fundamental law of the novelistic genre is transgressed when author and narrator converge to become indistinguishable. These instances, at least six in number, prove to have two traits in common: a reference to the work itself as it is being written, and an act or event of dating that demarcates its provenance. The unsettling experience of reading these passages leads us to ask (among other things, certainly) what the co-presence of these traits inscribes in the relations between novel and autobiography, fiction and testimony.