All This Has Nothing To Do With Me begins with the following paragraph, underneath which is a photograph of the Titanic leaving Southampton:
The first section of our analysis will focus upon the pathological phenomenon ‘blind love’. We will see how an individual can be unexpectedly struck down by this tenacious illness, even though that same person has so far been progressing artlessly yet confidently through life. Scientifically speaking it is noteworthy, even poignant, to identify some of the early indicators of the disaster ahead. These intrinsic signs ignite like warnings written in letters of fire, and yet the individual passes hastily by with the innocent smile of a child being led to the sacrificial altar.
On the following page, we see an extract from an email, sent by ‘MS’ to her friend Alexandra M. MS says she’s offered the job of editor of the film section to a young man who came to the interview wearing a cravat. She thinks this is ‘quirky’. The next email extract tells us:
P.S. He’s been given the desk right opposite mine.
If I stretch out my legs I can touch his feet.
There is a diagram of the office on the opposite page so we can view this for ourselves.
The first section of the book continues with the story of MS and XX falling into a relationship. Initially, they go for a series of drinks which MS documents through notes and photographs of his cigarette lighters which she keeps stealing. When he leaves a book on her desk, she includes extracts and letters she writes to the (dead) author. Amongst the transcribed text messages, meetings and photographs, there are also short pieces about ideas and states such as omens and happiness; an extract from an article about the Titanic, and on-going analysis of the state of the relationship.
By the end of the first section of the novel, MS is writing to Facebook and a mobile telephone provider requesting information:
Secondly, can your site alert a user to an abnormally increased consultation rate of his or her profile by the same person? And if so, what are the defined thresholds of abnormality?
It seems to be a well-known fact that errors sometimes occur in the delivery of the aforementioned [SMS] messages. For personal reasons, I would be very grateful if you could send me statistics outlining the frequency of this occurrence.
The middle section of the book takes what initially appears to be an abrupt turn. It tells the story of Ambra , age nineteen, meeting Alessandro F. Two months later, he leaves his three months pregnant wife and their young daughter to live with Ambra only to leave her and return to his family when she is three months pregnant. The daughter she gives birth to is Monica. As in the first section, events are analysed as well as reported and there are family photos and diagrams included.
The final section documents the end of MS and XX’s relationship but also interweaves the continuing story of Ambra. The reader is left to draw their own conclusions as to how one set of events might have affected the other.
All This Has Nothing To Do With Me reminded me of the work of Leanne Shapton and Sheila Heti. As Sabolo uses her own initials and owns the copyright of most of the photographs, we are led to question whether this is an autobiographical work. XX could be used to ensure the other parties anonymity or because this person is a creation, a character who could be just one person or who is designed to represent anyone MS or the reader could have had a disastrous relationship with. Sabolo deliberately blurs the lines to push the reader to consider how they curate their own life. What do our photographs, our letters, electronic communications, diary entries tell other people about us? How might we analyse our behaviour?
At fewer than 150 pages, All This Has Nothing To Do With Me is a slim volume with a lot of story and a lot of ideas packed into it. The use of a variety of forms and media mean that it is continually fascinating and entertaining. This winner of the Prix de Flore is well worth the couple of hours it will take you to read it and the many more you will spend thinking about it.
Thanks to Picador for the review copy.