The Suicide Shop review – dark, offbeat satire by Jean Teulé
First a book, then an animated film, The Suicide Shop is a black comedy whose dark humour has been likened to Beetlejuice.
In a world so depressing that the majority of people have lost the will to live, the staff at The Suicide Shop (Le Magasin des Suicides) by Jean Teulé will sell you exactly what you need to end your life. If ‘your life has been a failure’, they’ll ‘make your death a success’. Visit the children of the shop’s owners, Lucrèce and Mishima Tuvache. Then you can select one of Vincent’s inventions or allow yourself the kiss of death from Marylin…
In this fable, an unhappy outlook is the norm. However, the shop owners’ youngest child, named after Alan Turing (the influential computer scientist who died by suicide) is depressingly optimistic in a world where ‘people fall from the balconies of the Moses, Jesus, Zeus and Osiris towers like autumn drizzle’.
This is a dark read (‘with the breeze-block on one ankle, they look like shooting stars…It’s pretty’) yet one with skewed humour. It challenges the reader’s beliefs about right and wrong: how can the sellers of the suicide equipment insist they are ‘not murderers’?
Alan never forces anyone to join in his positivity. Instead, he acts with good intentions that eventually begin to rub off on his peers. The most valuable lesson from this book is that we must never feel powerless to influence the state of this world. Our actions tell others how we think they should behave.
The Suicide Shop doesn’t conform to a structured plot, yet it’s gripping and cinematic (and was, in fact, made into a full-length animated feature). It is saturated with original descriptions: ‘the sun drowning in its own blood’, ‘his eyes like disembowelled sunflowers’. It feels timeless, mainly due to the lack of consistent context: we hear of the devastations of ‘terrorists’, the ‘Red Army’ and 3D TVs. However, the fable is relevant to any person and time. It reminds us that whatever political issues we may be battling, it can be all too easy to succumb and feel like certain problems will not affect us – that we don’t need to care. The Tuvache parents force Alan to watch the news in the hope that its horrors will install a degree of pessimism within him. Nevertheless, they all – even Alan – blissfully dismiss the distressing content.
Even though it seems depressing, light shines through cracks in the story until we reach a fully illuminated ending; almost.
Teulé is the 63 year-old (Jan 2017) prize winning author of more than ten books. He lives in Paris with his wife, the actress Miou-Miou (Germinal, The Science of Sleep). Teulé is most commonly known as an illustrator, filmmaker and television presenter; his most recent novel was published in 2014. This book was translated into English by Sue Dyson and its inspiration grew from a review founded by a group of nineteenth century poets.
Main image: Still from Le Magasin des Suicides, a French animation based on the book.