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Disturbance Reviews

Disturbance by Philippe Lancon, Steven  Rendall


Surviving Charlie Hebdo

Philippe Lancon, Steven Rendall

Score pending

2 reviews

Imprint: Europa Editions
Publisher: Europa Editions
Publication date: 1 Dec 2019
ISBN: 9781609455569

Paris, January 7, 2015. Two terrorists who claim allegiance to ISIS attack the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. The event causes untold pain to the victims and their families, prompts a global solidarity movement, and ignites a fierce debate over press freedoms and the role of satire today. 

Philippe Lançon, a journalist, author, and a weekly contributor to Charlie Hebdo is gravely wounded in the attack. This intense life experience upends his relationship to the world, to writing, to reading, to love and to friendship. As he attempts to reconstruct his life on the page, Lançon rereads Proust, Thomas Mann, Kafka, and others in search of guidance. It is a year before he can return to writing, a year in which he learns to work through his experiences and their aftermath. 

Disturbance is not an essay on terrorism nor is it a witness's account of Charlie Hebdo. The attack and what followed are part of Lançon's narrative, which, instead, touches upon the universal. It is an honest, intimate account of a man seeking to put his life back together after it has been torn apart. 

Disturbance is a book about survival, resilience, and reconstruction, about transformation, about one man's shifting relationship to time, to writing and journalism, to truth, and to his own body.

  • The GuardianBook of the Day
3 stars out of 5
Andrew Anthony
4 Nov 2019

"The brutality of the attack stands in disturbing contrast to the subtlety of Lançon’s prose"

He remains hospitalised for over a year, undergoing countless operations to fix his shattered face. And it is this experience – the survival instinct, the desperation, the morphine numbness – that is the focus of Disturbance. Those hoping for a more overtly political book will be disappointed. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was a galvanising event, both for European Islamists and their opponents. In a way, it was savagely clarifying: either you were for free speech or you weren’t... The book is remarkably free of anger at either the Kouachis or the ideology that inspired them. Without resorting to polemic, it’s an argument in favour of the intellectual life, of ideas as beautiful abstractions, weaponised only as satire, never as terror. It feels reassuringly rarefied, like an old-fashioned French talking-heads movie. But its weakness is that there is little sense of a world beyond the whitewashed hospital rooms in which he’s treated or the book-lined ones from which he was so horrifically torn.


4 stars out of 5

"the critic documents, in excruciating details, his physical and emotional reconstruction to understand the man he has become"

Lançon’s memoir, subtly translated by Steven Rendall, gives an uneasy feeling of voyeurism at times, such as when he depicts his surroundings once silence fell on the murder scene — the open skull of his friend lying nearby; the discovery of his own injuries; shreds of flesh in place of his lower jaw. And yet, amid the horrific images, literature arises. It is a process that leaves the reader shaken and is one that Lançon admits he himself fails to grasp. “Violence had perverted what it hadn’t destroyed. Like a storm, it had sunk the ship. Memories rose to the surface in disorder . . . on the island where I had washed up, in this little room saturated with paper, blood, bodies, and gunpowder,” he writes.