Do You Love Me?
by Peter Carey
Though it totals only a few thousand words, ‘Do You Love Me?’ is split into fourteen sections. The narrator is a direct witness of the events that the story recounts, even if the observational language of the headings, referring to ‘the archetypal cartographer’ and ‘an unpleasant scene’, place him at a distance. We might take him for a journalist, trying to get the details down in note form, before alerting the world to his findings.
Our reporter gives a frontline account of an evaporating world. Coastlines erode, buildings crumble, and people cease to exist. The paragraphs’ apparently neutral presentation, their empirical division and methodical chronology, increases the unsettling effect of their contents. The footnote format of the story as a whole gives it historical connotations, encouraging us to see the missing citizens as parallel to those living under an abusive regime, where individuals may simply vanish.
Words by Elizabeth Brown
‘Do You Love Me?’ describes a world in which people and things are gradually fading away, dissipating to thin air, ‘like the image on an improperly fixed photograph’. People wish to know the contents of their nation, and the narrator conveys their responses to us. They cling to every detail of the annual census, a total inventory put together by cartographers. Within this swiftly changing society, the need to record is paramount.
Theories as to the cause of the disappearances vary, but our narrator is convinced by the hypothesis once put forward by his own father: only the loved remain. The scenario created, in which everything is carefully documented and accounted for, is not so unlike our own networks of constant, instantaneous information. The author seems to critique not only his own fact-fixated characters, but also the reader’s anticipation of answers, our ‘desire to know, always, exactly where we stand’.
Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou