Jean-Christophe Réhel’s Tatouine is every bit as remarkable as QC Fiction’s earlier offerings.

Other QC Fiction titles are reviewed here (if you enjoy a wickedly operatic story), here (if you prefer to feel a little heart-broken for a long while), here (if you wonder what it would be like to have a relationship with a stain on the wall), and here (if you wonder what stolen bread, dental work, and flourished firearms have in common).

What each of these works shares is a preoccupation with voice. Chances are, if readers can’t connect with the narrative voice, these will not be enjoyable reads (the wickedly operatic one is NOT short but the others are the kind of novel you can read in a long afternoon). But chances are, you’ll connect: these voices are designed to beckon readers inward.

Here, our narrative is close first-person. At some point, another character gives our narrator a Saint Christopher medal and refers to it being his name, so maybe his name is Christophe—maybe even Jean-Christophe (like the author’s). The press release includes this “Fun Fact”:

“Although both the author and the narrator have cystic fibrosis, Tatouine is far from autobiographical, more a version of how Jean-Christophe Réhel’s life might have turned out very differently had it spiralled into a series of bad decisions.”

The reason readers don’t hear his name regularly is that the bulk of the story is rooted inside him. Tatouine is comprised of his thoughts, ideas, beliefs, impressions, and imaginings. His story is preoccupied by his insides in another way as well. His chronic health issues are ever-present, not in a clinic-waiting-room pamphlet kind of way, but in an organic and pervasive way.

In a 1956 letter, American author Flannery O’Connor writes: “I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where there is no company, where nobody can follow.”

This is the sense that pervades Jean-Christophe Réhel’s story and, as in O’Connor’s statement, wit and resignation dance cheek-to-cheek. Like this: “I wait for the lab results. If I could swap every hour spent in a hospital for a pushup, I’d be all muscle by now.” And this: “Four hours’ work for nothing. I go back for another look at my snow angel, but I can’t find it. It’s been buried alive.”

He’s also a sympathetic character in that readers are privy to his inner-most thoughts. Like this one: “She smiles again. Any time a woman smiles at me, I fall in love. That’s just the way I am. I make up stories, homes, babies. I’m heavy.” And this: “The only thing that keeps me going is the hope of one day living on Tatouine with Amidala.”

The Star Wars references infiltrate the narrative, but there is a link to reality too:

“There’s a town in Tunisia called Tatouine. It’s where they filmed the desert scenes in the first Star Wars trilogy. I also found out there’s an expression: to go to Tataouine. It means to lose yourself at the end of the world. There’s even a variation on it in Quebec: tataouiner, to lack speed, to dither. This planet really is my soul mate. It could be my totem. My star sign. I don’t want to be a Taurus any longer; I want to be a Tatouine.”

And the cultural references aren’t limited to the Star Wars franchise (although it is consistent and populous enough to warrant the title). His dermatologist “looks like Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings” and his landlord “looks like Joe Pesci and dresses up as Santa”. He mixes sounds on the phone app A Soft Murmur and he listens to specific songs on repeat (like Fell in Love with a Girl by The White Stripes and Don’t Let Me Down—for two hours!—by The Chainsmokers). He walks down the aisles of the Super C supermarket like he’s Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood and imagines a mouse in the ceiling is like Mr. Jingles in The Green Mile.

These lighten the mood occasionally and secure relatability, but the hard facts of his situation persist. It reads like irony but it’s reality: “It’s cold out, but the sky is dazzling blue. It’s cold, but beautiful. A perfect day for spitting up blood.”

And he is not alone. “The city is one big, open-air hospital. Everyone’s a little sick. Everyone’s dragging their own little invisible wheelchair.”

But, much of the time, he feels like he is alone. Keep him company: read his story. (And message me your theories about the ending.)