First published by Gallimard in 1990, To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life describes, with devastating, darkly comic clarity, its narrator's experience of being diagnosed with AIDS. Guibert chronicles three months in the penultimate year of the narrator's life as, in the wake of his friend Muzil's death, he goes from one quack doctor to another, describing the progression of the disease and recording the reactions of his many friends.
The novel scandalized the French media, which quickly identified Muzil as Guibert's close friend Michel Foucault. To the Friend became a bestseller, and Guibert a celebrity. Guibert continued to document the daily experiences of his body in a series of novels and diaries, mostly published posthumously. To the Friend has since attained a cult following for its intimate and candid tone, its fragmented and slippery form. As Edmund White observed, "[Guibert's] very taste for the grotesque, this compulsion to offend, finally affords him the necessary rhetorical panache to convey the full, exhilarating horror of his predicament." In his struggle to piece together a language suited to his suffering, Hervé Guibert catapulted himself into notoriety and sealed his reputation for uncompromising, transgressive prose.