Each month, the Sétois Alain Rollat offers a literary meeting, the Marque-Page. This eminent journalist, who was deputy director of Le Monde, introduces us to the books of regional authors from publishing houses in Occitania. It’s the turn of Toulouse’s Pierre Dabernat, Montpellier’s Philippe Castelneau and Perpignan’s Gautier Wailly.
A good thriller
The first rule of literary craftsmanship recommends, when you want to build an attractive story, to articulate your work around a main character singular enough to immediately hold your attention. There is no good thriller, for example, without a good policeman or a good killer. If the two coexist, we are approaching the ideal. This is what the Toulousain Pierre Dabernat, who has become a reference in the field, succeeds in doing in L’Assassin de la Retirada, his new production. Its permanent hero, Commissar Visconti, is the basic prototype of the literary cop. He even accumulates, by self-mockery, all the clichés of the genre: he smokes; he drinks ; he lives in an RV; he is divorced, his sentimental life is complicated; he works solo because he’s too crazy to work in a team. Its singularity is due to the particularity of its assistant.
Sherlock needs a Watson, San Antonio needs a Bérurier…
Knowing the classics of crime fiction and the tricks of the trade, Pierre Dabernat knew that a good investigator always needs, to progress in his investigations, a second sagacious or a clever sidekick. Sherlock needs a Watson, San Antonio needs a Bérurier… Dabernat broke the codes by providing his main character with a much less conventional assistant: he offered him a… hallucinatory assistant! Its curator Visconti, who has received psychiatric treatment, benefits from the support of an imaginary bird, sometimes a sparrow, sometimes a magpie, sometimes a falcon or a parakeet, with whom he dialogues to talk to himself… The find is excellent; she amuses; she injects humor into the text.
Scenario throughout Occitania
As for the killer in the story, in L’Assassin de la Retirada, whose plot refers to the darkest periods of the Spanish Civil War, he is one of the most unconventional: he is a hermaphrodite hitman, A transformist, in the middle of a midlife crisis, who watches over her autistic brother with jealous care and drags the memory of her rapist father like a millstone… His ambivalent profile is worth the detour in itself.
Pierre Dabernat embroiders around this triple frame, relying on a solid documentary base. He rolls out his script throughout Occitania, and his writing talent does the rest. He takes great pleasure – you can feel it, you can see it – in taking his readers through the maze of his surging imagination. We love it and we want more. It is beautiful work.
- The Assassin of the Retirada, Pierre Dabernat, Cairn editions, 435 pages, 13€.
An inner road trip
Making a road trip seems easier than making a thriller. But this impression is misleading. It is not enough to put oneself in the shoes of a globetrotter and carefully keep a logbook of one’s adventures to befriend, in literature, with a Henry Miller or a Jack Kerouac. You also need breath to go the distance, well-honed senses so as not to get lost or go around in circles, and, above all, enough lucidity about yourself to have at least a small idea of what you are looking for, at the side of the road, or from what we flee. The rest is work.
“He immediately puts down his suitcases there, settles in at the Valparaiso Motel and, haunted by this vision, looks for this woman…”
The Montpellier resident Philippe Castelneau, who already has several professional backpackers to his credit, has chosen, for his first novel, to try his hand at road tripping. He put himself in the shoes of a journalist who suffers from not being a great writer, leaves for the Far West following a breakup and wonders, over the miles, about the meaning of his existence. Until, in the Sonoran desert, while his bus crosses an unknown city weighed down by the heat, he sees, or thinks he sees, at a window, a woman who seems to be sending him a sign. He immediately puts down his suitcases there, settles in at the Motel Valparaiso and, haunted by this vision, looks for this woman. The main character is conventional, the scenario classic, we believe in an ordinary road trip.
Writing, clear, sober, direct, says the essential without embellishments
Big mistake ! Because, when it comes to road trips, it’s often the style that makes the difference between overly formatted stories and pretty discoveries. The style and the ability to make the silences between the words speak. Philippe Castelneau lacks neither. His writing, clear, sober, direct, says the essential without embellishments. His characters are refined, his dialogues economical. The desert does not allow trivialities. The atmosphere is dreamlike, almost mystical; minimal intrigue, maximum bewitchment.
“The novel is no longer the writing of an adventure but the adventure of a writing…”
As the place bears an Italian name – Cevola – one thinks of the Desert of the Tartars, by Dino Buzzati… This definition of what was once called the new novel also comes to mind: “The novel is no longer the writing of an adventure but the adventure of a writing…” You put your bag next to the author’s in this city that appears out of nowhere and sucks you into the middle of the dunes and won’t let you go. Is it a ghost town? A witch town haunted by an indigenous Circe? A dream catcher? No matter. We would like to leave but everything brings us back to it.
And, as, in addition to making the silences between the words speak, Philippe Castelneau, who was a record store in a previous life, sprinkles his story with musical notes, we lie down with pleasure on the sand to listen to The Righteous Brothers, Bob Dylan or the Eagles… Freed from your own moods, you no longer want to move because there is nothing more refreshing for the soul, in hot weather, than a road trip alternating between soul music and rock’n’roll.
- Motel Valparaiso, Philippe Castelneau, Asphalt, 120 pages, 15€
A bistro novel
The literary craft also has its apprentices capable of producing original works made up of odds and ends. Gautier Wailly is one of those ingenious people. This Perpignanais is a man of words. He has always loved telling stories to children and jokes to friends. Books, reading, it’s not his thing. But he loves the music of words and the music without words. He sometimes throws down on paper the lyrics of songs for which he dreams, one day, of finding an interpreter.
A few years ago, his favorite singer even sent him a signed photo to thank him for submitting a text to him: Bravo Gautier! He then got it into his head to mix his passion for words and his passion for music. This gives Riton, a lively cocktail book that tells a story as we improvise, in the evening, at the bistro, among friends, when we have eternity ahead of us, and the desire to let our imagination run wild until the end of the night.
“A monument of French song who fled Paris and showbiz for Perpignan in order to drown in alcohol his sorrow and his disgust for the current world”
Riton, it’s a has-been, “a monument of French song who fled Paris and showbiz for Perpignan in order to drown in alcohol his sorrow and his disgust for the current world”. It was there, in Perpignan, in a downtown bistro – Le Petit Pastis – that he was one day recognized by François and Gabin, two brothers “who have been fans of him since childhood”. And that “will then try to extricate the singer from this bad patch to put him back on the front of the stage”.
Spontaneous, unusual, joyful literary object
The three main characters are nature; Le Petit Pastis is a bistro where you chat, at the counter, in the style of Audiard or Pagnol; the plot is fun; the Mediterranean dialogues, that is to say inexhaustible; the whole thing is a spontaneous, unusual, joyful literary object. It’s more theater than novel, but why not? Gautier Wailly writes as he speaks and as he speaks loudly – as we speak in the South – we listen to him while having fun because he is a born storyteller. His written words will be drunk without moderation in Perpignan and Coustouges, the small Catalan village of his childhood. “I wish you a great time” he tells readers in his preface. His wish will be granted!
- Riton, Gautier Wailly, Publishroom Factory, 242 pages, €18
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