May literary reviews – L’Incorrect

Confined meditation

The Breton willPhilippe Le Guillou, Gallimard152 p., €16

Philippe Le Guillou has often written about his native Brittany, and it is naturally about her that he wrote again when he found himself confined like all of us in the spring of 2020, in his house in Kerrod. Hence this Breton Testament, half-book of memories, half-celebration of Brittany in all its dimensions – mineral, maritime, religious, traditional, landscape, historical, everyday. With, as it should be with this lover of literary affiliations, always grateful to his masters, the homage to a few greats, in this case Gracq, Anatole Le Braz and Yves Tanguy. Brittany as an identity, on the other hand, means nothing to him; he does not have a militant streak, his relationship to his “granite land covered with oaks” is not political but aesthetic, poetic and genetic – and so much the worse for those who reproach him for celebrating it as a setting rather than a homeland . “To the roots, which are restrictive, I prefer the schistous lineaments, the ridge lines, the notches of the rivers, the wooded valleys open to the winds: they are in natural resonance with the open sea and the infinite”. Bernard Quiriny

Requiem for a construction site

Of our world taken awayChristian Astolfi, The noise of the world184 p., 19€

From our swept away world is the novel of French deindustrialization and the disappearance of the working class. The narrator enters the 1970s in the shipyards of La Seyne-sur-Mer, like his father. He discovers this huge box, “a company worthy of a novel by Jules Verne”, the gigantism of the rehabilitated oil tankers, the pride of the workers, their blues “stained with soot, iron filings and fibrous dust”. But foreign competition suffocates the sites; the restructurings follow one another, the arrival of the left in power in 1981 does not change anything. The ax falls: closure. Employees are divided; Should you take the bonus and leave, or hold on and claim a reclassification? Our hero takes the bonus, 200,000 francs. “I felt like a hitman being paid for his own execution.” He has to invent a new life for himself, which he somehow manages. But the “swept away world” of construction sites sticks to his coattails: ex-colleagues fall ill, because of asbestos. The fight resumes, this time in the hospital and in court… De notre monde sn’aint deals with a social subject but is not a militant novel; it is the melancholic chronicle of the obliteration of a universe, of the engulfment of sociability and professional ethics, of an industrial and local culture; the description, too, of the way in which structural changes (the end of the Glorious Thirties, the disengagement of the State, etc.) upset the lives of men at the very bottom of the scale, so small, so weak. A beautiful novel, historical and intimate, written in an elegant and sober style, with here and there beautiful formulas that hit home. QB […]

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May literary reviews – L’Incorrect
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