Josselin Guillois, a writer’s heart

When we find him on the terrace of an Angevin café, on the very poetic Promenade du bout du monde, he is scribbling on a small yellow Moleskine notebook. Notebook that he hastens to put away in his thick leather satchel when we arrive. Over the past seventeen years, Josselin Guillois has darkened nearly a hundred of these notebooks, which contain his thoughts “like a large open trawl, catching shellfish, fish and bulky items”.

A writer’s routine? To tell the truth, literature seems to have been in his head for many years.As soon as I managed to decipher, the book was my way of occupying my solitudes, day and night., he confides, a smile clinging to his cheeks. His first writing experience dates back to his 15 years, after a disappointment in love. Full of rage and melancholy, he writes a long story in one go, from the first letter to the end. Until then, he had never brought a story to completion. “It’s as if I was born a second time that day. »

Intimate archives

At 35, he has just published his second novel, The heart of a father (read opposite), which depicts Rembrandt’s life through the story of his son, Titus. For his first book, Louvrepublished in 2019 (published since in pocket and translated into two languages), it had chosen to highlight the heroic project of Jacques Jaujard, director of the Parisian museum during the German occupation, who had hidden his works in several castles, including the Mona Lisa and the Venus of Milo. A story told in the guise of three women who really existed. For each of his works, Josselin Guillois plunges with passion into the archives. But unlike the historian, he then brings this past back to life through the window of the intimate.

“The great witchcraft of the writer is to be able to occupy several bodies and to go towards what one is not”, smiles he who willingly believes in mysteries. Capable of burying one of his manuscripts in the forest of Brocéliande or finding inspiration a few hours after having Rembrandt’s face tattooed on his left arm – the right already welcoming Moby Dick’s boat, the one of his founding readings – he has a very specific writing ritual. He always waits for the night, when his wife and two young sons are asleep. Then he lights a candle, prepares ten-year-old Chinese tea, and begins to write.

excessive love of books

Josselin Guillois grew up in Ploërmel, in Morbihan, under the watchful eyes of his sister (now a psychologist) and his brother (François-Xavier Ménage, senior reporter at TF1, who has also just published a novel). Their father, who works in business, separated from their mother when he was 3 years old. The latter, educator of young children, passionate about the Montessori method, is not for nothing in her immoderate love of books, which flooded the family home. One day I will be able to write about my childhoodhe slips. As Proust had his Illiers-Combray, I had my Ploërmel…»

During his studies in modern literature at the University of Rennes, he refrained from thinking about a job. He continues his exploration of letters, arts and contemporary thought at the University of Paris-Diderot. “At that time, I entered literature as one enters religious orders. The book was my religion”he describes with a keen sense of the formula.Arriving in Paris is quite intimidating when you come from Brittany”, he admits. He feeds there on all the cultural proposals, museums, which he calls “his temples”, to art galleries and jazz concerts.

Passionate teacher

Holder of the Capes of letters, he resigns himself to becoming a French teacher. “I had to be forced but from my first day of class, I knew that my place was here”, he says, happy to give teenagers a taste for reading to better help them through the horrors of the world. Transmit his passion, “but with demand”specifies the teacher, who also leads conferences, seminars or workshops on literature in several universities.

Recently, he and his family left Paris for Angers. “I was looking for a virgin territory, near the Loire which I like to observe so much. » A fertile place for writing? Of his next novel, we will know nothing, except his desire to “defeat the dragon of modesty”always going further in his particular, almost carnal way of describing the emotions and feelings of his characters. “What I’m sure of is that I don’t want the joy of writing to leave me…”


The heart of a father

by Josselin Guillois

Threshold, 224 p., €18

The paintings of Rembrandt (1606-1669), in particular his self-portraits, have haunted Josselin Guillois since adolescence. To start writing this novel which retraces the life of the Dutch painter from the pen of his 16-year-old son Titus, he spent nine months reading all the writings devoted to Rembrandt, traveling through the European museums where he is exhibited and immerse yourself in life in 17th-century Amsterdame century. The novel describes a decisive week in the painter’s life: the one in which he had to commission a painting, The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis, on pain of losing custody of Titus because of his debts. The book oscillates between rage and tenderness, recounting the love of a father for his son and of a son for his father, devoured by his passion for painting and his stubborn refusal to follow the codes of his time.

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Josselin Guillois, a writer’s heart

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