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Hélène Frappat: "Writing in the zone between life and death"

How do you situate this book in your work? Continuity or break?

Hélène Frappat If it is necessary to find a source for it – the metaphor of the river makes sense – it is Do not forget to breathe. This book was an evocation of the childhood of my mother, whom I had questioned on this subject, in a wild region of Corsica dominated by a river which flowed at the bottom of the field where was his house. I had told myself that my mother, her brothers and sisters, a tribe of orphans who had lost their father very early, had been raised by a river. They were wild children, left to themselves, with a mother who, for many reasons, had not been able to raise them. This river, which I knew as a child during the summers I spent in this village, was tucked between high walls, very torrent. I was not a creature of the river, like my mother and her brothers and sisters. I admired their ease, the agility of their bodies of Corsican goats jumping from stone to stone. They could have died a thousand times as well. I was haunted by this idea of ​​children raised by a river and I wanted to write that.

Of all your novels, it is the one that is least related to a space and a time.

Hélène Frappat At first, I wanted to situate it during the war. My grandfather had been a great communist resistance fighter. Gradually, all this dissolved. I have remained more abstract things: the figure of Moses, the figures of Romulus and Remus, wild children fed and raised by an element. There is no longer any border between them and this element, which is twofold: nurturing and wild. He can give life and take it back. This double power was a kind of magic. I told myself that it is a river that knew everything, who could do anything, and here we join all my previous novels.


Hélène Frappat By telepathy. It was Stephen King who made me aware of the relationship between writing and telepathy. The more I detached myself from the story of my origin, of my family mythology, the more I detached myself from all forms of place and time. There remained only one vision, that of two children arriving from afar, as in the westerns where we see an imprecise silhouette, approaching little by little, of which we know nothing. And when she is there, what matters is not who she is, but what is happening. We join Lady Hunt by telepathy. I really like a book by Nathalie Sarraute, Between Life and Death, which is a book about writing, like almost all her books. Writing is in an area between life and death, dream and a so-called reality, between sleep and waking. My book is here too. The big difference between this book and the others is that it is written at child's height. When I realized it, writing became very difficult. There are words that I could not use. It's not a children's book, I do not use the vocabulary of children's literature, but I try to see what they see, to know what they know, to ignore what they are ignore. So when the dog is dead, they say he has "stopped stirring his useless tail".

Children have a kind of magic nursery rhyme. And at one point, they say, "The river has written to us. "

Hélène Frappat The language of the river was inspired by a Chinese friend who told me about a language that women who live on a river have invented to talk to each other, that they are passed from mother to daughter, a forbidden secret language. to men. I have seen poems in this language, whose writing resembles the meanders of a river. I wanted these two brothers to have a language just theirs. It may have come from a mother whose mother tongue was not French and who only spoke it when she was seven years old.

Language is also a learning …

Hélène Frappat The "Beautiful Lady" makes them wooden letters, confronts them with the difference between the sound and the thing, between the letter and the sound. The idea is to put the reader back to the pre-exile state of adulthood. They are wild children, but all children are wild. Childhood has an insurrectional dimension.

You are a movie critic. Your book evokes images that evoke movies. How do you live this report?

Hélène Frappat I have a relationship with the cinema very close to the one I have in writing. Not to literature, but to writing. Totally organic. When I see a film, preferably in the cinema, it is, or it is not, a house where I live. When I write, it's the same. I build the house where I live the time of writing. I think when I write I'm making a film, but it's my film. I'm never "inspired" by a movie. I saw river movies, I was inspired in my life by Renoir's River. He talks about a 13-year-old writer. And it brings the death of a child in a way that marked me because it made me do an experiment.

There are other river movies …

Hélène Frappat When I'm working on a novel, I rarely read books that relate to what I write. I read a lot about fish, rivers, hydrometry, flora. And as I hate traveling, I was content with the delta of the Rhone, near Arles where my publisher is. And I watched dozens of hours of videos on fishing, wildlife on the rivers. Hunter's Night, which is the most beautiful river film ever made, oddly enough, I did not think about it. There are magnificent nocturnal scenes, at child height. This film is not unrelated to what I experienced as a child. And duality is at the heart of the film, though very differently from the book. La Rivière sans retour also contains moments when Preminger stops filming Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum to dilate time and space by filming the river that eats the entire film. When I wrote, I had only one thing in mind: "Stay in the river. "

Will this distancing of realism be found in future books?

Hélène Frappat At the risk of contradicting myself, I will say that I do not know if this book is the most dreamlike. There are dreams, certainly, but it is also the most sensory, the most incarnate, therefore the most "realistic" in this sense. I did not write it as a long dream. I had to see, and the reader had to see. In fact, the dream is my plan of reality. The book I am writing is not going in that direction. He has almost the opposite. It is a book of which each chapter is the portrait of a person who really exists, including a famous one. As Stein says, it's the portrait of anyone. But as it is crossed by relations of domination, the only thread will be the look of a writer. Everything must be true. But it's called Mount Fuji does not exist. So, is it realistic?


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