20 March 2014

Sorj Chalandon: La Légende de nos pères (2009)

Previously a schoolteacher and then a journalist, Marcel Frémoux now receives commissions to write the life stories of people who want their experiences – or the experiences of their friends or relatives – translated into book form.

He is moved when a customer, the surgeon Lupuline Beuzaboc, contacts him to put together her railworker father's Resistance stories: Marcel's own father worked for the Resistance, although he never told his son anything of his experiences: Lupuline's father can therefore become a kind of proxy. It's more convoluted than that though.

Working on Beuzaboc's autobiography with him, Marcel soon comes to realise that Beuzaboc is lying about his heroic actions during the Resistance: bedtime stories he told the young Lupuline about killing a German in Lille, looking after an English airman, having his leg ripped apart by a bomb in the war, etc. Eventually Beuzaboc (which is also an invented name) implores Marcel to write the truth in the book, as he doesn't want to die leaving his daughter and friends believing a lie.

His daughter is already aware that these are lies – although neither Marcel nor the reader is until the end – but this leaves Marcel in a dilemma: should he tell the truth and expose Beuzaboc according to his wishes, or should the book continue as planned with all the lies?

Some people's lies are of course often other people's truths. Marcel sees a kind of vindication of his father's unrecognised work – and by extension that of others working against fascism in the Resistance – by writing Beuzaboc's original lies, which after all (apart from the very real events at Ascq, which Marcel resolutely omits) are at face value mere children's fantasy tales: so paradoxically, a kind of truth emerges through (and in spite of) the lies.

The structure of this novel strongly resembles a play, often in the form of a conflict between two people – Beuzaboc and Marcel. And I can see a resemblance here between this and Amélie Nothomb's crazy novels, but then I've probably read too many of her books for my own good. This is my first Chalandon though, but there's no reason why it should be my last.

My other post on Sorj Chalandon:

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Sorj Chalandon: Profession de père

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