17 June 2015

Capharnaüm 2: Jean-Pierre Martinet sans illusions... (2011)

Published by the Bordeaux company Finitude, Capharnaüm has since it began in 2010 usually been a yearly journal. The 2011 issue is devoted entirely to Jean-Pierre Martinet, containing many of his frequently long letters to his friend the publisher Alfred Eibel, whom he refers to throughout as 'Fred'. The letters begin in April 1979, when Martinet had returned from Paris to his family home in Libourne and was looking for a place to establish a bookshop-cum-newsagent's; the letters end in September 1988, four and a half years before his death at the age of 49.

Eibel writes the Introduction to the series of letters, in which among other things he speaks of the strong criticism Martinet has both for himself and people he knows or has known, although at the same time he recognises the merits of the same people. This is particularly true, I noticed, of his attitude towards Gérard Guégan who relaunched the publishing house Le Sagittaire and published Jérôme, Martinet's second novel; and of Michel Marmin's the 'Nouvelle Droite' ('New Right') organisation GRECE (Groupement de recherche et d'études pour la civilisation européenne).

Not that this should suggest that Martinet was left-wing: although he shows throughout a great sympathy for the repressed, the dispossessed and the outsider in general, his letters clearly show a strong disdain for political parties:

'I didn't vote last time and I'm not going to vote this. I'm probably a very bad citizen but the future of this country full of bastards is a matter of complete indifference to me! In any case, universal suffrage is no more than an imposture serving to keep the upper middle class (right or left) in business: I think Marx wasn't mistaken there.' (My translation.)

Martinet is waiting for a moderate sum of money to come from the sale of inherited property on his mother's side, but this becomes a fiasco and in the end he moves house in March or April 1980 to Tours, to a tiny newsagent's with a tiny flat and high hopes of extending the business by selling books. Newspapers sell, although his main profits are made through magazines: book sales are very infrequent, and of the Barbara Cartland, San Antonio, and SAS (Gérard de Villiers) type. His only day off is Sunday, which he sometimes uses up by visiting Eibel in Paris, usually at the Coco de Mer restaurant on the boulevard Saint-Marcel near the Gare d'Austerlitz: the restaurant is noted for its seafood from the Seychelles, although all Martinet ever mentions in his letters is enjoying a good wine.

It's evident that Martinet is only just managing to keep his head above water financially, although when he left Tours is uncertain: there's a gap in the correspondence after September 1983 which an editorial paragraph suggests is partly due to Martinet meeting Eibel in Paris on a monthly basis, partly due to letters that have gone astray. But by October 1986 he's back with his mother in Libourne.

It's in Libourne that he starts writing again, and La Table Ronde – which also pays him a little money as a reader – publishes his third novel, L'Ombre des forêts, which attracts a few good reviews but doesn't exactly set the country alight with enthusiasm. There is no mention of sales figures so we don't know if it did any better than his first two novels: La Somnolence sold less than 500 and Jérôme a little more than 600. I didn't realise that he was working on a fourth novel, which was an extension of Ceux qui n'en mènent pas large*, although he was having problems with the length, and joked that it didn't need secateurs so much as a chain saw. He was particularly pleased with the fact that he was becoming more comfortable with writing dialogue.

This is a gem of a read, providing great insights into the mind of Jean-Pierre Martinet. He writes with a great deal of enthusiam about films (usually old ones) that he watches on television, and I thought it significant that he calls the sparseness of his dialogue in L'Ombre des forêts 'too Bressonian' in places.

*And Maman – see the appropriate post below – doesn't manage to pull the trigger.

My other Jean-Pierre Martinet posts:

Jean-Pierre Martinet: Jérôme (L'Enfance de Jérôme Bauche)
Jean-Pierre Martinet: L'Ombre des forêts
Jean-Pierre Martinet: Nuits bleues, calmes bières
Jean-Pierre Martinet: La Somnolence
Jean-Pierre Martinet: La grande vie | The High Life
Jean-Pierre Martinet: Ceux qui n'en mènent pas large

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