11 November 2015

Gilles Sebhan: Tony Duvert: L'enfant silencieux (2010)

In 2008 the writer Tony Duvert died at the age of sixty-three at his home in Thoré-la-Rochette, Loir-et-Cher. He had been dead for more than a month and the situation was only drawn to the attention of the fire brigade when it was noticed that his mail was overflowing from his letter box. Not that many people were writing to him: the bulk of it was probably only junk mail and bills. And yet in 1973, at the age of twenty-eight, Duvert's novel Paysage de fantaisie won the Prix Médicis and it seemed that he was due to have a dazzling career. Roland Barthes had been in no small way responsible for Duvert winning the prize, and the experimental book was well-known for its similarities to nouveaux romans in terms of structure and style. Noted critics – such as Bertrand Poirot-Delpech in Le Monde, Madeleine Chapsal in L'Express, and Claude Mauriac in Le Figaro – piled praise on Duvert, all of whose novels were published by the prestigious Minuit. But he is now all but forgotten. Gilles Sebhan's book – as much a homage as a biography – sets out out to unravel the mystery.

Tony Duvert was gifted child, with an intelligence and an understanding way ahead of his years. In spite – or perhaps to some extent because of this – Duvert paradoxically never grew up. Adulthood he viewed as a kind of Fall and he saw most mothers as guilty of enormous legal crimes to their children. Duvert was expelled from his college for having a sexual relationship with a(n older) boy. His parents sent him to a psychiatrist who believed that homosexuality is a curable illness: it had a profound and lasting effect on him.

Duvert championed the liberty of sexual expression, particularly the freedom of child sexuality, and he obviously expressed his ideas through his writing. Jérôme Lindon of Minuit first published Récidive (1967) when Duvert was twenty-two, although because he recognised the potential fiery reactions that this (and subsequent earlier publications) might have he issued them under subscription only, and for a brief time found Duvert another occupation as director of the journal Minuit.

In the early 1980s the child sex abuse case named 'L'Affaire Coral' in Aimargues (near Nîmes) exploded onto the front page, as of course did the horrors wrought by AIDS. Duvert had a very simple place to retire to – a family house in Thoré-la-Rochette. From 1989 he wrote no more: it was a kind of professional suicide, although his death was from natural causes. No one in the village seems to have been aware that he had been a writer, although after his death at least one of his books was being circulated around the houses.

My other post on Tony Duvert:

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Tony Duvert: Quand mourut Jonathan

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