11 November 2015

Philippe Delerm: Quiproquo (1999; repr. by Motifs 2005)

Philippe Delerm's Quiproquo is either a short novel or a longish short story, I'm not too sure which, but needless to say it highlights the author's pointillist style, emphasising the tiny aspects of life, often enriching them with a magical (or occasionally negative) power.

Here we have the narrator – from Normandy – moving to Picardy to work as a journalist on Le Réveil Picard. He takes the opportunity to go for the weekend in the south, in Agen, to cover the budding local young tennis player Valérie Pascal's performance. As his old Renault has finally given up on him he has to go with the insufferable Pascal family, and on arriving there the father seems to have arranged what everyone should do and more or less orders that following a shower the journalist shall join him in the bar. The narrator – bored rigid by the Pascals and no doubt sick of writing about tea parties and the like – just takes a shower, changes his shirt, picks up his sac à dos and makes journalism part of his past.

He hitches to the bus station in Agen, decides that Beaumont-de-Lomagne is probably too big, but Camparoles (with an esse, as opposed to with the real Camparole) sounds small enough. And in fact it is: it may not be the prettiest of places, but it's the south, with its heat and light and hospitality, its leisured way of looking at life. This'll do for him, so he throws his phone in the Gironde and carves out a new existence.

His first problem is finding somewhere to stay, but his luck's in when he meets the Tarentini family: Albert and Maria – originally from Italy – bought a farm and started raising a family in France; on Albert's death Maria sold up and opened an auberge in Camparoles and developed it into a café-theatre (the Quiproquo Théâtre) where the (now adult) children Stéphane and Alicia can exercise the acting gene that is within them. Maria has built the business into a successful one, with tourists and even people from Agen coming to visit.

The narrator falls in love with the place so much that the family allows him to stay at the auberge for a small sum in return for a few odd jobs – sort of quid pro quo. Initially he also works in an orchard and sells the produce with some of the seasonal workers on Barsac market. Shortly afterwards he drops the fruit job and joins the acting troupe on a permanent basis and things really are idyllic. He even begins a relationship with Alicia but of course it can't last.

The first blow is the death of Maria, which devastates the group but life must carry on – it's what she'd have wanted. But on the same night that Maria died a Parisian theatre director saw Alicia's acting and was very interested: she has to follow her dream. It's not Stéphane's dream, and the narrator's principal dream is of course already in Camparoles, so he stays with Stéphane and the café-théâtre continues regardless.

My other posts Philippe Delerm:
Philippe Delerm: La Première Gorgée de bière
Philippe Delerm: Les Amoureux de l'Hôtel de Ville
Philippe Delerm: Quelque chose en lui de Bartleby

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