7 March 2016

Colombe Boncenne: Comme neige (2016)

Comme neige is Colombe Boncenne's first novel, and is a celebration of literature, a tribute to creative writing. It is also written as a kind of detective story, although without any crime at all: the search is for a book, and the clues can perhaps be found in other books.

It begins when the fifty-year-old literary enthusiast Constantin Caillaud is travelling with his wife of twenty years, Suzanne, to Clamency in Nièvre. But they take the wrong exit and end up in the small village of Crux-la-Ville, where Constantin visits the maison de presse and in a box of items they're selling off at two euros stumbles upon a book by (the fictitious) Émilien Petit, one of his favourite authors. This treasure is the novel Neige noire, and although Constantin hasn't read all of Petit's novels he believes he's heard of them all, but not this one.

Back in Paris, Constantin is eager to find out about the book, although all his searches prove fruitless: this appears to be a book without trace, and to make matters worse he loses his own copy. He contacts Hélène, an occasional lover he's met in relation to Petit and with more knowledge of him and tells her about his lost find, but she has her doubts about the existence of Neige noire, which of course is to question Constantin's sincerity.

Flurried activity ensues and Constantin is informed by Petit's publishers that there's never been a book of theirs called Neige noire, and he tries to establish contact with Petit, even though the writer is now something of a recluse. He also discovers that he was part of a group of other writers: the (real life) Olivier Rolin, Antoine Volodine and Jean-Philippe Toussaint. Later, Petit will receive communications from the three (real) authors, and their writings are in fact the true ones they wrote in reply to Colombe Boncenne's literary game. Petit only very indirectly replies (negatively) about his authorship of the novel in a spoof article written in Le Monde by (the non-fictional) Patrick Kechichian.

So the whole book is really a game in which fiction blends with reality, but most of all – and surely most importantly – literature is displayed as the playful, wondrous joy that it is. Anyone who thinks French literature is in decline must be out of their mind: Colombe Boncenne, and Olivier Bourdeaut, to give just two examples of (first) novels from the January 2016 rentrée, stick a middle finger up to this insane notion. Me too.

No comments: