21 August 2016

Laurence Cossé: La grande arche : roman (2016)

La Grande Arche is Laurence Cossé's novelised story of the building in La Défense, which was a commemoration of the bi-centenary of the French Revolution of 1789, and President François Mitterand's pride and joy. But the events surrounding the construction of it begin in 1983, six years before it was officially 'unveiled.

A rather obscure architect, Johan Otto von Speckelsen, was the winner of Tête-Défense prize, chosen to receive this great honour. Before la Grande Arche, 'Spreck' as most people seemed to call him, and indeed the name the author herself often chooses to call him, had only built his own family house and four modest churches in Denmark.

As the events of the book unfold, it becomes evident that the book is partly a biography of Spreck, partly a description of the nature of Denmark, and partly a description of what happens when two very different cultures collide.

And collide they do, as Spreck, ensconced with his wife in an apartment in Puteaux near La Défense, learns to his horror. Things just don't work out the way he planned, he moves back to Denmark, resigns from his own project (an unimaginable thing) a few years later, and dies two years before the full installation. It's amazing how Cossé manages to make such a riveting tale from this.

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