7 December 2016

Jean Rouaud: Les Champs d'honneur (1990)

Jean Rouaud's Les Champs d'honneur was his first novel, and he won the Goncourt with it. Reading back over the immensely enthusiastic reviews, that win seems almost an inevitability.

And reading that novel for the first (and probably not last) time I have to say that I can understand the enthusiasm. Temporarily, the book flits all over the place, but that isn't important. This novel is (the beginning of) a family saga of sorts. Deaths are important here, and some of them relate to World War I. But the three deaths of note are those of the father, the 'petite tante' or great-aunt, and the grandfather.

The book begins with the grandfather and immediately the reader is captivated. His erratic driving, the painstaking way his chain-smoking while driving is described, but most of all his old 2 CV , which is called Bobosse and which lets in water through the canvas roof, make grand-père almost more the partner of his car than his wife.  Great-aunt Marie, with her saints and her lasting belief in their triumph over science and health, is also a fascinating character, and a kind of celestial comeback kid who comes back to life but loses her senses.

But maybe the rain (especially in the département of Loire-Atlantique) is the principal character on, er, reflection: one critic called Rouaud the 'Mozart of the rain-gauge', with his ability to comically describe and differentiate between spitting, drizzling, regular raining, downpouring, etc. Rouaud was an obvious gift to French literature.

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