15 November 2013

Philippe Le Guillou: Le Déjeuner des bords de Loire (2002)

Philippe Le Guillou's Le Déjeuner des bords de Loire begins 'Longtemps je l'ai rêvé lointain...' and we know from the Proustian allusion that this book is about epiphany.

From 1992 Le Guillou visited Julien Gracq at his last home, in Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, on a number of occasions. He had loved Gracq's writing since he read a sentence from Un beau ténébreux (1945) that moved him considerably during his troubled adolescence: 'Un pâle soleil, un soleil irréel s'est levé sur les crêtes des vagues.' He then discovered that the strength of literature opens up a kind of bottomless pit, a thirst for knowledge that can never be quenched, but the pursuit of which can be ineffably beautiful.

Gracq had moved back from Paris to his family home in Saint-Florent because of his elderly sister there, and over a the years a friendship essentially based on the love of literature developed between him and Le Guillou. The book details one occasion in February 1998 when Le Guillou journeyed by train from Rennes to Varades – within easy walking distance of Saint-Florent but involving crossing two bridges and moving from the département Loire-Atlantique to Maine-et-Loire via L’île Batailleuse – maybe something like the rural equivalent of walking due south from Châtelet to St Michel.

Le Guillou speaks of meeting Gracq, who sat beneath his portrait by Bellmer, of going to the nearby La Gabelle restaurant and discussing many things: the Loire area and its geography; such (later generation) writers as as Renaud Matignon, Jean-René Huguenin, Michel Tournier, and Jean-Erdern Hallier as a liar and a plagiarist; Le Guillou's work; the absence of literary movements since surrealism (Gracq believing the nouveau roman was just about style and not feeling); etc.

Gracq was well known for being gloriously prickly: he refused to accept the Goncourt for Le Rivage des Syrtes in 1951, refused to have his books published in poche, and so on. But there are some lovely comical bits in this, such as the anger of Mitterand – an admirer of Gracq – because the illustrator of one of Gracq's books (Un balcon en forêt, Le Guillou thinks) had dedicated it to Mitterand, but that Gracq had refused to give his signature to it; and on returning on one of his rare visits to his apartment in rue de Grenelle, Paris, Gracq is amused to find an invitation to a reception in honour of the 'Queen of England' at the Élysée Palace: Gracq comments that he was too late for it, but wouldn't have gone anyway.

Gracq, at the age of 84, was still driving and took Le Guillou back to the station. A delightful read, although I was a little surprised (well, disappointed to be honest) to learn that Gracq had a television.

No comments: