24 February 2017

Violaine Bérot: Des mots jamais dits (2015)

Books, real books – by which I mean those not just written to make pots of money but out of a necessity to attempt to translate the writer's thoughts, evoke a vision of his or her reality – can be a source of deep revelation to the reader, an epiphanic moment. I can't remember how many such moments I've felt, and I'm not yet certain that reading Violaine Bérot's books is one of them, but it's beginning to feel that way. And there's something about the strangeness of Francophone literature that for instance contemporary English literature just can't come anywhere near to matching. Marie NDiaye, Laurent Mauvignier, Patrick Lapeyre, to name but three, have all sent me into raptures: all in their different ways are deeply concerned with (non-)communication, particularly of the non-verbal kind.

Des mots jamais dits: 'Words never spoken': yeah, that's it, we're in the realm of what it means when nothing is said. Or, how do you fill in the blanks between what's not even suggested by non-verbal means? Or, of course, how important things become if and when they're actually spoken. When we read, we are reminded (not at all necessarily intentionally by the author, who of course we've long since learned doesn't exist) of other books, or possibly words expressed in a different medium, such as song. The end of Violaine Bérot's Nue, sous la lune reminds me of Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin's The Awakening, and by no means just because of Edna's suicide.

Des mots jamais dits reminds me of the expression 'Le désir incroyable de se vouloir construire' ('The incredible wish to construct yourself') written by the poet Jacques Brel in his song 'J'en appelle' (1957).) We are all constructed largely by words, although fascinatingly there are very few spoken words in the two novels of Violaine Bérot that I have read. And yet, in Des mots jamais dits the protagonist is deeply affected by words, such as Tom (the second of the narrator's lovers, and only the second of merely two named people in the novel) calling her 'la femme de ma vie' ('the woman of my life'); such as her father unsuccessfully bullying her into putting an end to his misery by euthanasia; and finally, by the cook telling her that he is there, and singing her the kind of song that she never heard in her cradle, so never sent her to sleep, and played a part in depriving her of her childhood.

In a book in which alienation plays a key role, the distancing effect of the very frequent use of 'on' ('one, 'we', 'they', 'people' (?)), etc, is remarkable.

Violaine Bérot is an extremely powerful writer. As I come to read the books that she's written in the past, has yet to write, and which I shall re-read, I wouldn't be at all surprised if I have a similar epiphanic moment.

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