5 March 2017

Patrick Varetz: Bas monde (2012)

Patrick Varetz was born in 1958 in Marles-les-Mines, Pas-de-Calais. His Bas monde is set at the same time as Varetz was born, and concerns the birth of a baby, although he says it's not an autobiography, although it contains anecdotal autobiographical elements, such as his working-class background and his being initially placed in a shoe box (in the book, cushioned by cotton wool and partly clothed in tissue paper). Rather, this is a hyperbole, as is perhaps indicated by the constant repetition of almost anti-heroic expressions such as 'Ma mère, la folle' ('My mother, the mad woman') and 'Mon père, ce salaud' ('My father, that bastard').

The voice in Bas monde speaks as if from that of a thinking, highly articulate embryo and young baby, and is a foil to the limited vocabularies of his mother Violette and his father Daniel: indeed, Varetz sees this as a voice that seeks vengeance; it is cathartic. A quotation from François Augiéras's Le Voyage des morts (1959) is the epigraph: 'Je n'étais qu'une voix hantée par l'avenir, bien décidée à vaincre.' ('I was just a voice haunted by the future, determined to win.)'

And he has a great deal to win in order to transcend his existing conditions: his 'bastard' father Daniel is a manual worker in the petro-chemical industry, chain-smokes and frequently gets drunk in the Bar Royal, where he spends a great deal of time with the manager's two prick-teasing daughters and has a regular habit of beating up on his wife: violence comes naturally in this environment. The baby breathes in a mixture of chemicals, alcohol, nicotine, and perfume smells (from the bar's 'pouffiasses' (slags)) when his father looks into his shoe box: this is not autobiographical, ok, but it still seems difficult to agree with Varetz when in a video clip he says that it is paradoxical not to love the people who have created you and brought you up. Why? I don't understand the logic.

Bas monde is set during what Varetz describes as the beginning of the consumer society, in which we are all 'condamnés au bonheur' ('condemned to be happy'). It is the first of a trilogy, the later novels being Petite vie (2015) and Sous vide (2017), both of which I shall be reading and most probably appreciating as much as this one. Patrick Varetz is a fascinating, original and very powerful writer.

My other Patrick Varetz posts:

Patrick Varetz: Sous vide
Patrick Varetz: Petite vie

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