French writer and translator Marie Darrieussecq, known for breaking new frontiers in literature, was recently in Chennai to attend a “Meet and Greet” program organized by the Prabha Khaitan Foundation as part of its “The Universe Writes” initiative. in association with the Alliance Française. CC spoke with the author of the famous book Truisms (Pork Tales) and winner of the Prix Médicis, a French literary prize. Read on for excerpts from the conversation.
On his time with readers in Chennai
This is my second time in Chennai. I was here earlier in 2006 for an Alliance Française event. Most of the viewers this time were students and teachers, and some were my readers. I was amazed by the level of their French and the quality of the questions. We talked about my childhood in a trilingual family (Basque, Spanish and French), the right to write what you think, the power of the imagination, and why you shouldn’t just write an autobiography. . We also talked about spirituality, animal rights and how they influence my writing. We discussed nature and talked about how the oceans are contaminated with plastic.
On his innovative writing style, which does not follow specific literary rules
I do not write for an elite of readers. When I write, I always think of my grandmother, who loved to read, but who was discouraged by incomprehensible rules and poetic formats. My ambition has always been to write good books that appeal to most readers’ intelligence and sense of poetry. I also try to be a good storyteller without giving in to cheap stuff and hope my books are just as funny. I don’t like to dwell on sad things without giving them my personal touch.
On its universally endearing characters, which particularly resonate with female readers
Half of my novels come from my direct experiences as a woman on this planet. The other half is beyond imagination or what other people were willing to share with me.
On his female characters who look like him
They are me – if I hadn’t become a published writer. They are my mother and my friends. My novels are often a tribute to my older brother who died when he was only two days old in 1966, and a tribute to my bereaved parents, who did not have the chance to write, or even, in a way , to talk about this. My novels can also be read as feminist novels, although their meaning is open. I also really like working with dreams. I often write like a dreamer.
On contemporary Indian writers and Indian literature
I like the works of Arundhati Roy. He is a great figure in France. I read the classics like Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand. I have also recently read Anita Desai, Kiran Desai and Suketu Metah, and have deep admiration for Vandana Shiva whom I will meet in Chandigarh at an upcoming event.
On the pandemic
Covid disrupted the whole world order and it was very difficult. We had a personal loss and we couldn’t even bury it properly. The youngest of my three children, who was 11 at the time, suffered from deep depression and still needs psychiatric treatment. She was out of school for over a year due to the closures and her condition, and also sports and the gym which were extremely important for her balance. She’s a little champion (smile). To add insult to injury, she was bullied on social media during the lockdowns. She is better now and I was able to accept this invitation to India and resume my work as a writer, a work that never stops.
After Covid, I see how social media has become another pandemic, because my two other children spend time there.
I feel like the pandemic has taken part of our spirit, part of our mental and physical energy. The French government did well during the period of struggle, but the scars left by the pandemic were severe economically and, more importantly, socially. Obviously the writers, myself included, will do something about this world historic event. I will probably write a novel, I will not continue with a diary, because I believe that the novel is the form in which I am able to embrace the complexity of life, including chaos, and put a storytelling through fictional characters, to be able to reach readers better than directly.
On current projects
I have four projects in mind, including a science fiction novel! I’m still a bit afraid of dying before I’ve finished all the novels that come to mind.