by Lola Lafon
Actes Sud, 352 p., € 20.50
You can’t trust your dreams enough, or the desire to surrender to them. 1980s. In a “middle-class” family, stuck in these in-between areas which force them to talk only with television, Cléo, 13, already sees herself as a modern jazz dancer. Like those she sees behind Michel Drucker, on Saturday evening, and in the credits of “Champs-Élysées”. She imagines herself, carried away from her home, elsewhere, to a destiny other than the limited one that is promised to her. It is on this fertile soil that a reel who noticed her in her dance class melts. She dangles him with the offer of a wonderful Galatea Foundation that will open the doors to the United States, the El Dorado of this junk universe with adulterated destinies.
Lola Lafon excels in all registers of the trap that will close on her victim. In the description of the family environment, in the methods of approach, on the ways of enlisting, of lulling the vigilance of parents by methods of seduction, of aligning miraculous promises, of exerting a subtle but firm hold on the preys. In fact of dream embodied, pushed by her parents intoxicated by the inaccessible within reach, Cléo falls into the clutches of sexual predators. To free herself from it, she will become an accomplice and in turn bring down other teenage girls, stars in their eyes, weighted with the desire to resemble this Cléo who seems the chosen one at the gates of glory.
The harder the fall. Cléo drags remorse and guilt, which gnaws at her and never lets go, for having engaged in this trade on innocent people ready for anything, for having been one of the cogs of this system which is based on shame and the silence. Lola Lafon follows her tormented heroine, who has become a cabaret dancer who performs on Saturday evenings, in the middle of the choir behind Michel Drucker. Cléo has changed. She blended into the background, experienced encounters and loves, also discovered the depth of class contempt for popular culture. Until the approach of fifty, when the troubled past of the mysterious Galatea Foundation resurfaces, when Cléo seemed to have slipped from forgiveness to oblivion …
Without ever judging, refraining from being in overhang, Lola Lafon signs a magnificent novel of intelligence, subtlety, empathy, understanding, superbly constructed, admirably written. She runs in the family of Cléo, then in the middle of predators, and finally in the world of anonymous entertainment, smiles and false eyelashes imposed, subjected to infernal cadences and without recognition, on which the light will never be but one. shadow mantle. And behind the scenes where solidarity, mutual aid, discreet esteem are not empty words. Even among these erased people, the revolt, which smolders under humility, can ignite to show the chains.
Lola Lafon gives dignity to these celebrity extras. She draws rich and beautiful group portraits, and attaches herself, via Cléo, to these women, locked in a past too heavy, condemning them to scull in lifeless existences. And who find the inner strength to tear themselves away from their damnation.