Marie NDiaye: “In order to build a character, I need to represent her childhood to myself”

Some questions about Revenge is mine and Me Susane. Marie NDiaye, since her stay in Gironde, was kind enough to respond by email.

Are you a reader of various facts?

Yes, I have always been a passionate reader of news items and trial reports: Ondine Millot, Pascale Robert-Diard, Stéphane Durand-Souffland, Doan Bui among others are important authors for me – not only do I read their articles but every book they put out. What an incongruous expression, in French, is that of “fait divers”, which concerns both incidents and heartbreaking crimes …

Read alsoDangerous pity: Marie NDiaye, the lawyer and infanticide

We have the impression that you have not researched the legal profession. You don’t mind giving that impression, do you?

Not only did I not care, but it mattered that I didn’t seem to know myself. In writing this book, I did not in any way pretend to make the reader feel the reality of a profession which is foreign to me. Documenting myself on this subject to be true would have been a sham. Besides Me Susane could just as much be a social worker, prison visitor or psychiatrist: I just had to find a way to meet, legally, Marlyne Principaux.

Why Me Does Susane keep her name and title?

She is Me Susane, like my boss, was the Chef, because I like to imagine that, for these two women, the passion for their profession and the efforts they have made to acquire it come before everything, before love above all. . I try not to make any kind of judgment on this subject in the book, either positive or negative. I read a long time ago A house for Mr. Biswas, by Naipaul. The Mr. Biswas in question is first described to us in childhood, then as a young man, etc. Naipaul never calls him otherwise. I think I remember that we never learn Mr. Biswas’s first name. I really liked the almost shocking contrast between the character’s tender age and this way of calling him. I do not reveal M’s first namee Susane (I don’t know myself for the rest), but her name is a first name, in French. I didn’t go as far as Naipaul, I didn’t name her Me Vincent or Me Thierry, forcing the reader to make an effort to remember that it is a woman, as Naipaul obliges us to make an effort, in the first part of his book, to remember that Mr. Biswas was a child. It seems to me that Me Susane, because of this ambiguity between surname and first name, immediately appears as a woman, while it could of course be a lawyer (a male lawyer, I mean).

Emmanuelle Devos would she be a good performer?

She would be in my eyes, because she is an excellent actress. But she may be too beautiful: Me Susane knows or thinks she knows she is devoid of beauty, and she accepts what seems to be a fact with pride, with almost a form of pride. I can hardly imagine making an Emmanuelle Devos plausible that one should understand that she no longer suffers from being considered ugly.

Me Susane is not the narrator. Why is the title in the first person?

Granted, she’s not the narrator, but the story unfolds from her perspective alone, it seems to me. The reader is never freed from the perception that Me Susana of events or beings, he neither knows nor, perhaps, feels only what M knows and feelse Susane. He may sometimes forget that the story is in the third person. That said, the title is not necessarily about Mr.e Susane.

Why these monologues full of “buts” or “because”?

Marlyne Principaux inserts “buts” in each of her sentences, one might say wrongly – but she was a French teacher, so that’s not the question. Perhaps by her “but” she defends herself without appearing to do so, the “but” is a form of forgiveness that she addresses to herself, the “but” the excuse, lessens the scale of his crime. Gilles Principaux, who begins each of his sentences with a blunt “car”, asserts and supports, sure of what he says or wanting to appear as such. These conjunctions seemed to me to express part of the character of the two members of this couple at the time when Mr.e Susane meets them.

What is more natural to you, the theater or the novel?

I believe that I will always love the novel above all else, whether I read or write it. Writing novels has come naturally to me since childhood. Writing plays has become for me an exciting job but subject to constraints, even if light and that I appreciate having, that the novel does not know. Like a child who runs, jumps, plays (the novel) and who is trained to dance (the pieces): he ends up finding pleasure in the hard training of movements, but he will always miss freedom in the garden …

Is it important for writing to change domicile regularly?

I liked to think of it, romantically. I see today that it is not that important – as far as I am concerned, of course, it is not a general matter. In the end, I worked little with what I gained from my two-year stay in Italy, many months in Spain or Guadeloupe, or ten years in Germany. A little, of course, but not in proportion to such a long time spent outside mainland France or outside France. Perhaps this is due to the fact that, in order to build a character, I need to represent to myself his childhood and that I only know French childhood intimately. I need to be able to imagine its social environment, the landscapes that shaped it, etc. I don’t know, in concrete terms, what a German childhood is, a Spanish childhood, etc. I only know France fundamentally, deeply.

Is it really Bordeaux, in this book?

Not really, of course, since a Bordeaux stuck in snow and ice can only be a dreamlike Bordeaux. I am not concerned with describing this city nor trying to give a feeling or a feeling of Bordeaux. This is where M livese Susane. I visualize the streets where she walks, the sidewalk on which she falls. I know and mentally see a lot more of Bordeaux than I tell – almost nothing. It is essential for me to make my characters move in places that I know, so that it all seems true or, at least, plausible. Except for Mauritius, where I have never been and where I project Me Susane however – but what is happening there, for her, is of the order of revelation, therefore of dreams.

What are you reading at the moment?

Lili is crying by Hélène Bessette, the Grand Chosier by Laurent Albarracin, Mon Emily Dickinson by Susan Howe, Louis II of Bavaria by Catherine Decours.

Claire Devarrieux


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