On the poisoned beach – Culture / Next

In her eyes, her mother has everything of a princess, beautiful, lively and tender. The book opens on a summer beach, sunny vacations, the joy of water games. Both shout in chorus “Swimsuit !” before jumping into the sea and miming dolphins. Agathe is 11 years old, Alice made her skip the last week of school in June to take her here, to Saint-Clair, in the Var. It is not an unknown place for Alice, rather a homecoming. Her grandmother Augustine raised her there reluctantly, after never having accepted her own daughter Ariane, who died while giving birth to her (first names in “A” from generation to generation, fatal consequence). A very bad memory of childhood. “I had to sell the hut to pay for his retirement home, she tells her teenage daughter. It lasted so long that I couldn’t take advantage of the money. If I talk like that about your great-grandmother, it’s because she was a cow’s skin, a madwoman who flanked me mittens in the middle of summer with a ban on removing them so that I didn’t bite my nails . “

They stay in the small hotel of the Citadel, run by the old patroness Mme Platini and his lame and unpredictable son. Men ofWe were fish are hardly reassuring. Agathe’s father left her mother after a stormy New Year’s Eve and sped off with his new partner to New York. Should we call him as a potential savior or leave him in this distance that he has chosen himself? Maurice, a former lover with whom Alice is reconnecting, is no match for his beautiful sailboat and his marriage proposal. It is the women who lead the story, and others who play the referees of the drama that is mounting. Breakfasts on the balcony in the soft morning sun, descents to the beach, a walk in Lavandou, dinner at the restaurant, everything could take place in the most banal way, if maternal versatility did not make everything worrying. An excessive cuddling blow, a cruel blow. She hugs her daughter to suffocate her by whispering a string of soft or hurtful nicknames (“my little wolf”, “My little freshwater turtle”, “Little salamander”, “Big beet”, etc.), then rejects it with final words. She sings at the top of her voice in the shower «I know, it’s only rock’n’roll, but I like it» from the Rolling Stones, put on a low-cut long red dress, a bright and sexy star, but on the return, fallen, drunk and panting, the mascara tearful. An air of Woman under the influence. “My mother was an actress who played so many roles at once that it became impossible to speak with her. I would answer yes, I would answer no, it wouldn’t matter. “ The child does not seem to be who we think he is. Adult borderline abolished borders. “My mother addressed sometimes to the adult I was not yet, sometimes to the baby that I was no longer. I was sailing between two ages that were not mine. ” The first dinner, at the Tonio pizzeria, threatens to turn into an uproar. The next day, she leaves on the shark mattress and leaves her daughter alone on the beach until the evening. She refuses to buy him water despite the scorching heat and her thirst, an implacable sadist who makes the hatred grow in Agathe’s eyes.

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The reality is coupled with a fiction which is no less tragic. Agathe took a book, the unbreakable boat, which tells the story of a boat that sails on sight after the captain’s death from a heart attack, with the four members of a torn family on board. Yet it is her only escape, this novel, which she reads when she is alone, with a need for escape and calm. Death is also a common thread, a means of blackmailing the teenager who is ready to do anything to make her mother happy. “Death has no date,” she liked to say again, to make my fear of seeing her die a little harder. What if it was tomorrow? Huh? What would you do with your big can and fat fingers? You would call daddy from the hotel phone and tell him: mum is dead. ”

We were fish lasts what a week’s vacation lasts, narrated by Agathe both in the present and in flashback. The dialogues without punctuation, the disorderly sequence of situations almost make the story scream. This novel dismantles to the point of hysteria the fusional and destructive relationship that can bind two beings who love each other the most in the world. Curiously, from this painful incapacity for harmony escapes a form of poetry. “What I’m sure of, said the mother, it is that we are fish, which slide towards a dream. Do you like to dream, Agathe? ”

Frederique Roussel

Nathalie Kuperman

We were fish

Flammarion, 272 pp., 19 € (ebook : 12,99 €).

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