Serge Joncour: "I write our time so that we don't forget it"

Serge Joncour: “I write our time so that we don’t forget it”

In your new novel, Human Heat, we find the same family as in the previous one, Human Nature, this time in the time of the Covid. Did you miss your hero, Alexandre, the son who took over the family farm in the Lot?

I wanted to find Alexandre, but also his three city sisters… The original idea of ​​these two novels was to accompany a family over the past forty years, at the turn of this millennium. A peasant family, which dispersed in the 1980s and 1990s, the sisters leaving the countryside for the city, turning away from nature, as if they had nothing more to do there. Human nature recounts this desire for cities. For the rest, I wanted the opposite, a return to the countryside. I had invented an ecological disaster that pushed everyone to find themselves in the middle of nature… And in 2020, the theme of my book blossomed before me!

The real exceeded the fiction…

The first confinement started on March 17, 2020. The stations were taken over by people leaving the cities with their pets and their green plants to flee to the countryside… All I had to do was slip my characters into this great movement of the real! I placed the three sisters in three different professions and city formats. Caroline, a teacher in Toulouse, will be the first to arrive at the farm, to teach the students by videoconference, with her vagaries… Agathe and Greg (former covid-skeptical yellow vest) run cafes. They will have to close, manage stocks… As for Vanessa, Parisian, photographer, terrified, she will leave the capital to find the farm of her childhood, the slightly damp rooms and the anise green paint in the bathroom… The only who does not change anything or almost, except that he must receive his three sisters when he is at odds with them, it is Alexandre!

In your novels, we often find this peasant character, worker, endearing, silent, tenacious. Are you from this background?

My grandparents were farmers, in Nièvre. My parents branched off into the restaurant business, but live on the family farm. These places live in me. I have 47 cousins, and some have continued farming. My in-laws, in the Lot, are partly market gardeners. And I investigate, I read, I discuss, I observe. Look…here, last year, on the same date, it was a yellowish doormat. And today it’s green, teeming with clover and wild mint. I never cut the link to nature. At the meadow. To the forest around. In very dry summers, deer come to drink from our water tank.

One of Alexandre’s sisters works with American businessmen who see breeders as French “cowboys”…

In France, breeders are poorly considered, they are accused of polluting the planet. In America, they are cowboys. They have a reputation. And when the Americans with whom Vanessa works thus glorify the profession of her parents and her brother, her outlook changes… Similarly, in France, novelists who write about rurality see themselves classified as “regional writers”. In the United States, there is a tradition of “nature writing”. American authors are very good at describing the power of wilderness. But the wild state also exists in France! Our literature finally invests with force the “outside”, in the same movement as the return to the earth… Thus, the novels of Franck Bouysse shine with a luminous black intensity, like a painting by Pierre Soulages.

Under your pen, the crossing of the confinement gives rise to many very funny scenes, the arrival of the bichons, the traffic, the tasty repartee of the mother, Greg, the adept of conspiracy exfiltrated from Cahors in a cattle truck…

When you want to be funny, it’s better to be funny! These sketches relate things experienced, recomposed, as my characters are mixtures of real people. But behind the humor of certain situations, things are being said. Greg, his wife Agathe and their teenagers exfiltrated in a cattle truck also mean… that we are animals. Human animals. And epidemics have accompanied us since the beginning of humanity: the plague, cholera. We believed that we had control over nature, that we could do anything to it, but no. The virus from a bat – presumably – infected a Chinese, and the whole planet was sick.

Do you feel animal?

Yes, I feel part of the animal circle, but less adapted. The fox or my bichon does not need a cap against the sun, gloves in winter. Both survive in the wild. For us, it can quickly become hostile.

Diseases, viruses, from avian flu to mad cow disease, are omnipresent in your novels. For what reasons ?

My project aims to show that the world reaches us, even though we live very isolated. This is the famous butterfly wing flapping theory*. Maybe it all started, for me, with the box tree moth. This winegrower’s house that I have lived in during my holidays for fifteen years, between the causses and the valley, is located in a forest where boxwood abounds. A larva imported from Asia, the moth, eliminated the species. The box trees dried out, and the butterflies from these larvae, so numerous, forced us to drive by activating the windshield wipers to chase them from the windshield. This is not, far from it, a unique case. The plane tree canker landed during the Second World War with American soldiers, in wooden ammunition boxes. The Asian black hornet made the journey in a pottery imported from Asia with a nest inside… Thus, I make my old goatherd Crayssac say, in my novel: “Animals are like men, is not made for travelling.”

Are you anti-globalist?

No, I see. I chronicle our time. I wrote Human nature so that we do not forget the 1999 storm, which deprived thousands of people of electricity for weeks. In the year 2000, we were predicted to have flying cars… and we had to bring out the candles and the hurricane lamp! I wrote so that we don’t forget Chernobyl and the mad cow crisis. We never stop being surprised to see where the world is going, how far it can go… I want to fix this memory. So that we don’t forget too quickly. Only the novel, I believe, can achieve this.

You have always written. How did you grow up?

Only child, in boarding school with the Salesians, from college to baccalaureate. It was single-sex, rough. But I was lucky, the Salesian brothers, benevolent, did not lack humor. One of them in particular encouraged me by showcasing my writing skills. If I lost faith, I kept the framework, the structure. I owe them my education. At times, I would like to believe in a superpower, but I can’t find it. It’s hard to live without faith. Religion comes from “religere” which means to bind. I have this tradition of the connected human. During the Covid, humanity was connected, it is rare and not trivial that we have the same experience all over the world…

Childhood ties that break and prove difficult to reweave, the family, also challenge you…

Absolutely. How, children, we can play together, get on well, then, adults, no longer understand the other… And one day, we find ourselves together again, in a closed door wide open, on the very premises of childhood. This is the meaning of Human warmth, these reunions in the open air, bringing everyone together, a little from a distance… Alexandre, who has remained anchored, is the man on whom we count. He receives his three sisters, with whom relations had cooled. They have in fact rented their land, adjoining that of their brother, to wind turbine installers. He had also named the three wind turbines with the first name of his three sisters… Reconnecting will not prove to be easy, not to mention the anxieties and manias of each other. Fortunately, there are three crazy puppies, innocent and fragile stuffed animals, which bring together four generations, and also a big fire…

* Theory by physicist Edward Lorenz (1917-2008) presented in 1972 under the title “How a flapping of butterfly wings in Brazil can trigger a tornado in Texas”.

The biography of Serge Joncour

  • 1961. Born in Paris.
  • 2005. Publication of idol, who will inspire the film Super star by Xavier Giannoli, in 2012.
  • 2010. Film screenwriter Her name was Sarah, based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay.
  • 2012. love without doing it, adapted to the cinema by Jessica Palud under the title To come back.
  • 2014. national writer, 2015 Deux Magots prize.
  • 2016. Lean on me Interallied price.
  • 2018. Dog wolf, Landerneau Readers’ Prize.
  • 2020. Wild nature Femina award. All his novels are published by Flammarion until this date.

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