Re: RARA-AVIS: French smoke

From: jean-pierre jacquet (
Date: 16 Feb 2008

This article is much more interesting than Fred Vargas' books, which I find undigestable for the most part; she cites Proust and Hemingway among her influences, fair enough, but seems to favour the former rather than the latter when it comes to her writing style, heavy and sleep-inducing. Not to mention fake sounding dialogues... I was about to post something about her during the "female crime writers writing from a male perspective" thread discussion, but gave up because I don't really care for Commissaire Adamsberg from any perspective. As for her political causes and crusading style, "vociferous" is indeed a word that comes to mind, to which I could ad a number of epithets ending in "ous". jean-pierre jacquet On Feb 16, 2008, at 5:40 AM, Steve Novak wrote:

> From the Guardian UK....this interesting interview of Vargas...
> Steve Novak
> Crime writer Fred Vargas - also a renowned archaeologist and
> vociferous
> political campaigner - is not only a bestseller in her native
> France, but a
> hit across the English-speaking world
> Nicholas Wroe
> Saturday February 16, 2008
> The Guardian
> About a third of the way through French crime writer Fred Vargas's new
> policier, This Night's Foul Work, the sometimes infuriating, sometimes
> inspirational hero, Commissaire Adamsberg, stands over a grave he has
> ordered to be opened. Adamsberg is a man who values intuition as
> much as
> logic, and while there seems to be nothing suspicious in the
> disinterred
> plot, his nagging hunch that foul play has occurred - the menacing
> sense of
> "shade" that haunts him - is not unfounded. Turning to a
> subordinate, he
> explains:
> Article continues
> "If there's a sound to be heard, and we're not hearing it, it means
> we're
> deaf. The earth isn't dumb, but we are not skilled enough. We need a
> specialist, an interpreter, someone who can hear the sound of the
> earth."
> "What do you call one of those?" asked Justin, anxiously.
> "An archaeologist," said Adamsberg, taking out his telephone. "Or a
> shit-stirrer, if you prefer."
> It is not a bad description of Vargas herself. She is a distinguished
> archaeologist who has written important works on medieval social
> structures
> and on the epidemiology of the plague. She is also a vociferous and
> persistent critic of the French political and judicial systems as a
> prominent supporter of the fugitive Italian writer Cesare Battisti,
> exiled
> from France and currently in custody in Brazil, who is accused of
> committing
> terrorist offences in Italy in the 1970s.
> But Vargas is now best known as a crime writer. Her stories of
> Adamsberg
> negotiating his rural Pyrenees roots with his job in a Parisian
> murder squad
> - in the latest novel, he places a pebble from a village stream on
> the desks
> of his wearily perplexed staff after a trip home - have not only
> topped the
> French bestseller lists, but stormed the English-speaking world. Her
> 1999
> novel L'Homme ࠬ'envers, published in English as Seeking Whom He
> May Devour
> in 2004, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Gold
> Dagger. In
> 2006, she picked up the International Dagger for The Three Evangelists
> (Debout les morts), and last year she repeated the triumph - an
> unprecedented double - with Wash This Blood Clean from my Hand (Sous
> les
> vents de Neptune)
> Speaking in the offices of her French publisher in a courtyard just
> off the
> Place de la Bastille in Paris, Vargas exudes the focused intensity
> of the
> proselytising political activist. But she says her roles as scientist,
> campaigner and novelist are essentially separate. "I don't think the
> detective story is there to change social reality. As a historian, I
> know
> that decisive victories in social and political problems are not
> made by
> authors. ɭile Zola did it with J'accuse, but that wasn't a novel.
> The novel
> serves other purposes, which are just as important and deep in their
> own
> way, but they are different to politics."
> Vargas sees the novel, and the detective story in particular, as
> fulfilling
> some of the same functions as Greek tragedy. In This Night's Foul
> Work,
> Adamsberg travels out to a Normandy village where the locals' caustic
> observations on his investigation resemble nothing so much as a Greek
> chorus. "I like to use these people from villages. Theirs are the
> voices
> that never move and never change." She makes a low humming noise. "I
> think
> of the story like an orchestra with the violins and the brass at the
> front
> taking forward the action. But at the back are basses" - more low
> humming -
> "making a noise that comes from eternity. I know the Normans very well
> because my mother's family is from there. But for me they represent
> all
> village people, and by extension some sense of elemental humanity."
> Fred Vargas was born Fr餩rique Audouin-Rouzeau in Paris in 1957.
> Both she
> and her twin sister Jo, a painter, adopted the name Vargas from the
> Ava
> Gardner character - the Spanish dancer Maria Vargas - in The Barefoot
> Contessa. Their father was a prominent surrealist who wrote studies
> of Andr銼/EM>
> Breton and other leading figures in the movement, but he made his
> living
> working for an insurance company. "He never talked about his job," she
> recalls. "Apart from saying 'I am going to the box.'"
> Vargas says her father was a brilliant but intimidating presence who
> seemed
> to know about everything except science. He forbade television, and
> from the
> "thousands" of books in the house he would "authorise" what the
> children
> could read - mostly myths, folk tales and 17th-century baroque
> poetry. "Can
> you imagine it? Having books that were 'authorised'! And many of
> them were
> too old for children, although I did love the myths. And our house
> was also
> full of primitive arts and masks and this surrealist fascination
> with death
> and decay. Thank God my mother was a chemist who helped us keep our
> heads on
> our shoulders, because a surrealist atmosphere is really not so good
> for
> children."
> It's no surprise that the children eventually rebelled in
> interesting ways.
> Vargas's elder brother, St鰨ane, is a leading historian of the
> first world
> war. "My father absolutely hated war and thought it was disgusting.
> So my
> brother did history - as father would have liked - but another type of
> history. My father was a wonderful cartoonist, but my sister's art
> is very
> different. I went into science and then writing. He was a wonderful
> writer,
> but thought that detective stories were the silliest thing
> imaginable."
> Although her father wrote many books about surrealism, he never
> published
> "anything personal", Vargas explains. "I once asked him why and he
> told me
> that, when he was 17, he had said to himself he will be 'Rimbaud or
> nothing'. That is a bit sad." Vargas began to write when her father
> was ill
> at the end of his life, and he died before she was published. "But
> of course
> I would have shown it to him and I know what he would have said:
> 'Fred, this
> is shit from A to Z' . And he would have been right, and I would have
> stopped writing, so it is strange how it worked out."
> It was while on an archaeological dig in the Midi when she was 28 that
> Vargas began writing "for fun. I'd tried the accordion and was
> terrible."
> She loved her job, but when she looked at her older colleagues, she
> knew she
> had to have "something else" in her life "apart from this rather
> austere
> science".
> Her first book, Les Jeux de l'amour et de la mort (Games of Love and
> Death),
> won a competition for unpublished manuscripts. The prize was
> publication,
> but she says "it was a very bad book. My ambition was to find some
> music in
> the language, but I made the mistake of thinking the plot had no
> importance.
> Now I hope I also put in a good story, but I still believe even the
> best
> story is nothing without having music in the writing."
> The music she was seeking to emulate came from Rousseau, Proust and
> Hemingway. "Rousseau was my first love when I was 15. He was so
> criticised
> at the time when compared to Voltaire, whom I never liked. But in
> the French
> language, his writing achieved the most beautiful music." Since the
> 1970s,
> Vargas argues, serious literature has regarded stories as "slightly
> silly",
> forcing them to become "refugees" in the crime novel. "It has been a
> literature of narcissism about 'me and my family', 'me and my
> problems', 'me
> and my lover'. I'm sick of it, especially as Proust did this
> perfectly all
> those years ago. But when he spoke of himself, he spoke of the whole
> world.
> Most writers today just speak of themselves. And Hemingway's
> language is
> precisely the opposite of Proust in that it feels rougher, and while
> Proust
> could deal with the infinite smallness of life, Hemingway has the
> infinite
> hugeness of it."
> Despite her own disappointment with her first novel, Vargas took to
> writing
> as she "did to smoking - it was an addictive habit". She began to
> write the
> first drafts of new books during her three-week summer holidays, and
> followed this routine until four years ago when she took a break from
> archaeology. "I had completed two big projects and needed a rest. I
> had
> always been interested in the economic story of the Middle Ages, the
> Roman
> times and the 16th and 17th centuries. I wanted to paint a picture of
> economic life, but also cultural life, involving hunting and eating
> habits.
> Show me what someone eats, and I will show you who they were." She
> ended up
> with a comparative research project that included over a thousand
> archaeological sites from different periods. "I then continued with
> another
> interest I had about the rat and the transmission of the plague - it
> had
> never been resolved to my satisfaction - and that took six years."
> With her books selling well enough for her to support herself and
> her son,
> she took a year off. "It was wonderful. I had all this time in front
> of me
> to work on another book. Three weeks later, it was finished. The
> problem
> never was me having to work in this way, the problem was me. I take
> time to
> correct and change the books, but my first drafts still take three
> weeks."
> By the time she was due to return to work, she had become involved
> in the
> campaign to exonerate Battisti - who denies the 1970s terrorist
> charges
> against him - and she put her research skills to use in the Italian
> legal
> archives to try to clear his name. "I told them not to wait for me.
> Something more urgent had come up." The campaign continues, and
> Vargas has
> written a book explaining why her friend is innocent. She has also
> found
> time for a dispute with the French ministry of health about her
> suggestions
> for dealing with a potential avian flu epidemic - "it is 90% certain
> to
> happen" - based on her research into the plague.
> "I'm involved in many fights, which can be quite dangerous
> sometimes. And I
> will continue to shout that there is something rotten in the state
> of France
> and Italy and everywhere in Europe. But I do this with reality. With
> facts
> and with interviews and with protest. When I write about
> archaeology, I use
> science. My novels are something else again."
> She says she has a theory of art, into which the crime novel fits,
> that goes
> back to Neolithic times. "I think art emerged as a sort of medicine
> to deal
> with the fact that we are afraid, alone, small and weak in a dangerous
> world. But we are not like all the other animals and cannot live
> with just a
> pragmatic and realistic life. So we invent a second reality, similar
> but not
> identical to ours, into which we escape to confront these perils."
> Her work is defiantly not realistic in that Adamsberg drives just a
> car,
> not, say, a Renault, and we don't know what he eats or wears or
> listens to.
> "In real life, I love clothes and labels and shops. But not in my
> novels. It
> becomes too precise." She unexpectedly cites Agatha Christie as a
> model.
> "Holmes is rightly thought to be brilliant, and people now laugh at
> Christie. But I see links between her and the mythology I read when
> I was
> young, and I think she was conscious of it, too. Like her, I want to
> tell a
> story that identifies and deals with the dangers we face. It's no
> longer
> wild animals, but the fears are just as real, so I make a journey
> with the
> reader, confront the horror of humanity, and deliver them safely home.
> Instinctively we feel better and can sleep soundly. Then, in the
> morning
> when the sun comes up, we can again face the world and move forward."
> Inspirations
> Marcel Proust
> Jean-Jacques Rousseau
> Ernest Hemingway
> Agatha Christie
> Arthur Conan Doyle
> © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008
> [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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