Re : RARA-AVIS: French smoke

From: andr頤ussolier (
Date: 16 Feb 2008

Totally agree with Jean-Pierre Good sentiments and political correctness never made good crime books.

----- Message d'origine ---- De : jean-pierre jacquet <>
: Envoy頬e : Samedi, 16 F鶲ier 2008, 14h34mn 10s Objet : Re: RARA-AVIS: French smoke


            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

> Cinefrog@comcast. net


> 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


> uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008


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