“Keep them in respect”, by Elisabeth Guimard: an open secret

The writer Elisabeth Guimard, in Saint-Mary (Charente), in 2023.

“Keep them in respect”, by Elisabeth Guimard, Inculte, 140 p., €15, digital €11.

One hundred and one years after the birth of her mother, who has just died, the narrator writes her a letter, addressing her, through this story, her boomerang version of a mismatched game of the seven families. Since the author of her days, who kept her by force in the pernicious cogs of a “specious secret”, has deserted, might as well take advantage of his brand new absence to shatter the mechanics of silence. First book by Elisabeth Guimard, Hold them in check is written both for and against.

That the future narrator had two fathers – her mother’s husband, with whom they lived, and the latter’s lover, who is her parent, but whom she barely knew – seems to have been accepted by all, except condition of not talking about it. Fruit of this adulterous idyll, the young girl had to hide inside this reluctance. Only half exist. Make an act of contrition, since her mother’s “fault” has trickled down on her: sin on her feet, she has become the receptacle of it, giving body, by her very life, to a collective shame. The husband, but also this entire village of Charente Limousin, tacitly transferred their guilt squarely onto her – tolerating this open secret, they were both immoral (witnesses to an adultery that lasted fifty years) and cowards (incapable of formulate it in broad daylight, united in a grotesque comedy of omission). Wasn’t it then necessary for the daughter of the “Other”, finally, to give a slap in the face to silence?

At all ages of her life, she floated in the fuzzy definition of an unpublished dictionary, of which Hold them in check is the decree of abolition: the dismantling, piece by piece, of a genealogy that is both implicit and explicit, where the secret was not what was hidden, but what, known to all, had to remain invisible – to show by denying itself, to appear by canceling itself out. For the mother, not keeping her affair silent was equivalent to asking her daughter to ignore the one with whom she lived, recognizing, on the contrary, the one who lived in the shadows. Forced to make a light from the dark, and vice versa, the latter grew up in a universe where the relationship between names and things has been reformulated, not to say reversed, without anyone having given her the translation. Since not the act but the words to say it were intolerable, language has become the place of the taboo, the epicenter of this contradictory injunction.

Lapidary fragments

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