Philippe Djian, king of the ellipse

  The writer Philippe Djian, in Paris, in 2023.

Without counting ? Yet we really want to do it, count, by taking the title of Philippe Djian’s new novel backwards: to count, provisionally, an impressive production, for forty years already. Not far from fifty works at a regular rate, since the media glory, which came early, with the film adaptation of 37°2 in the morning by Jean-Jacques Beineix, in 1986. Béatrice Dalle, in this respect, was undoubtedly at the time the best literary agent that could have been imagined for the writer. But did he really need it?

We have perhaps forgotten that our man was one of the authors chosen in 1990 by the eminent critic Jean-Pierre Richard (1922-2019) – exegete of Mallarmé and famous disciple of a Gaston Bachelard theorizing the sensitive world – for his study on “eight writers of today” (The state of things, Gallimard), next to figures much less rock, a priori, of Pierre Michon or Pascal Quignard: a kind of quasi-academic election, for an author sometimes mocked for his supposed stylistic incongruities. But the style of Philippe Djian has certainly evolved. If in its purified syntax there remain small contortionist pleasures, it has renounced the riskiest metaphors to become the king of the ellipsis. A master of falsely relaxed simplicity.

When we meet him for “Le Monde des livres”, he is amused at first by this way of presenting him and remembers with a smile the fact that we have already been able to speak of him as a “prankster” formalist: ” What interests me, he said, it’s not what I’m telling, but the way I can tell it. If we take the question of ellipses or shortcuts present in my books, which I often hear about, we can consider that there is first, to explain them, a kind of material constraint. To go quickly, I could say that, if you try to live by your pen in France, you don’t have time – unlike what happens in the United States, for example – to write very long novels, like the ones I just read by Jonathan Franzen or Bret Easton Ellis… With a family to feed, a house to pay for, etc., it’s hard to spend five years writing a book! The ellipsis therefore saves time, but it also allows me to put aside the things that used to amuse me and which tire me today, such as the sex scenes, which I enjoyed developing in my first books… »

Playing on the literature’s own resources

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