“Leur chamade”, by Jean-Pierre Montal, Séguier, “L’Indefinite”, 256 p., €20, digital €14.
Jean-Pierre Montal was born in 1971, according to the biographical note provided by his publisher: three years after the shooting of Alain Cavalier’s film the Chamade, which inspired the title of his new novel, and on the threshold of a decade of which he seems today to taste, with a kind of nonchalant melancholy, the post-Pompidolian flavors. Their rush is a funny book of memory, in any case, which opens with mourning… and a dress. Edwige, 50, an architect, has come to bury her mother in the provinces: she walks around her parents’ now empty house, opens the souvenir cupboards and comes across the Yves Saint Laurent dress which, in a certain way, decided her fate. It was this dress that her mother wore the night she dined for the first time with her future husband, François, while she was working as an assistant script on the set of The Chamade…
The daily presence of Deneuve
The details and consequences of this meeting, Edwige knows them well, having often consulted another treasure hidden in the cupboards of the deceased: her diary. We discover how, during a filming of which she records anecdotes and asides, Edwige’s mother chose in all conscience what her life would be, strangely tidy, singularly bourgeois, far from the revolutionary temptations of the month of May. : the young people of his age bore him a little, and one hardly guesses leftist sympathies, let’s say it, in the novelist who evokes them.
It is with a rather remarkable naturalness that he finds the tone of an 18-year-old girl, amazed by the fiction that turns before his eyes, mirroring his own existence, suddenly as if amplified by the daily presence of Catherine Deneuve. It was not easy to succeed in this bet: to make a cult film, or almost, the somewhat mysterious core of a deceptively smooth book, whose sensitive depths are only noticeable at first in transparency, elegant filigree, à la Sagan – because it is she, icon of a certain style French-stylewhose novel Alain Cavalier adapted The chamade.
This would no doubt be enough to make a book of beautiful, supple melancholy, if Montal did not add another plot to it, in which a once glorious architect and Edwige’s lover, Daniel Giesbach, finds himself accused of sexual harassment. The story then seems to display more explicit aims, which surprisingly do not stifle it: all-out detestation of the contemporary through the flights of old male Giesbach, considerations on architecture as an indication of a certain vegetated decadence, observation of an inescapable agony of passions… Miracle: the story continues to work, even if it happens that we wince a little. On Montal’s penchant, for example, for a sometimes oversignificant onomastics: we like the first name Edwige of his heroine, a wonderful ageless find, but was it really necessary to associate him with the surname so old France of Sallandres? And this priest overwhelmed by his three parishes, whom the novelist baptizes M’Daye: is it to mock so easily the failure of priestly vocations, outside Africa? Or even this furtive friend of the deceased mother, a subtle color matcher, at the wheel of his tired old blue Saab: isn’t he too simply a dandy to have called him Alain de Freysse?
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