Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

We are snowed in today on my little mountain so instead of visiting the region with my sister and brother-in-law, we’re all snuggled down in various corners of the house with mugs of tea and books. Lovely to have bookworms for visitors.

And I thought I’d take a few moments to spend some time on this somewhat neglected (of late) blog…

Last spring I read a difficult, very emotional book called Ou on va, Papa? by the French writer Jean-Louis Fournier. The book is a memoir, dealing with Fournier’s life with his two disabled sons. My reactions to the book are here and here. As I mentioned when I first discussed the book, it was a controversial piece of literature when it came out (although it was selected to win the Prix Femina) because of the way it dealt with its subject. Fournier is a comedian and his book uses humor (quite dark) to approach his feelings of frustration and rage with respect to his difficult experiences. Despite the challenging nature of the emotional tone, I enjoyed the book and Fournier’s writing. Mainly because it was exceedingly honest about the conflicting emotions a parent must encounter when raising a child who will always be different, about the disappointments and anger which must have been an integral part of his day to day relationship with his sons.

I mention the book again for two reasons. First, it has finally come out in English and is called Where are we going, Daddy? I expect there will be some continued controversy as the book reaches a broader audience. And I am very curious to see the American reaction to the book since it doesn’t ever attempt to locate a positive aspect of Fournier’s experience. It isn’t depressing, at least I didn’t think so, and it was profoundly moving.

The second reason I bring this book up again is that when I originally discussed it, there was some question about what this same story would look like from the perspective of Fournier’s ex-wife, Agnès Brunet, the mother of Matthieu and Thomas. A thoughtful commenter pointed me in the direction of her blog (which is in French) and is very interesting. She has a clearly different perspective than Fournier on the lives of their sons….or perhaps she simply has a very different manner of expressing her emotional response to their shared experience. I am not interested in deciding which version is the truth, or even more compelling – they are both powerful narratives and both undoubtedly true.

What is interesting to me as a reader is how Fournier found the words to express, or attempt to express, what must have been a devastating, heartbreaking, exhausting long-term reality. He expresses his dismay and sorrow with great eloquence; even the parts that made me uncomfortable were compelling in a literary sense. As a reader and a writer, I can’t help admire that literary journey.

5 Responses to “more Fournier”

  1. Stefanie

    What a fascinating comparison to be able to make. I suspect both parents are telling the truth of their experience but truth being the slippery fish that it is looks different to both of them. Stay warm, and have fun being snowed in!

  2. litlove

    What an interesting introduction on the blog. We’re back to that old chestnut about fiction/biography – is it true that readers are too keen to believe whatever they read? I do think there’s a temptation to read a reality lurking behind fiction, and to be suspicious about the veracity of non-fiction. And yes, very interesting also to see how the American market will respond to Fourier’s humour – not a natural fit, you might think!

  3. ds

    I can certainly think of worse ways to begin a new year than to be snowed in with mugs of tea, a few books, and Mlle. Petitvore!
    Happy New Year!

  4. Care

    Happy New Year! Snowed in with visitors who read – what a lovely way to share time.

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