French writer and translator Marie Darrieussecq, known breaking new frontiers in literature, was recently in Chennai to attend a 'Meet and Greet' programme organised by the Prabha Khaitan Foundation under its 'The Universe Writes' initiative in association with the Alliance Française. DC spoke to the author of the renowned work Truismes (Pig Tales) and winner of the Prix Medicis, a French literary award. Read on for excerpts from the conversation.
On her time with readers in Chennai
This is my second time in Chennai. I was here earlier in 2006 for an Alliance Française event. Most of the audience this time were students and teachers, and some were my readers. I was amazed at the level of their French and the quality of the questions. We spoke of my childhood in a trilingual family (Basque, Spanish and French), the right to write what’s on our mind, the power of imagination, and why it should not just be about writing an autobiography. We also spoke on spirituality, animal rights, and the way they influence my writing. We discussed nature and talked about how oceans are getting contaminated with plastic.
On her innovative style of writing, which doesn’t follow specific literary rules
I don’t write for an elite group of readers. When I write, I always think of my grandmother, who loved to read, but was discouraged by incomprehensible rules and poetic formats. My ambition has always been to write good books addressing the intelligence and sense of poetry of most readers. I also try to be a good storyteller without surrendering to cheap tricks and hope my books are funny, too. I don’t like to dwell on sad things without giving them my personal touch.
On her universally appealing characters, which particularly resonate with female readers
Half of my novels come from my direct experiences as a woman on this planet. The other half is out of imagination or what other people were willing to share with me.
On her female characters that resemble herself
They are me - if I hadn’t become a published writer. They are my mother and my friends. My novels are often a tribute to my elder brother who died when he was only two days old in 1966, and a tribute to my grieving parents, who didn’t have a chance to write, or even, in a way, to speak about it. My novels can also be read as feminist novels, though their meaning is open. I like to work a lot with dreams too. I often write as a daydreamer.
On contemporary writers from India and Indian literature
I like Arundhati Roy's works. She is a big figure in France. I have read the classics like Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand. I have also recently read Anita Desai, Kiran Desai, and Suketu Metah, and have a deep admiration for Vandana Shiva whom I will meet in Chandigarh at an upcoming event.
On the pandemic
Covid has disrupted the entire world order and it's been very hard. We had a personal loss and we couldn’t even properly bury him. The youngest of my three children, who was 11 years old at the time, suffered from a deep depression and still needs psychiatric treatment. She has been out of school for over a year due to lockdowns and her condition, and also out of sports, and gym which were extremely important for her balance. She is a little champion (smiles). To add insult to injury, she was subjected to social media bullying during lockdowns. She is getting better now and I was able to accept this invitation to India and get back to my work as a writer, a work that never stops, in any way.
Post-Covid, I see how social media networks have become another pandemic, as my other two children are spending time on it.
I feel the pandemic has taken a piece of our spirit, a piece of our mental and physical energy. The French government did well during the time of struggle, but the scars that the pandemic left were severe economically and more importantly, socially. It’s obvious that writers, including myself, will do something about this global historical event. I will probably write a novel, not go on with a diary, because I believe the novel is the form where I’m able to embrace the complexity of life, including the chaos, and put some narration in it through fictitious characters, to be able to reach readers better than directly.
On projects in the pipeline
I have four projects lined up, including a science fiction novel! I’m always a bit afraid of dying before I complete all the novels that are in my mind....