Between Beirut, Saigon and Paris, Pierre Lemaitre weaves a comic book, a family saga in which adventure awaits the main characters. “Le grand monde”, the first bustling volume of a tetralogy devoted to the post-war boom, is literally breathtaking.
It’s the story of a family: Pelletiers. They left France in the 1920s, after the war, and settled in Lebanon. Maison Pelletier runs a soap factory, the parents, Louis and Angèle see their four children leave the nest. Etienne, the youngest, flies to Saigon to find his friend Raymond, a legionary. Hélène, François and Jean settle in Paris. The novel takes place in 1948. It is the beginning of Trente Glorieuses. But in the immediate post-war period, life is still very difficult. These are gray years that will last until 1951, paving the way for years of economic prosperity.
For Pierre Lemaitre, who through his work has chosen to explore this short 20th century, it is an extra difficulty to follow in the footsteps of a family. For in every saga, in every corroman, each character lives both an individual adventure and a common destiny. With a family that is not content to let everyone develop in their swimming pool and anticipate their encounters, the novelist will very quickly be at the head of about twenty characters. For who says family and who says Trente Glorieuses, many babies also say. “You have to have the dial everywhere, the eye everywhere,” our writer clarifies.
Pierre Lemaitre in “Le grand monde” becomes an adventurer, playwright, thriller writer and soap opera writer. By choosing this narrative modality, we feel that the influence of Alexandre Dumas is never far away. Each volume is assembled, but inside, each chapter is designed as a section of a series.
There is a kind of jubilation on my part over being both old and modern. I’m old enough to take the serial narrative system up through magazines through the 19th century and at the same time I’m modern, because nothing is more modern than the TV series and the serial it is inspired by. …
1948 is not only the beginning of the adventure of the Pelletier family, it is also the war in Indochina. An exotic, professional war that does not interest many people, and which becomes the melting pot of the Vietnam War. The novelist installs Etienne in Saigon in the heart of the urban world, a kind of state within a state. He will there reveal the “affair of the Piastres,” a monster scandal, a financial traffic, symptom of the decay of the French state towards its colonies. It must be said that everything crosses Saigon; piastre, opium, prostitution, extortion, bribery, all the human passions that excite readers like Pierre Lemaitre himself.
I enjoy my work. I am nothing but a storyteller and the only stories I tell are the ones that interest me personally. Those who give me anger, joy, interest. I write more or less while I live, with the same passion, the same depression, the same contradictions.
A newspaper as a collective character
Indochina, Beirut and Paris are chosen as places with all the possibilities for the Pelletier family. In Paris, Pierre Lemaitre invokes another collective character: the newspaper Le Grand Soir. This newspaper is based on the model from France Soir, the reference daily newspaper from Glorious Thirties, and is the symbol of the period. In 1948, he begins with great difficulty to take progress as the whole society. “This newspaper is also an urban world, a bit like Saigon. It is a territory crossed by passions, of an urgent nature, the daily newspaper must constantly find new, topics.”
Antoine Pelletier works there for the section for various news. Coincidence or coincidence takes place a murder, the murder of a young fashion actress who dies under the eyes of her older brother Jean. A happy case. Although: “I hesitated a lot. Fiction does not have a very good relationship with coincidences. Fiction must be believable. But I write a fairy tale, a comic book, and in these works coincidences always do things right for the novelist.”
The novel is interspersed with noise, rage, love, humor, twists of situations, smells. Everything smells. The world of the parents ‘soap factory, the world of François’ newspaper, Saigon, Beirut, Paris. It smells of rain, asphalt, grilled pork, blood and fresh ink. Pierre Lemaitre charms readers. He knows how to combine sensations to achieve immersion. “I tell stories where ordinary people face extraordinary events. A complicated shooter to manipulate. For the characters to remain themselves. There has to be a balance between the normal and the extraordinary, which is renewed for each character and for each novel.” A successful bet for Pierre Lemaitre! Encouraged by all the senses, it is carnal that “Le grand monde” opens up to us.
Pierre Lemaitre, “The Great World”, ed. Calmann-Levy.
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