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Véronique Bizot, author of Gardeners, interviewed by translator Youna Kwak, February 2017


 

YK: Les Jardiniers (Gardeners) is a fascinating book in many ways. The characters, for one, seem both very strange and yet strangely familiar. Would you care to share where your inspiration for the characters came from? Real life? Imagination? Both?

VB: Actually, I always start not with a particular character, but with a place. A garden, a hotel, a sea-side terrace, a country house, a lake… the location will give the story its color, it creates the interior landscape of the character who emerges there, first just as a silhouette, then as a voice that decides the story’s trajectory. Often it’s a question of being fixed in a location, so that the only movement takes place in thoughts or in memory.
Generally, I don’t like to know too much about my characters. I’m incapable of writing “what I know”; I don’t take inspiration from my own life, nor from people I meet, and I never know where my characters are going to take me. I don’t plan anything, no doubt because I myself want to become disoriented. One writes—in any case, I do—to explore mental universes far removed from one’s own, to lose sight of oneself. To enter someone else’s consciousness is like offering oneself a second reality, something like a supplement to life.
I don't know if either my characters or their situations are truly “strange.”  It’s true that people often say so (thus, it must be true!)—often, I’m told that the situations in my book verge on the absurd, but to me it all seems perfectly plausible and realistic. And considering that we are all subject to the passage of time and eventual death, our lives are after all inherently absurd.
And if my characters seem strangely familiar in the end, perhaps it’s because they evoke things that we are all discovering within ourselves. In the story “Gardeners,” the gardeners are only a pretext; what resonates is the main character’s idea of his paradise lost, the garden that had always been there but disappeared, the kind of loss that we have often had to confront in our own lives. It’s also his revolt against solitude, old age, approaching death—in short, all that comprises the human condition. In the story “The Hotel,” the rats are also a pretext—like Hitchcock’s MacGuffin—they are only the triggering event of the woman’s monologue, addressed to the man in the hotel garden, an account of the passage of time, which allows her to unravel her past life. All of the elements of a family dynamic are present in “Lamirault”—misunderstanding, domination, jealousy—and, despite everything, tenderness. In “The Country,” the story of a family gone bankrupt; or, in “George’s Wife,” the theme of rich art collectors, the close relationship between art and business, and art market speculation, even if this is not the principal subject of the story.

YK: Your style of writing is also quite unique, which is something we don't usually expect from a journalist who turns to fiction. Could you talk a bit about the relationship of your fictional style and journalistic style?

VB: Oh no, I don’t really see a relationship between novelistic writing and journalism! But I work for interior decorating magazines, and it’s fairly visual work, which has no doubt helped me develop a sensitivity to locations, to architecture, to the atmosphere of houses, which goes back in the end to what I said in answer to the first question, about the importance and the influence of place.

YK: Could you share with our readers something about the critical reception of Les Jardiniers (and your other work also) in France? Any reviews or reviewers that you particularly love or hate?

VB: What surprised me was to get so much positive criticism since my first collection of short stories Les Sangliers (The Wild Boars). I feel like I’ve been very lucky. It’s true that critics have often evoked the notion of strangeness, but also a certain dark humor, which corresponds to my own ideas about what I write. The idea of humor is important to me. I don’t exploit drama in the melodramatic sense of the term, as some novels do—I don’t write in the register of seriousness or of suffering. No pathos. But as it turns out, there’s a mysterious alchemy between darkness and comedy.

YK: What other writers do you admire or feel kinship with? Any English speakers on that list?

VB: There was a time (when I was in my thirties!) when I only read English language authors. I remember that I especially loved Barbara Pym (English towns, old maids and pastors—so English! I don't know what I’d think of them now if I reread them) and Henry James, and I also really loved the British writer Anita Brookner.
Nowadays, I would say Thomas Bernhard (an author who is very important to me), Joseph Conrad, Melville (for Moby Dick), Faulkner (especially Wild Palms), Céline, the Spanish writer Javier Marias… and travel writing (Nicolas Bouvier for example).
I recently read—and liked—Renata Adler’s Speedboat. And Joan Didion.
But I also read a lot of crime novels and thrillers. From the 60s—Chase, Ed McBain, Richard Stark, etc… and also contemporary (James Sallis, John Harvey, Dennis Lehane, John Verdon). (I’m fond of depressed police detectives!)
And also the books of my husband, Christian Oster.

YK: What's next for Véronique? What are you working on now or planning for the future?

VB: I’m finishing another collection of short stories.

YK : Any questions you always wanted an interviewer to ask?

VB: Do you like Brahms?