“She who remains” by Sven Bodenmüller, a novel between fiction and collective memory – rts.ch

“She who remains” by Sven Bodenmüller, a novel between fiction and collective memory – rts.ch
“She who remains” by Sven Bodenmüller, a novel between fiction and collective memory – rts.ch

“She Who Remains”, the second novel by Genevan writer Sven Bodenmüller, is the result of collective writing work with the memories of former members of a community founded in the 1970s in France. Five years of work for a captivating result.

“The one that remains”, despite the passage of time, despite the successive generations, is the house of Greny, in neighboring France, built in 1814.

The story begins in the 1970s. Parents Höffer and Puidoux attend the same Mennonite parish, a very conservative Protestant environment, but hate each other. Their children, now young adults, want to free themselves from this quarrel and from the conservative yoke of their family environment. They decide to live together and share everything. Among the founders, Jean Höffer and Annette Puidoux fell in love…

A true story

The story told by Sven Bodenmüller in his novel is inspired by that of Eric and Jeanine, the real owners of the Greny house. At the time, in the aftermath of May 68, they moved in with a group of friends to create a community in this house – bought by Jeanine’s parents -, with the aim of remaking the world and getting out of the individualism that they fight and criticize.

The community will live for a time, then dissolve when it comes time to found families. The next generation will also take possession of the place for a time, in the same spirit of sharing and emancipation. Sometimes by prolonging their fights, sometimes by fiercely opposing them.

A writing pact

Eight people met periodically for five years to create the novel “She Who Remains”, halfway between the memories of former members of the community and a fiction. “At the start, we didn’t know in which direction we would go. The first meetings were rather informal and took the form of writing residencies. Some people wrote intimate, fictional stories linked to the times they lived,” explains Sven Bodenmüller in the 12:45 p.m. of May 14.

After a year and so much textual material amassed, the decision is made that the story will take the form of fiction and a “writing pact” is signed between the participants in the project and the author. “The pact mentioned that I would be the sole author of the text and that I would be free to invent as I wished without the right of veto,” underlines Sven Bodenmüller.

A history of time

“She Who Remains” thus constantly oscillates between reality and fiction. “I often start from real events that I transform for the good of the story. (…) I also had to fill in the gaps thanks to fiction. That didn’t always satisfy everyone. There were some squeaks teeth and a few slamming doors but in the end, everyone is happy,” he smiles.

The common thread of the chapters which punctuate “She Who Remains”, the past, the present and the future respond to each other and allow us to see how the choices of the characters are impacted by what has happened and what will or could happen. It is also the passage of time that allows identities to be forged, certain things to change, taboos to be broken and ideals to be called into question through the confrontation, sometimes, of generations.

Comments collected by Cecilia Mendoza

Web adaptation: Lara Donnet

“She who remains” by Sven Bodenmüller (self-publishing). Published in 2023.

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