“Listen to the silence!”

“Listen to the silence!”
“Listen to the silence!”

There are the Prix Goncourt winners who, never having come down from their Olympus, always seem to have on the tip of their lips the famous reply from Duras to an unprepared journalist (“You don’t have the level”). And then there is Jean-Baptiste Andrea, who comes to pick you up in a cap and T-shirt under the clock of the Cannes train station, his hometown, after a few informal text messages. This is because, after an equally informal exchange of emails, he invited us to spend a day with him on the Lérins Islands. “I assure you, if I teleported you there, you wouldn’t know if you were in Greece, Lebanon, or even the Caribbean.” Let’s see if Sainte-Marguerite Island will keep this promise.

Prix ​​Goncourt: the four finalists read by “La Tribune Dimanche”

In the meantime, we quickly discover, as we walk alongside him towards the docks, that the author is as good as his books: accessible, passionate. Let us recall that it only took four novels – four steps – for this ex-director to hit the literary jackpot. His secret: a prose that is willingly romantic but nuanced, a premeditated construction (“For me, an idea for a book is when I have the end”) and above all an opening towards infinity, dreams or the absolute. Dreams of escape of the orphans from the sordid boarding school of Devils and Saints. Dream of the dinosaur fossil that drives the disappointed paleontologist to One Hundred Million Years and One Day to a crazy expedition. And dreams of this beauty that Mimo, the narrator of Watch over herGoncourt, which sold 700,000 copies, continues with a chisel…

An angel of complicity passes by

That morning, politics is keeping an eye on Jean-Baptiste Andrea. The day before, after signing the authors’ petition calling for a blockade of the far right, he wrote a column saying that the far left also chilled him! Since it was published on the Internet, it earned him a volley of green – or red-brown? – wood. “In my life I have two red lines, racism and anti-Semitism,” he tells us before noticing, on our notebook, a sticker in Dutch – the entrance ticket to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, kept out of personal taste for the symbol. An angel of complicity passes, quickly chased away by the urgency of the discussion.

Jean-Baptiste Andrea dreams of seeing the emergence “a calming figure, like Édouard Philippe”. And to praise the “true republicans”, those on the right who have distanced themselves from Eric Ciotti, or those on the left, “like Jérôme Guedj”, who broke up with Jean-Luc Mélenchon. “It has become shameful to be moderate,” Andrea laments. We are chatting about Camus, another moderate, booed by both the supporters of independent Algeria and those of French Algeria for having tried to defend a third way and then begged both sides to stop their attacks. Camus, whom the entire intelligentsia yesterday thought was wrong in the name of political realism, and whom we all think is right today in the name of humanism. But now the sky is clearing and the wind is calming down: it is time to embark.

A path climbs a gentle, wooded slope

And we find ourselves on the deck of a floating shuttle, watching the Lérins Islands, almost uninhabited, raise their stone superstructure above the waves, thinking of the legend of Saint-Honorat, told by Andrea, and the spring that Honorat is said to have caused to flow there. “The islands were larger, but in 410, following an earthquake, they sank, and it is quite possible that there were springs on the land that were swallowed up.” The metaphor is beautiful: beneath each story, there is always another story, a little more extensive…

The shuttle docks. A path climbs a gentle, wooded slope, resembling Corsican scrubland. And suddenly… there is silence, deep, barely bordered by the murmur of the sea. “Listen to the silence! Do you understand? The islands are where you go to forget about the world. Which is crazy when you think the city is half a mile away. Here, my blood pressure goes down.” Does he go there often? “About once a month.” A habit acquired in childhood? “No, I didn’t go there very often when I was young. But when I came back to live here, I rediscovered my city.” Then, on the photographer’s instructions, we decide to take a shot at the edge of a shore.

Seeing Andrea no longer knowing what to do with her hands, we think of that other Prix Goncourt interviewee we had interviewed a while ago, who had pulled out Chekhov, Deleuze and Dostoyevsky with the anxious air of a candidate at the École Normale Supérieure, but who, when the photographer arrived, had transformed into a professional model, adopting outrageous poses that were clearly rehearsed. Andrea is the opposite. “See, I told you: the Caribbean,” he smiles, showing us a patch of turquoise water. The rest of the conversation takes us to the chiaroscuro evenings organized by the hero of Gatsby the magnificentby Fitzgerald, at the strange castle party of Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier. “I discovered it recently – when I received the Alain-Fournier prize. The great Meaulnes seemed to me like a school book. I read it, and it blew me away. Since then, I have used this scene to say that images are the prerogative of literature, and to defend it against cinema.” Should we understand that he gave up on directing? “If I’m offered an episode of a series, maybe, but I don’t want to make a feature film anymore.” It is someone else, therefore, who will adapt Watch over her on the screen.

It’s time to go home already

For Andrea, everything is in the emotion. This emotion that French critics are wary of. Camus, always him, had “need to be moved to write well.” “We are the country of Descartes, and we tend to reject emotion. For me, there is no intellect without emotion. This is the one I felt when I saw Silvio and the others by Paolo Sorrentino who made me write Watch over her. » And now, what moves him? “Pierre Magnan, the author of The Murdered Housecompletely forgotten while his writing is magnificent. And the flight he made with the Patrouille de France from Salon-de-Provence. “Before receiving their diploma, the young pilots must spend an hour standing at attention in a room called “the Temple”, in front of marbles on which are inscribed the names of all the former students who died for France.”

It’s time to go home, already, and we think that not once, during the five hours that this escapade lasted to listen to the silence and talk about what matters, did he play the favorite little game of the French literary establishment: trashing his peers. That’s a change for us.

Watch over her, Jean-Baptiste Andrea, L’Iconoclaste editions, 580 pages, 22.50 euros.

Best Cannes Ambassador

According to him, Cannes is the most beautiful city in the world. “This region is becoming hypercultural. Frankly, I have no frustration with the big capitals. In Cannes and its surroundings, there are several museums including the Bonnard Museum, and then there is the Grasse theater, the Scène 55 in Mougins…” Jean-Baptiste Andrea grew up in Cannes before leaving – for London in particular – then returning to live nearby. “Before, this city belonged rather to people passing through; since 2014, it has been returned to its inhabitants,” he rejoices as we pass the market, which is under construction and should soon have a green roof, and which is overflowing with southern scents. And the person responsible for this “restitution” is “David Lisnard, the mayor, right-wing, very popular here.” “He is more liberal than me, continues the writer, but he is someone who has strong values, and with whom we can discuss.” One of its battles: the fight against the large cruise ships which drop anchor in the harbor and against which the town hall can do nothing. “For ten years, Lisnard and the Association of Mayors of France have been fighting against the overcrowding of the coasts and they have been demanding a police force for those who do not respect the regulations.” In the meantime, it seems that in the summer, between Cannes and the Lérins Islands, there is a pizzeria boat…

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