Queen Claudine by Paul Fournel – Libération

Queen Claudine by Paul Fournel – Libération
Queen Claudine by Paul Fournel – Libération

In the work of Paul Fournel (born in 1947 in Saint-Etienne, Oulipian since 1972, writer, poet, playwright, ex-editor, more than thirty books under his belt), “the big Claudine” is having a great time. Those who have read, by the same author, the Big Dreamers, Fairground (Seuil, 1982 and 1999) or, more recently, THE Gabert’s book (POL, 2023) already know her, but this is the first time that she is at the top of the bill. Others will be able to discover it without difficulty since it is not necessary to have been introduced for a long time to appreciate Claudine – and to appreciate Imagine Claudine, it’s also starting by saying that we can, why not, start there.

Imagine Claudine, really, is a good title: it makes you want to open the volume (which happens to be a collection of short stories) and you can imagine what you want. And then Claudine, it’s a nice first name, a little outdated (let’s remember the Colette series: Claudine at school, Claudine at home…), as wise as a picture (see the Claudine collar) or in any case harmless. Once you start reading, you will realize that it is in fact a truncated quote from a certain Odette: “Imagine, Claudine, if we win…” Odette and Claudine then participate in pairs in the game of a thousand euros and we will have already reconsidered our judgment on the Claudines.

“A cube of coffee for the price of a coffee maker, thank you!”

Claudine, the closing of the delicatessen leaves her speechless. “We are going to settle in the South,” the butcher told her, and Claudine thought: “And why not directly among the Negroes?” Claudine lives in the imaginary village of Chamoison in Haute-Loire where nothing is going right since the construction of a highway linking directly to Saint-Justin (town of “more than a hundred thousand inhabitants”). “From Saint-Justin, Claudine hates everything”, but she still goes there to do her shopping and piss off everyone (if she doesn’t find a seat on the bus, she “pretends to fix her dress” and threatens the passengers to show “his artificial anus”). Each time she visits Saint-Justin, she goes to the restaurant “Au Steak Pommes Frites” where she eats steak and fries, before giving up coffee. (“A cube of coffee for the price of a coffee maker, thank you!”) During the white marches, Claudine wears black.

If Claudine is here queen in her kingdom, other protagonists, most often rural, cross Imagine Claudine, for example the teacher Thérèse, struggling with graffiti in the village: “It’s Thérèse who laughs when we fuck her” (not that Thérèse is particularly bothered by the message, “since she actually laughed when we fucked her”, but more by the fact that it is spread over the school gate). Or the widow Wasserman, in direct conversation with her husband and who will eventually join him, much more discreet than Claudine. “Luckily the baker noticed that she had half a baguette left the evening before closing shop, otherwise the village would never have known that the Wasserman widow had died in her garage.”

A juicy real estate transaction

But back to the “big Claudine” – one in three news stories allows it and it’s always nice to hear from them. At one point, Claudine has a cat. She baptizes him “Golden”, Then “Melon” until Melon gave birth to four kittens. “In a hurry, Melon became Minette and they settled into their girlish habits.” Minette is as wild as Claudine, both must be tamed: “Minette learned to purr and Claudine to caress.” It’s certainly a very nice thing to read, but don’t count on Claudine to cuddle you over the length: later, our heroine, who became rich through the windfall of a lucrative real estate transaction, becomes president of an association called “SOS doggie-kittens” and took the opportunity to kill a few of them (Minette, of whom we will never hear from again, had peed on her bed).

From Claudine, who will successively be the owner of a restaurant (not “With steak and fries”, another) then gym teacher, we can say that it is “a woman with ideas”. Paul Fournel doesn’t lack it either, comfortable in the short form and constraint. Confidence or snub, in any case not aside, he ends his collection with the short story “The little old man” as Barbara sang Loneliness : “He arrived one morning, just after breakfast, just as I was supposed to leave for work. He sat down on the couch under his breath and said, ‘Excuse me, I’m feeling a little pumped.'” With Imagine Claudine, he who has been pedaling since the age of 9 shows on the contrary that he is still, at 77, perfectly fit.

Paul Fournel, Imagine Claudine, POL, 208 pp., €18.
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