lunes, 26 de enero de 2015

Le sermon sur la chute de Rome

Le sermon sur la chute de Rome (Actes Sud, 2012)
by Jérôme Ferrari
France, 2012

Jérôme Ferrari's ace 2012 Prix Goncourt winner Le sermon sur la chute de Rome [The Sermon on the Fall of Rome] is such a brisk, invigorating affair from almost every imaginable point of view that it's easy to overlook how distressing the novel is in terms of the moral that can be drawn from its various crisscrossing storylines.  Still, with chapter titles borrowed from Augustine's sermons on the fall of Rome and la fin du monde theme evoked in the form of passing references to the French traumas suffered at the hands of "barbarians" at Dien Bien Phu, in the Algerian war, and in the loss of the country's colonies in the African interior not to mention the agony of the German occupation of France during World War II, it's probably no surprise that man's inhumanity to man is one of Ferrari's most pressing concerns.  For our purposes, suffice it to say that Matthieu Antonetti and Libero Pintus are longtime friends who, following the philosophical siren call of Leibniz, decide to drop out of grad school and take over a struggling hometown bar in a village in their native Corsica.  For a time drink, the ladies, and the good life lead the two to fancy that they've fashioned the Leibnizian slacker version of "le meilleur des mondes possibles" ["the best of all possible worlds"] (99), but as convincingly as these salad days are portrayed do concepts like "la bonté de Dieu" ["the goodness of God"] (Ibid.) really have anything to do with the chimerical nature of human happiness given the back story of Antonetti's family history and the long arm of destiny?  I won't touch on any of Ferrari's answers except to say that the narrator provides an optimistic reply to the question by extolling the often unfathomable ways in which "l'amitié est un mystère" ["friendship is a mystery"] (75) and, indeed, can even serve as a form of salvation, and furnishes an altogether more pessimistic reply when advising us that Matthieu and Libero rather than God "étaient les seuls démiurges" ["were the soul demiurges"] of their world and that "le démiurge n'est pas Dieu le créateur" ["the demiurge isn't God the Creator"] but actually man himself.  Man rather than God, according to this way of thinking, is the architect of his own destruction, but whether that actually exonerates a god who is oblivious of "sa création" ["his creation"] after having built him up "pierre après pierre" ["stone by stone"] (99) is perhaps a matter for someone else of a more philosophical bent to take up in my stead.  For me, the first great book of the new year--reminiscent of Bolaño for the warm, occasionally humorous, very down to earth prose and of both Bolaño and Sebald for the scandalized observation that "les cadavres oubliés" ["the forgotten corpses"] of days gone by "ne sont plus que l'humus fertile du monde nouveau" ["are nothing more than the fertile humus of the new world"] (129).

Jérôme Ferrari

Thanks to Scott of seraillon and Stu of Winstonsdad's Blog for recommending Le sermon sur la chute de Rome to me last year, the former via a suggestion for my participation in the Books on France 2014 Reading Challenge and the latter via this review.  Outstanding choice, messieurs.

7 comentarios:

  1. It's good to start the new year with a memorable book, and it sounds as though you've hit on a winner. I'd love to visit Corsica one day, and the thought of running a village bar is very appealing. I have a bit of thing for the wines of Corsica; they're very good, possibly underrated and harder to find over here than those from other Mediterranean countries.

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. Jacqui - Not sure you'll still want to open a village bar after reading this novel! But yes, Corsican wines are terrific and Corsica itself is exquisite - although some in Corsica try to keep it that way partly by bombing everything crass and commercial. A Corsican friend in Paris told us of a conversation he overhead in the bar of his native village concerning a golf course being proposed by an outsider. One of the village elders exclaimed to his companions, "Qu'il fasse le golf, qu'il fasse le golf - on s'occupera de faire les trous!" ("Let him make his golf, let him make his golf - we'll take care of making the holes!").

      Eliminar
    2. Jacqui, this book was so good that I now want to read everything I can get my hands on by Ferrari. Really stimulating writer. I know very little about Corsica in general and even less about Corsican wines, so what you and Scott have said about those two subjects has been very illuminating to say the least!

      Eliminar
  2. Glad you liked this Richard. I was impressed by how Ferrari managed to pull off a feat that could easily have turned to kitsch: investing in the microcosm of the friends' bar a larger macrocosm with such weighty moral philosophy. I look forward to reading more Ferrari this year - definitely a writer worth following.

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. Scott, I too was impressed by Ferrari's "feat" as I was more generally by his ability to slip from the humorous moments of his tale to existential horror without missing a beat. That was another aspect of his storytelling style that reminded me of Bolaño although of course they probably have relatively little in common technically other than a way with the written word. In any event, I was super happy to make Ferrari's acquaintance through this book; thanks again for facilitating the introduction!

      Eliminar
  3. I'm thinking. This sounds interesting, but I may not HAVE to put it on that TBR mountain and then you go and spoil it with a last paragraph that means that this has to be read. Bummer. By the way, at a glance I thought this was in French and so hit the translate button, which makes English completely incomprehensible by translating it into "English"

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. Sorry, Séamus, but this novel's a totally great read that I can't imagine you NOT liking. Unfortunately, though, the cover on the English translation makes it look like a total piece of shite as our Scottish friends might say. The "sad" thing is that Stu from Winstonsdad's Blog seemed to like another Ferrari even more--an expensive discovery this guy! P.S. I'll probably limit my "French" translation attempts this year; the first one I did was very much helpful in terms of making me think about how to communicate in the language again, but what I saw and what you and JacquiWine reported about your Google translate experiences make me very queasy about whether that post would have been legible at all to a native French speaker. Oh, well...

      Eliminar