The author of “Their children after them” and “Connemara” mixes texts shared on his Instagram account with drawings to tell a clandestine love story, which poses both metaphysical and political questions.
A priori, Nicolas Mathieu’s new book had everything to chill us: a collection of texts posted on his now famous Instagram account, embellished with drawings by an artist, Aline Zalko. It oozed out of the bottom of the drawer, and then what need for drawings when you believe in words? But from the outset we were carried away, then more and more happy that someone, finally, spoke to us in this language – outside of the clichés, the pretenses, the stifling, hypocritical rules, the sociability.
We are delighted, captivated by the beauty, the depth, the joy that his words carry and transmit. The only reservation that we keep concerns the drawings: this Open sky is so beautiful that they become useless, derisory (which does not detract from their own qualities). The open sky has the strength of texts which open up life by considering it in its entirety, via the prism of the essential.
In just over a hundred pages, Mathieu recreates his truest and most intimate movement: life is circular, globular. We understand it after having gone around it, and if we do not return exactly to the same point, it is because our (temporal) displacement has made us see things differently, in their nudity, according to the principle of anamorphosis. dear to Henry James.
Here the book of course begins with love and ends with joy. A crazy love lived in secret; and how better to fight against the pall of silence which hangs over clandestine loves – yet so widespread – than to write this feeling, the nights of love, the rage and the hotel rooms, the heat of summer, the waiting and anxiety, happiness and alcohol, wasted moments and full moments, and to give them to read?
It was first, therefore, on Instagram: “These texts were my ruse, my true gift and a challenge. They attested to our existence in the eyes of the world. They weighed down this love with the weight of all the eyes that were focused on it. They shed all possible light on this shadow to which we were reduced. Writing them, I also invented the love between us, I opened as always the laboratory of novels, set up the test tubes in which to distil the experience, to condense the venoms and the substances of future stories.
I was this fiction machine that turns fugue into destiny. Each word had its role to play in this legend to come. I was still trying to break a little of my solitude, when I was this lover locked up all alone in his home and I was imagining the horrible existence of the other, far from me, with a man who did not have my features, when I was a traveler stuck in a hotel room, on another train, in another airport.”
Love always has this virtue of making us, at best, metaphysical. Some will choose to repress it, others to immerse themselves in it. Nicolas Mathieu, like a true writer, dives into it: love, the meaning of life, no problem, he’s not afraid of anything, otherwise what’s the point of writing an autobiographical text, what’s the point of writing at all? The writer who goes from station to airport is also the author crowned with a Goncourt prize (for Their children after them in 2018, the year of this love) as the mental and temporal traveler of his own existence, who will very quickly question love in the broad sense.
The portrait of a little boy, his own son, and the story of their bonds, of their daily gestures emerge; finally, the poignant story of a father, his own, silent and sometimes brutal, who one day aged suddenly, until he ended up hospitalized.
“I will always be a proletarian kid proud of his BEPC, who was afraid of unemployment and debt, who fell asleep every night watching the weather. This man whose life was used for purposes that were not all his own. Who counted the days until vacation, the months before retirement. I am from this world of time sold by force, surrendered because that is how it is. […] I am from the vast people of my father, and I abominate this theft of two years which nevertheless does not concern me.”
If writing about love leads to political reflection, it is precisely because it is an opener of heaven. How do we deal with this thing called life? There are summers, pink skies, a swimming pool, and in the parking lot, a young girl kissing a young man for the first time. A motif that Mathieu places at the beginning of his text and which we will find at the end, transformed by the mental and temporal journey accomplished by the writer and with him.
They are innocent, they don’t know yet. But the voice that writes knows a little more – that this is life, that’s all it is, the joy of this kiss. And this Open sky tells us what are the existential weapons that will help us resist madness or the passing of time, like loves that end. Against all the injunctions that reduce us.
This is why the book constantly oscillates between “I” and “you”. Mathieu speaks to himself at the same time as he speaks to us. “Basically, life is almost always beyond our strength. And from there, writing was for me only an attempt to hold on, to slow down a little the imminence of the last wave. It was this gesture that I tried, one day after the other. But I did not accomplish this very personal movement in the desert. Writing here has always amounted to expressing a fate that did not belong to me, to outlining in the mist of situations and affects a silhouette in which others could find themselves, a place which would also be theirs, where they would have finally the words to say it.”
His words, his sentences, we would like to be able to quote them all, each one is so strong and beautiful. But it’s better to read the whole book. And if this was not yet clear, we strongly recommend it to you.
The open sky by Nicolas Mathieu (Actes Sud), 128 p., 18.50 €. In bookstores February 7.