Thursday, October 27, 2011

The art of the novel: People (Les Gens) by Philippe Labro

People  ( Les gens), published in 2009 by Editions Gallimard,  is one of Philippe Labro’s recent novels.
A prolific writer, journalist and iconic media figure, Labro was born in 1936 in Montauban, France.

People is a good read, a book that charms through its intellectual vivacity and the intersecting stories of three main characters whose destinies make us turn page after page.

Maria, an orphan girl of sixteen is able to escape a dire existence through both grit and chance and in the process crosses paths with Caroline, an elegant and sensitive woman in her late twenties and with Marcus, a grotesque character whose portrayal is steeped in derision and sarcasm.

Labro’s inventive, ultra-rich vocabulary and the author’s kaleidoscopic view of the world blend into a creation that echoes Balzac’s Human Comedy, in its cross-section of mentalities, social milieus and values.

Such an exploration is the almost cinematic treatment of what appears to be a tour of guest tables at the Gretzkis dinner party, during which one of the guest addresses another: “Have the kindness to let my generation now become infamous, sir. Yours has been long at it.”

There is indeed a generational gap that is surreptitiously surfacing in the novel at times: quotations which have run their course and turned into clichés, picture-perfect establishment characters such as Liv Nielsen contrasted to her creative team hard at work texting one another during meetings.
Arguably, the structure of the novel itself, with the centrifugal mechanism that aggregates the three narrative threads as the novel marches towards its ending, is a somewhat older (albeit trusted) technique leveraged in this new French novel.

It’s a book I have enjoyed reading; Labro’s observations, buttressed by brilliant interludes made my time spent reading worthwhile: the Caroline-David amorous episode, the descriptions of Paris, and quotable passages:

“The speed with which a rumor propagates usually depends on the nature of its contents.”

Criticism of high flying professional circles which become disconnected from reality through aggrandized self-image is delivered through a comparison to the altitude sickness experienced by a group of Japanese alpinists during the ascent of Mount Everest in 1996:

“Naturally, they have become almost crazy due to altitude sickness.”
A specialist of this activity drew the following conclusion: 
“Altitude sickness signals the end of morality – and the end of morality is the end of true alpinism.”

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