Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Art of the Novel: Jean-Pierre Milovanoff

Jean-Pierre Milovanoff is a contemporary French novelist, dramatist and poet whose elegant writing may have eluded - for an unfathomable reason -  editorial plans of English language publishers.

At least for now, and hopefully not for long as Milovanoff’s fiction, which has garnered numerous French literary prizes, stands out in a mantle of its own in the star-studded gallery of contemporary French novelists such as Muriel Barbery, Nicolas Fargues, Annie Erneaux and David Foenkinos.

Born in 1940 in Nîmes, France, Jean-Pierre Milovanoff is a  prodigious writer, at home in most literary genres, including children’s books; he was also a radio producer for France Culture

 Milovanoffʻs most recent novel ″The Winter of a Selfish Man and the Spring That Followed″ (LʻHiver dʻun égoïste et le printemps qui suivit - Grasset, 2012) evidences several of the author’s strengths as a novelist: characters who, similar to old china, are chipped at the edges; short and well-tempered chapters and the precise delineation of a contained geography, inspired - possibly - by the counties in which the author grew up. 

Misha Miriaki, the protagonist of the novel, is a Frenchman who returns to his natal Languedoc after having spent several years in Japan. His first person narrative, both sombre and hilarious, carries us through the story, glittering with subdued irony.

One might readily agree that the tour de force of ″The Winter of a Selfish Man and the Spring That Followed″ is the layered and haunting description of Montpellier’s surroundings:

″We arrived within sight of the lighthouse at Bélugue which had gone out of service in the 1960s. 
The wind had pushed enormous quantities of sand against its base.  
More dunes had built up further out in the distance.   
The carcass of a seagull bore witness to a fight lost to a hungry predator, a half wild cat or a fox. The winner had left behind only a ball of feathers, the ergots and the yellow beak.
We turned around and returned to the city following the shoreline.″

To top it all off, the last page in the novel is a poem, whose final stanza might be translated as follows:

″The night falls on us, inescapable.
The sun is an ox in its stable.
Our childish hands seek each other out under the starry table
Where death pours out grains of sand and gravel. ″

 (Cover Page Credit:
with my thanks).

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