Jules and Jim and me: sex, lies and emotional truth

Edy Poppy wrote about her open relationship in her novel but sometimes she had to lie in order to tell the emotional truth

Bø, Norway, 1989. Fade in: I remember being 14, looking out of the window of our farmhouse and seeing the rest of my family on the cornfield. Picking up stones. In my hands I had a novel by the French author Marguerite Duras: The Ravishing of Lol Stein.

If I was reading, I didn’t have to remove stones. I read. A lot. Until the stones were collected and the corn sown. The books gave direction to my energy. My desire, anger, rebellion. After a while I started to look for my own words. Without knowing where to look and how. What to express and why. I just wrote to write. My words were skeletons without meat, without experience. The words of my authors were filled with meaning, with life I longed to live. And write. I collected them, like stones.

Montpellier, 1992. I remember being 17, looking out of the window of my French boarding school: palm trees and concrete buildings. It was almost dark outside. The school yard empty. I had just moved away from home. I had never been to France before. I was hoping life would finally be like it is in art. Like in the books of Marguerite Duras or in François Truffaut's Jules and Jim, a film about a ménage à trois. I changed my nightgown for an evening dress, drew a thick, black 60´s-line over my eyelids before sneaking out. I hitch-hiked to Rockstore, a club downtown, smiled at the doorman, pretending to be older than I was. Got in.

Weaving unevenly through the dance floor some hours later, I met my future husband to the song Sympathy for the Devil.


Bø-Montpellier: 1994-1998. I remember being 19, looking out of the window at the cornfields again, where the rest of my family was picking up stones. Time had frozen since I left. My future husband and I had moved to my family’s farm together. I had decided to become a serious writer. I failed. My words were still lacking experience, still skeletons.

One year later I wore a ring on my finger and we were very much in love, but something was missing from my life to make it writable. Someone, maybe?

Then one day my husband proposed that I should get a lover. Or rather that we should get me a lover. Especially now that we were married. To his surprise, I said yes. I thought it sounded poetic. I thought it sounded like Jules and Jim. I wanted to go back south. To warm sea and intellectual amorality. Try it again. As if it could only happen in France, the life I wanted to live, the life I wanted to write about.

Back in Montpellier my husband and I looked for my lover night after night. We almost gave up. But then someone suddenly drew my attention. He was standing by the bar. He looked like an artist cliche. He wasn’t. I went to him and said: I’m married, but I can do as I want. The stranger took a sip of his drink, looked at me and laughed. I took a sip of his drink, pointed at my husband, who was waving good bye, putting on his jacket, leaving us alone.

Hours later my lover and I came out of the toilets, went out of the club, down the half empty streets and into a bakery. We bought fresh croissants, went up the stairs to the apartment that I shared with my husband and woke him up. Then we laid down in bed the three of us. I was still warm between my legs after the toilet fucking. I wanted to continue, with both of them. I was obsessed, couldn’t get enough.

We became a trio. We became Jules, Jim and Catherine. Life imitates art. And just as in the film, we ended badly. I still think about Jules and Jim as a film filled with innocent pleasures. Almost a feel-good film. I still think about that period with my lover and my husband as a happy time. I remember us at all hours of the day; eating, lying on the beach, bathing, dancing, talking, making love, art. I remember us being a gang. Invincible.

Art imitates life. As I was living this ménage à trois I started to write about it. I finally had something to say. I wrote and wrote. Directly from life. Without distance. Without filter. I was word-puking my life, my diary-novel, onto my computer as it was happening. There was meat on my words, I thought; substance. I was so euphoric. Life gave me everything I needed; the perfect dramaturgy of love, experimentation of youth, but also the jealousy, the tears, the unspoken, the lies. And the sad ending.

London 1999. I remember being 24, looking out of the train window, at the houses turning into skyscrapers. I lived in Greenwich and was on my way to work as an usherette in a musical theatre downtown. On the train ride I began reading the first draft of my diary-novel. I discovered that it wasn't telling the truth. I didn't recognise my life in the text I had written, even though it was a story about myself. For this diary-draft to become my novel Anatomy. Monotony, I had to go deeper. I had to look for the essence of what had happened, to look for the emotional truth rather than the factual one. To lie. Yes, sometimes I had to lie in order to write the truth.

Odderøya, Norway, 2018. Fade out: I'm 43, looking out of the window of my writing-space, at the sea. The waves have replaced the stones. Luckily. Waves don't need to be picked up. My new man, the German artist Julian Blaue, is in his studio developing The Personal Encounter With World Politics, a performance-series in which I'm involved. Our children Béla Lucian and Unica-Rosa are in the kindergarten.

On my table there is a package that has come in the post. I open it, excited, scared. I know it’s my novel Anatomy. Monotony, just translated into English. I look at the cover of me, in my twenties, falling down the stairs, naked. I look at the dedication: “For my husband who has given me everything, even what I didn’t want. (He is now my ex-husband)”. I start to read random chapters: The Naked Truth, Sick Love, Sad Trio. What surprises me, is that I no longer quite remember what is true and what isn’t. Each scene in Anatomy. Monotony. is emotionally true, many scenes are also factually true. Maybe that’s why even I get confused about the notorious fiction and fact. I flip to the end of my novel, to the: “PS: Everything I’ve written is true apart from what I’ve invented”.

I stand up, make myself a coffee. I change position, sitting down with my back to the nice sea-view. Noticing a little paradox in my thinking, I actually spill some coffee. I lie, yes, but at the same time I'm bound to reality. When I use my biography, something exciting happens. It wouldn't happen if I just wrote about imaginary people or a random place I'd researched on the internet. In order to write my kind of fiction, I need to know what I'm writing about, to have been there, physically or emotionally. I have to know. The dirt in the streets. The secret gardens. The smells of unsatisfactory sex. The appearance of my man giving me an orgasm. The happiness or melancholy afterwards. So even if I often have to go through some lying to get to the truth, I also have to go through some truth in order to lie.
Edy Poppy will be appearing at two events this week. On Monday, November 12th, at 6pm, she will be discussing sex and bodies in literature and literary translation at the Trinity Centre for Literary and Cultural Translation. On Tuesday, November 13th, at 6pm, she will be in discussion with novelist, John Toomey, about her work, influences and forthcoming novel, Coming Apart, at the Irish Writers Centre