Late French writer Michel Déon remembered at Paris Mass
Crowd of 700 told three words summarise Déon - charm, friendship and books
The French academician and writer Michel Déon, who moved to Ireland in 1968 and died in Galway on December 28th last at the age of 97, was remembered at a memorial Mass at the Église Saint-Germain-des-Près in Paris on Wednesday.
The writer’s widow Chantal recalled listening to music by Louis Armstrong, Juliette Gréco and Boris Vian with Déon in the cellar night clubs of the neighbhourhood in the 1950s, an experience he wrote about in the 1958 novel Night People.
Déon’s daughter Alice, son Alexandre and grand-daughters Penelope and Emilie also attended the Mass.
Some 700 people filled the church, including many “immortal ones” from the nearby Académie Francaise, which was founded in 1635 to defend the French language.
Irish Ambassador Geraldine Byrne-Nason, Consul General Pierre Joannon, cultural attaché Peter O’Connor, Sinéad MacAodha of the Irish College and Cliona Ni Riordain, who translated into English Déon’s tribute to Ireland, Horseman, Pass By, represented Ireland.
The writer Jean d’Ormesson, one of Déon’s oldest friends and a fellow academician, paid homage to him.
His portrait of Déon spanned the generation of writers cut down in the first Word War, the “knife blow to the body” of France’s 10-day defeat in the second World War, post-War intellectual battles and Déon’s eminent role as an academician for the last four decades.
“I loved the Republic and de Gaulle. You were a nationalist royalist and did not carry de Gaulle in your heart,” d’Ormesson said, addressing himself to his dead friend. “Yet every time we met it was joyous.”
D’Ormesson recalled the intellectual “omnipotence” of Jean-Paul Sartre and existentialism in the 1950s and 1960s. “You were the spirit of independence,” he said to Déon. “It is not enough to say you were a non-conformist; you were a rebel.”
Three words summarised Déon, d’Ormesson said: charm, friendship and books. The Académie Francaise was a “third family” to him, after his own and his publisher Gallimard, he said. Déon’s “scandalous affair” with the Académie “became a happy marriage”.
“I feel that Michel is watching us from on high, from the Father’s balcony today,” Father Antoine de Folleville, the parish priest, said.
Déon and his family lived on the Greek island of Spetsai before settling in Ireland in 1968. Two of his favourite pieces of music, by Theodorakis and Liam O’Flynn, were played in the church.