Writer-diplomat describes the human heart without sentimentalism

French writer Hadrien Laroche was inspired by four years in Dublin

John Banville, ‘the Proust of Ireland’, pictured in Dublin in 2002. “His prose is very dense, and he goes out in a peculiar way; to observe people.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

John Banville, ‘the Proust of Ireland’, pictured in Dublin in 2002. “His prose is very dense, and he goes out in a peculiar way; to observe people.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

It is the dilemma of many an aspiring writer. If you want to write books and keep food on the table, it’s best to keep the day job.

A character in Hadrien Laroche’s novel , which will be published in English by Dalkey Archive Press on October 27th, asked one question of the writers and artists he met: “Where does the money come from? . . . It seemed to him that a successful artist or thinker was one who had resolved this problem.”

“That’s it, exactly!” Laroche says. “I write books, but I’m not making a living out of it. So far, being a French civil servant is my solution.” He quotes Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “My job could feed me if my books did not sell, and that is what made them sell.”

France’s tradition of writer-diplomats has embraced Paul Claudel, Saint-John Perse, Jean-Christophe Rufin. And now, Hadrien Laroche.

Laroche recently returned to Paris after four years as cultural counsellor at the French embassy in Dublin. Previous posts were Vancouver, Unesco and Tel Aviv. He has written four novels as well as books on Jean Genet and Marcel Duchamps, and just contributed to a collection of imaginary letters to the Marquis de Sade.

Laroche and his family lived in a Georgian house in Ranelagh. “

We arrived in 2010, just before the troika,” he recalls. “It was the bottom of the financial crisis. Ireland was under surveillance. Colm Tóibín said it was like being colonised all over again.”

French and Irish government cutbacks made Laroche’s job more difficult, but he felt the economic crisis heightened the centrality of culture to both countries’ identities.

“A lot of Irish people told me they felt stigmatised, that the whole world thought they couldn’t handle their own affairs,” he explains. “Culture has been a way to rebuild confidence.”

Irish character

Meeting the late Seamus Heaney was a high point of Laroche’s years in Dublin. Irish writers, he says, are characterised by “great modesty and humour, which makes them very human. And especially, they are resilient and resistant.

Anne Enright has the ability to tell a very human story, very close to the characters, without pathos,” he continues. “John Banville is the Proust of Ireland. His prose is very dense, and he goes out in a peculiar way; to observe people. Proust used to keep his coat on in society gatherings, because he was sensitive to cold, but also to give him the option of leaving; to observe without really being there.”

Tóibín is another Laroche favourite. “I really liked Barcelona, 1975, about his youth as a homosexual in Europe. It’s very honest.”

In France, Laroche says, the fashion for “auto-fiction” is drawing to a close. “People read [former first lady] Valérie Trierweiler now. They don’t need auto-fiction,” he explains.

Laroche describes his fiction as “new nouveaux romans” and believes it will replace auto-fiction. The post second World War genre sought to break the hold of tradition over French literature. Laroche rejects the more extreme form of the nouveau roman, which abandoned storyline altogether, but loves words, description and objects. “I try to write about the human heart, but without sentimentalism.”

Orphans was Laroche’s first novel, published nearly a decade ago in France. With two subsequent novels, it forms a trilogy which Laroche called “Man orphaned of his humanity”.

Laroche’s characters are all orphaned by something: Hannah née Bloch by the Holocaust and history; Helianthe née Bouttetrie by pathology in the form of an uncurable illness; Henry né Berg by philosophy. “He decides to cut relations with his family, so he’s a voluntary orphan,” Laroche explains. “We are all orphans,” he continues. “That is the human condition.”

Trauma and past

Edouard SternOrphans

“It was as if my family blew up in my face,” Laroche says. “Trauma is good for writing. I have a childhood novel in mind now. I don’t want it to be too dark. I will try to make it funny, like an Irish novel.”

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