Archive for February 7, 2011

Don’t worry, I’m fine, they all say

February 7, 2011 16 comments

Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas by Olivier Adam. (155 pages). Not translated in English. The title means : Don’t worry, I’m fine.

 I decided to read Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas by Olivier Adam, after watching the eponymous film directed by Philippe Lioret. The film upset me and left me with terrible questions about right and wrong. In order to better understand the characters, I bought the novel. The title means “I’m fine, don’t worry”. But who is fine? Claire, Loïc, their parents Paul and Irène?  

The first part of the book pictures Claire and her automatic life. She works as a cashier at a Shopi, a French equivalent of a 7/11. This jobs requires no brain and that’s fine with her. She’s suffering. She’s thinking of Loïc all the time. What he would do. What he would say. What he would think. Loïc is Claire’s little brother. They are as close as twins. Loïc is absent. And his absence changed Claire into a robot. Her parents are silent, loving but silent, ill at ease with their feelings. We don’t know where Loïc is, just that he is physically absent but present in all Claire’s thoughts. A ghostly presence at her side and haunting questions.

Second part. A flash back. Claire comes home from holidays. Loïc is gone, the parents say. He and Paul had a dreadful fight. He left six days ago and hasn’t called since. Claire sinks, stops eating, lets herself wither with chagrin. She wants to die. She feels hollow, a living part of herself is missing. One day, a postcard. Loïc wrote to her. He’s fine, he wants to travel. And from this moment, every now and then, a post card. “I’m fine, don’t worry.” Claire still feels hollow but her death-wish fades away.

Third part. Claire struggles to move on, decides to go to Portbail as Loïc’s latest postcard comes from there. And I won’t say more about the plot.

After watching the film, I wanted to read the novel. After reading the novel, I needed to write about it, not type, but write with a pen the words pouring out of my head.  Because the story touched me and the atmosphere wrapped me in a veil of gloom.

Adam writes in a staccato style, figuring Claire living like a robot. He captures Claire’s automatic life, how she feels ill at ease everywhere. Out of place. Not in the mood. Alien. He portrays France in the 1990s, the quiet suburbs around Paris, with fathers and husbands like Paul, commuting everyday, spending two and a half hours per day in the suburb trains. (RER) Claire and Loïc’s childhood sounds like any childhood of middle-class children from that time. They are ordinary people. Spot on. Such are also the descriptions of the parties among Parisian students, not asking what one studies but where. Snobs who look down on the poor cashier.  

This novel made me think of Skylark by Deszö Kosztlányi. Not that Olivier Adam is as talented as Kosztlányi. But there’s a recurring theme: “How children suffer for their parents, and parents for their children”. How they can suffer side by side, knowing what the others are feeling but never telling it. Saying it aloud would only increase the pain greatly. Better do anything rather than inflicting pain on their beloved ones?  

Adam’s book hasn’t been translated in English. It’s easy to read in French, not too much slang, not too many complicated words. I felt the melancholy and a sort of nostalgia when reading about the food references, the music, the prices in francs. For those who can’t read French, I recommend the film. Philippe Lioret has done a wonderful job there. He encapsulated the atmosphere of the novel. He turned the words into images on the same tune. Mélanie Laurent (Claire) and Kad Merad (Paul) are excellent in their roles. Watching the film is as good as reading the book, and that doesn’t happen so often.  

In case anyone is interested, the DVD I have includes English subtitles and French subtitles for the hearing impaired.

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