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Paris in August by René Fallet

June 22, 2013 18 comments

Paris au mois d’août by René Fallet. 1964. Not available in English.

D’abord c’est obligé qu’tu craques pour mon ManoucheIl adore la pluie et le ventIl aime René Fallet et y pêche à la mouche

Et en plus il est protestant

Renaud, Mon Amoureux.

You can only fall for my GypsyHe loves the rain and the windHe likes René Fallet and he fly-fishes

And even better, he’s protestant

Renaud, My Sweetheart

I love the singer Renaud and ever since I heard this funny and lovely song Mon Amoureux, where a teenage daughter tries to describe her sweetheart to her father, I wanted to read René Fallet. Well, it’s done now and what a discovery!

Paris au mois d'aoûtHenri Plantin is 40, has a wife, Simone and three children. We’re in 1964 in Paris. The Plantins live near rue Beaubourg, in the center of Paris. The General de Gaulle is still president, the Halles (The Belly of Paris) haven’t been moved to Rungis and Brigitte Bardot is the ideal feminine. Henri works as a salesclerk at the Samaritaine, a nearby department store. He works in the fishing department. This summer is special as he wasn’t authorised to take his days off in August. So his wife and children leave him behind to spend the month at the beach and he will go fishing in September.

During his first days, he enjoys being alone in the apartment, meeting with friends and doing whatever he wants. One day, as he takes a walk along the Seine after work, he meets Patricia. She’s English and she’s spending the summer in Paris. She asks directions to go to the Pantheon and Henri suggests he walks her there. They start talking, Patricia stumbling upon words in French, Henri knowing only a few words of English. Henri is smitten and Patricia likes this shy Frenchman. He says he’s a painter, to impress her. She says she’s a model, to impress him. They develop a summer romance.

The plot is quite simple and it’s not what makes the marvellous bittersweet taste of this novel. The encounter between this Frenchman who’s never left his country and this English young woman is funny at times. Patricia wants to visit the Pantheon to see Napoleon. Henri explains that Napoleon isn’t at the Pantheon but in the Invalides.

– Je croyais. Il y a sur le Panthéone “Aux grands hommes, la patrie reconnaissante.” Napoléon n’est pas un grand homme pour les Français?- Si affirma Plantin qui n’avait jamais tant parlé de l’empereur, si bien sûr.- Alors?Il ne put opposer à cette logique britannique que la plus détestable fantaisie continentale:- Alors, il est aux Invalides. – I thought he was there. It’s written on the Pantheon “To great men. The country thanks you” Isn’t Napoleon a great men for the French?– Yes, Plantin said. He had never talked so much about the emperor. Yes of course, he is– So?He could only oppose to this British logic the most distasteful continental whim:– So, he is in the Invalides.

Patricia challenges him. She looks around her with fresh eyes and a different background. Henri is 40, he married young and never lived alone. This month without his family is the first time he spends not being a son, a husband or a father. He feels liberated. He also feels the weight of his average life. He has a dull job at the Samaritaine, his life is full of routine.

Il n’était pas laid. D’accord il n’avait plus la chevelure ondulée de son adolescence. Ses tempes s’étaient fleuries de pâquerettes de cimetière, et le le peigne n’avait plus à livrer de sévères combats pour ordonner le tout. He wasn’t ugly. OK, he no longer had the thick and wavy hair of his adolescence. His temples were covered with a cemetery bloom of daisies and the comb no more needed to lead a fierce battle to tidy the whole.

He’s fond of his wife and children but he feels his life passing by and these thoughts were already there when he meets Patricia. She’s like a breath of fresh air, a moment of the youth he never had time to enjoy. Henri is in love again and even if he knows this relationship is doomed, he intends to enjoy it fully. He wants to make the sweetest memories and Patricia finds him relaxing, nice and handsome enough. It’s only August, but she’s his Indian summer.

Together, they wander in Paris and that’s another great aspect of the book. It was written in 1964. It describes the Paris of its time but when you read it now, it seems to similar and so different at the same time. The neighbourhood is still popular. Prostitutes, employees, tramps and small shop owners populate the area. Now it’s mostly touristy –that’s where the Musée Pompidou is–and like almost everywhere in Paris, very expensive. It’s Paris with its working class. People smoke Gauloises, go to the bistro, play tiercé and wear shirts in fabric made by Boussac. (That company went bankrupt in the 1970s). For the contemporary reader, everything says “before the crisis of 1973”. Henri complains about the flow of cars and the metro which swallows and regurgitates workers and employees everyday. The walks in Paris are pleasant to read.

Most of all, René Fallet has a wonderful style. He has a sense for wrapping images in short sentences.

Un petit jeune homme charmant vomissait son excellente éducation dans le caniveau. Il serait dans la politique ou dans le yaourt, comme papa.

A charming little young man was vomiting his excellent education in the gutter. He will be in politics or in the yoghurt industry, like his daddy.

Ce dimanche, le pigeon blanc roucoulait en anglais.

That Sunday, the white pigeon was cooing in English.

Nul ne savait qu’un amour venait d’emménager en cet immeuble.

Nobody knew a young love had just moved into this building.

His language reflects the popular setting and the social class of his characters. He switches from descriptions of the city to a sort of stream of consciousness when Plantin reveals his feelings for Patricia or his thoughts about his life.

This is a delightful book which is unfortunately not available in English. It was made into a film by Pierre Granier-Deferre. Charles Aznavour plays Fantin and Susan Hampshire is Patricia. I haven’t seen it but I don’t see why the excellent style of Fallet wouldn’t be transferred into the dialogues.

I wonder if Renaud was reading Fallet when he wrote his album A la Belle de Mai. Mon amoureux is on this album, just as another song entitled La médaille which describes how pigeons leave excrements on a statue of Pétain. In Paris au mois d’août, René Fallet writes:

Les pigeons de Paris n’avaient pas bonne presse. On les accusait de décorer les maréchaux d’Empire du Louvre d’ordres que n’avait pas créés Napoléon. The pigeons of Paris didn’t have a good reputation. People accused them of decorating the marshals of Empire of the Louvre with medals that Napoléon had not given.

Did this inspire Renaud? I’ll never know for sure but I suspect it.

Anyway, I’m happy I decided to read René Fallet and I intend to read another of his books. So, thanks for the nudge, Renaud. One day, I’ll read Eric Holder, after all, he’s mentioned in the song Fanny Ardant et moi by Vincent Delerm and I love that song.

PS: sorry for the clumsy translations. I did my best.

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