Christine Montalbetti, like a potter on his wheel

Here we are in the north-east of the capital, between the Buttes-Chaumont park and the Butte-du-Chapeau-Rouge park, a stone’s throw from the Danube metro, in the middle of the administrative district called America. Spatio-temporal turmoil. In her little house nestled in the folds of one of those enchanting villas peculiar to rural Paris saved from the Pompidolian towers, Christine Montalbetti admits sometimes still getting lost in such a steep maze.

However, the stories that she has published for twenty years at POL revolve around loss, absence, evaporation; of the avoidance of time and beings. Long hair that falls on the shoulders, soft voice and intense pupils, the woman of letters agrees: “What we write is crossed by our ghosts. They often arise without being summoned. Sometimes I will look for them, like in my previous novel, My Fish ancestor, in which I wanted to make my great-great-grandfather present in the magical space of the book.

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While noticing with malice that the interview starts on the hats of psychoanalytic wheels – “I who have never done psychoanalysis” -, the author plays the game: “I write to remember what is fleeing: a place, an obsolete word, why not a person. What is past will, I hope, be restored by the reader, who will revive it. I often address the reader because he represents the happy version of absence. He is the one who is going to be there, towards whom the text tends. “

Literature as a meeting place

Christine Montalbetti’s literature never ceases to create a space of encounter between incompatible bodies: between flesh and paper. In The Origin of Man (2002), she even invited the reader to shake the character’s hand. This fantastical junction, this recognition as improbable as it is indispensable, forms the salt of a prose filled with facetious addresses, sometimes on the verge of transforming the work into co-creation: “Us, we would see them reconcile, Tom and Dorris, I think, we are rather in favor of that, the reconciliation of couples, in general, in novels. “

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Hence the eruption of the funny where gravity could have invited itself ad vitam aeternam : “Humor fights melancholy – while allowing it – in the face of absence. It is a possibility to live, to save from silence ”, confides the writer to us. The humor goes hand in hand, in most of his novels, with parallel fictions developing in the recesses of a choral narrative, where each one goes there of his dreams. Sometimes animals talk, think, express feelings – she calls it her “Complex of Saint Francis of Assisi”. The same goes for trees, or even inanimate objects. Or even with words, suddenly endowed with consciousness, for example slippers : “A word which shudders to be summoned again, a word which rises from an ancient mist and which points its nose, surprised, taken aback and happy. “

Since Christine Montalbetti published scholarly studies in the last decade of the other century, including a Gérard Genette. An open poetics (1998), there is a strong temptation to perceive it as fictionalized after a high-level trade with the most stocky notions, from which it would have ended up freeing itself.

Not at all ! “I am not technically aware of using figures as I write. But I stay well in the interior of the sentence, inseparably from the universe that I create. And I like to create in the sentence like little surprises. Figures often have technical names which give the impression that they are abstract. Metalepsis with an obscure name, which consists of crossing partitions that are in principle watertight (going from fiction to reality for the character of The Purple Rose of Cairo, by Woody Allen, for example, or for the reader to be invited to enter the novel), is infinitely disturbing since it abolishes borders and walls, that it makes us pass through the walls, that it allows us to move between spaces that usually do not communicate. In truth, figures are extremely strong vehicles of emotions. “

Writing in apnea

It is from the age of 6 that the author has rubbed shoulders with fiction. If she is a normalienne and agrégée de lettres, if she teaches at the University of Paris 8, she wanted to be a novelist long before juggling with the concepts of narratology: “I don’t write from that place. When I was 21, I had been received by Jérôme Lindon and his daughter at Emidnight editions, for a novel that I did not finally publish but that I had written before reading Genette. When I wrote little theoretical texts in the 1990s, it was because I couldn’t write fiction after going through something difficult. “

We will not know more from the one who confides, at the end of What an existence is: “I have such a hard time talking directly about my sorrows (they usually cut my chunk out – rather a sudden stop of writing then, and which becomes a second sorrow). ” Christine Montalbetti marks a beat, like an ellipse, and continues: “Writing requires going deep into oneself, into unconscious spaces. The writer Jean-Philippe Toussaint, in Urgency and Patience, used the metaphor of apnea: you enter these waters, and if someone distracts you, you go up too quickly, you have lost track, you can no longer dive back. I write from such an apnea. “

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Surrounded by notebooks that she blackens without necessarily always reopening them afterwards, the novelist aims to “Make the possibilities tremble”, hands on the keys of his computer “Like a potter on his wheel”. The pact she makes with us who read her consists of “Create a space that looks like child’s play”, where everyone would put on a set: “When I was writing Western Where Uncle’s Evaporation, I evoked sad themes – mourning, running away – but with the possibility, for the reader and for me, of donning the cowboy dress or the kimono. Very literally, there was disguise, as in childhood. We could replay our sorrows or trauma. The playful aspect allows an intimate, essential and sometimes weakening part to infiltrate. The cross-dressing, the adornment allow us, the readers and me, to replay all this while feeling protected, thus being able to go further in the intimacy as in the empathy. “

Thus speaks of the fiction Christine Montalbetti, 56 years old, including fifty years of writing, and each novel of which turns out to be an extension of the domain of acquaintance with those who nestle in her prose: “The more it goes, the more it enchants me!” “



Christine Montalbetti

1965. Born in Le Havre.

1985. École Normale Supérieure.

2001. First novel, His fable finished, Simon goes out into the drizzle.

2002.The Origin of man, on the paleontologist Jacques Boucher de Perthes.

2009. The Jekyll Case, play performed by Denis Podalydès at the Théâtre national de Chaillot and at the Maison de la culture d’Amiens.

2016. Life is made of these tiny things, fictitious story of the flight of four astronauts to the ISS.

2017.The Buzzer, monologue directed by Pierre Louis-Calixte at the Comédie-Française.

2019. The Conference of Objects, staged by the author at the Comédie-Française (Émile-Augier prize from the Académie française).

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Christine Montalbetti, like a potter on his wheel