In English on this website :

Home page
Poetry and prose
Essays about literature
The gallery
French poetry today
Some informations in French

Read this text in French
A few essays on this website (poetry, prose, painting...)

Some are translated in English

Gérard Noiret and the Lady with the wisteria

by Jean-Michel MAULPOIX, La Quinzaine Littéraire, Nr. 788

about Gérard Noiret's « A polyptych of the Lady with the wisteria », Actes Sud, 96p.

Translated from the original French by Catherine Wieder

As a tribute paid to the memory of a mere working class woman of the old days as well as to the very subburbs where she had lived, Gérard Noiret composed a very sober « polyptych » in which the novel comes close to the poem and in which the evocation of ordinary life becomes an offering gesture.


An « elegy », such could be the subtitle of this volume were one to remember that in the origins the elegiac genre mingled both the lyrical and the epic in order to bid the living to watch over the memory and follow the work of those dear departed. And yet the epic element is here reduced to its simplest expression, nay even to what may seem its reversal, i.e. everyday life. In the Parisian subburb, at the end of the 90's, close to the Avenue Jules Ferry or Paul Vaillant Couturier, an old lady is dying carrying with her in the grave her commonplace and complicated life history as are most life histories.


Such a mother becomes a true riddle for her children who no longer met but come again close together since she has died : her death brings all the silences of her life come up again. With what thread can one link the scattered scenes of the past, the photos spread on the table, the memories of the annoyances, tender feelings or injustices ? How, with only a few landmarks, unvoiced words, kept secrets, rushes of affection, successive failures, may one build again something that would look like some kind of personal fate and gather up the looks of a plain woman consolidating at last the features of her face and of her eventful existence ?


To such a question, Gérard Noiret brings an answer both as emotionally modest as unusual, literary wise. Taking as a model one of those polyptyches that used to adorn the church altars in the old days, he pays the deceased not just the tribute of a poetic grave, but also the device of seven different kinds of writings juxtaposing or intertwining themselves.

Two panels of prose with the children's narratives, supported by two columns of poems framing « Marc Jouanot's voiced heart », the centre of the polyptych in which the third child (i.e. the author's double at grips with writing) recalls his mother's last moments in the hospital. The whole is surrounded by two more panels, entitled « Chattering Angels », in which a choir from the subburbs comment.


The whole is called « a novel » since it hereby delineates the memory of one's life, scattered between several characters whose fate is mingled with that of the afore mentioned figure. But the volume might just as well have been called a « poem » were we to stress the shaping of that figure of a working class woman into that of a highly sublimated lady with the wisteria. But it could also be labelled as a « melodrama » since it so well belongs to a mixture of languages, a distribution of voices and a succession of scenes, all of them trying to express the difficulty to love, and attempting to articulate the liturgy of a family history and its obituary.


Whether it be a novel, an elegy, a melodrama or a poem, if so many terms are here used in order to characterize such a most unusual polyptych with a rigorous symmetry, it is merely due to its being a true text, as one used to define it ages ago, i.e. a work of writing, attempting at inventing its own form according to its internal necessities. The latter are here those of a lay tribute and offering meant both for the dead woman and for the world she carries away with her. In truth, the construction streamline behind such a polyptych is less that of an altar painting than of a mere house in the subburbs where a whole attachment would dwell as both « coils » of wisteria here evidence framing its central part : the very same text twice retaken says both the intertwining and the blossoming, the longed for weightlessness and an obstination for life at all costs, the surge towards the sublime of a mere figure of a working class woman, as well as the faithfulness of the writer to her memory.