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Monday, 14 July 2008

Account of a weekend at Frontignan

   Translator: Chris Warlow

 

"The relationship between historical events and the present changes in meaning and nature when different facts are considered and different angles taken.  The past isn't just there; it still needs to be uncovered, and whatever ties it holds with the present can only be distinguished with hindsight - as new facts and new links make it impossible to know what might come along and change our current understanding of the past.  One thing is certain: a link exists.  But it requires a tireless effort to find out just what it may be." (1)
 

Pro-deculturation litany is heard far and wide in France; its incessant bleeting even inducing occasional bouts of nausea.  Held for the eleventh time in the last week of June 2008 in Frontignan, near Sète, the International Festival of Crime Fiction, FIRN (2), is there to silence such dissonant chanting from dusty old spell-books.

 

ImageAll a visitor really needed was to browse through the bookstands at the foot of the church (particularly the ones holding comic books) to be convinced that culture - real culture - is in no danger here, in the early 21st Century, and that it lives on through the working and re-working of old material - and not by hiding it away like a precious jewel in a casket.

 

Among the works was a Miles Hyman, with the wonderful illustrations he did for Conrad and Dos Passos (3), along with the Lebanese Zeina Abirached's account of her youth in a Beirut under bombs (4) – an epic recalling, at first glance, the style of Marjane Satrapi, but displaying more creativity with its use of graphics.  From the small exhibition devoted to Ambre and David Vandermeulen's work, which reinterprets the first part of Goethe's Faust (5), emanated a beautiful sense of emotion, which was also felt at the exhibition on a little-known socio-religious movement from the early Middle Ages in Germany the peasant wars and the Anabaptists, massacred at the start of the 16th Century.

 

Topical of both past and present, this summertime gathering in celebration of crime fiction in its multiple forms (novel, comic book and film), was marked by the wide array of topics touched upon by the attending authors, affirming the role of the thriller in reflecting the current problems faced by our society: ecological disasters are addressed by the north-Toulousian Pascal Dessaint (6); brutal instability in South Africa by Caryl Ferey (7); difficult changes in Black Africa and tension between tradition and modernity by the Malian Moussa Konaté (8); prostitution rings by Alain Wagneur (9); the new religious tensions in the 18th arrondissement of Paris by Afro-American Jake Lamar (10); politico-religious transformations in Northern Ireland by Colin Bateman (11); a story of organised violence in the US by the excellent Valerio Evangelisti in his new novel (12); and the lingering stench of the Stasi in East Germany in Christian v. Ditfurth's piece (13).  The broad and varied sweep of topics covered, the work of French novelists, proves wrong the belief that French literature has been characterised these past few years by its self-admiration.

 

It was a great intellectual pleasure to note the high level of debate – another strong point of the festival.  It should be stressed, though, just how important the actual direction of debate is – it was so interesting to see how the chair can either stifle debate with a display of their own knowledge, or subtly let the author slip away from trite topics, allowing for true dialogue to spark up between the authors; elegantly weaving links between different worlds.

 

Tribute must be paid to the festival's organisers: to Martine-Hélène Gonzalez, with her incessant comings and goings, just like the ant in the fable, and to the keen presence of Michel Gueorguieff, ever dressed in his charcoal-grey suit.

 

At a time when economic trends are increasingly unpredictable, and their effects on people's lives more and more serious, when European education systems are dancing more and more in time to the beat of an emetic utilitarianism, the importance of festivals like Frontignan should be proclaimed loud and clear.  Creativity, beauty, and intelligence – these are the values that still set us apart from termites, and no Jean-Bernard Pouy, for all his pithy comments, is going to convince me otherwise.

 

Here's to FIRN!

 

 

(1) Elfriede Müller, Alexander Ruoff, in : Le polar français, crime et histoire. Translation by Jean-François Poirier, La fabrique éditions,  2002,  pp.107-108

(2) www.polar-frontignan.org

(3) John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer, Futuropolis, 1990 / Joseph Conrad, L'agent secret, Futuropolis, 1992.

(4) Zeina Abirached, [Beyrouth] Catharsis, Cambourakis, 2001.

(5) Ambre and Vandermeulen, Faust (d'après Goethe), 6 pieds sous terre, 2006.

(6) Pascal Dessaint, Cruelles natures, Rivages - thriller, 2007.

(7) Caryl Feyrey, Zulu, Gallimard - série noire, 2007.

(8) Moussa Konaté, L'empreinte du renard, Fayard - Noir, 2006.

(9) Alain Wagneur, Hécatombe-les-bains, Acte sud, Babel noir, 2008.

(10) Jake Lamar, Rendez-vous dans le 18ième, Rivages - Thriller, 2007.

(11) Colin Bateman, Turbulences catholiques, Gallimard - série noire, 2007.

(12) Valerio Evangelisti, Nous ne sommes rien, soyons tout, Rivages – Thriller, 2008.

(13)  Christian v. Ditfurth, Frappé d'aveuglement, éditions Jacqueline Chambon, 2007.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 16 June 2009 )
 
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