Lire Alsace - « Adolescence through the eyes of Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt »
Four teenagers. Four friends. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt untangles the disordered web of adolescent love compounded by family models.
There are four of them: four teenage girls about to embark on their final year at school and swept up into the waltz of Love’s Poison, the title of Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s latest novel. Anouchka is the “child-girl”, as the author describes her, terribly ill at ease with her body (“I don’t look like what I like!”); Colombe is a girl “full of light and harmony”, who, in love as in all things, likes to “strike rather than endure”; Raphaëlle is the tomboy, popular but with a sense that she is different, and then there’s Julia, the “absolutist”, the one who wants everything, in particular, to play Juliet in the school production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the only one of the set to have “done it” (for which, understand: “made love”).
Four friends for life and for death, as they proudly declare: “We decided that the French language is wrong to rhyme “love” with “always” (“amour / toujours”) and more accurate in rhyming “friendship” with “forever” (“amitié / étérnité”). Fine words for the façade, but behind the scenes where their friendship suffers all sorts of tricks, backstabbing and gossip, the reality is less reputable. Each girl is a mass of complexes, each astonished by the way their friends cope. But cope with what?
In Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s novel, these young women suffer a dual oppression: “Internal pressure – sexual desire and heartache – and external pressure, the famous “You’ve got to go through with it, otherwise everyone will think you’re dumb!” Result: “They rush in, out of social conformity.” You grow up as best you can: “They stop idealising their parents, who just become flesh-and-blood adults, and all those couples separating leads them into unknown territory.”
For the philosopher-novelist, there’s only one way out: “Self-respect, which is the modern version of the old concept of honour.”
So, what gives Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt the right to tackle the subject of adolescence? He says that he is “an explorer of the soul, who can migrate into all kinds of different characters”. Above all, he was offered a true gift, when his seventeen-year-old daughter-in-law and her friends allowed him to see their diaries. “They weren’t giving them to a father-in-law but to a writer. They knew I never judge my characters. They trusted my benevolence.”
There’s no sarcasm, then, in his vision of such difficult years (“You can’t laugh at adolescent heartache: that would be like a slap in the face – pain is pain.”), just a desire to tease out what lies behind the appearances of a challenging age in order to answer the question: “What’s going on here?” Mission accomplished.
Ouest France - « Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt unveils the human heart »
Yesterday, the acclaimed playwright and novelist appeared at the centre “Espace Ouest-France” in Rennes, to talk about his new book Love’s Poison (published by Albin Michel), an adventure about adolescence.
“I wanted to write about eternal adolescence and about what it felt like at that point when you realise that the king-child you were is riddled with desires and urges. Those wretched hormones! Everything changes, and it changes for life.” Love’s Poison, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s latest novel, is a collection of extracts from the diaries of four 16-year-old girls united by a pact of eternal friendship. Their desires, conquests, dreams and impatience are played out against the backdrop of Romeo and Juliet, which they are rehearsing at their school.
“My 16-year-old daughter-in-law gave me her diary, her friends’ diaries and the text messages they exchange. It was a gift not to a father-in-law, but to a writer.” Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt discovered that the era had changed. “Emotional life and sexual life are independent of one another, even though what those young women really want, is to bring them together,” the writer said yesterday at Espace Ouest-France.
“Suggest but don’t describe”
The idea took shape. “The teenagers are surrounded by adults who’ve lost their complexes, who’ve divorced, live in new families and who tell them that love lasts as long as it lasts. But they don’t like that one! They see the spark of eternity in the eyes of their first love.”
His four heroines learn about love and friendship, and they discover “that it’s not enough to be in love to be capable of loving. You have to bring love into being. It can be beneficial or toxic, according to the space you give it.”
Adolescence is also a time of first experiences and of the tension between letting go and staying in control. “The girls design the universe the boys will enter when they’re ready. Boys are often less synchronous and modest, at the end of the day. I remember a drama workshop at my school. The idea of playing a 16-year-old lover … I’d rather have died! Much better to play a 50-year-old drunk.”
A playwright, novelist, film director and writer of short stories and non-fiction, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, whose watchword is “suggest but don’t describe” and who has won a plethora of awards, has been translated into 50 languages and had his plays performed in as many countries. Joie de vivre and humour are the recipe of his success. “I’m an intellectual by training, with a PhD in philosophy, but my passion is to give life to the intelligence of the heart, to unveil it and to make it beat.”
Agnès Le Morvan
Sud Ouest - « Bordeaux: Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s crimes among friends »
Ever loyal to Bordeaux, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt returns to the city tomorrow with his latest novel about the cruelty of teenage passionate love.
On a sunny Sunday, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt lets time pass, talks to the sky and his dogs and forgets about the world. If he stumbles on a grain of happiness in the meadow, he sweeps it up and won’t let it get away …
A philosopher before he turned his hand to writing plays and novels, Schmitt combines a talent for analysis with urbanity, which some of his critics dismiss as simply a recipe for churning out bestsellers. Readers should not be fooled; instead, they should study the “fictional device” deployed to compose the door-stoppers, short stories and plays, which straddle the genres of fable and parable between their dust jackets.
Shakespeare in Marivaux
Like The Elixir of Love, which revisits the myth of Tristan and Isolde, Love’s Poison (Albin Michel, €15), presented by the author in Bordeaux this Wednesday, takes its inspiration from Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare was Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s fetish author when he was a teenager: “He wrote everything there is to write about love. When I was 15, I was fascinated by him. I read virtually all his plays.”
Raised by Shakespeare then saved by Mozart. But here, we’re dealing with frustrating rather than frustrated passion. Four inseparable friends in their last year at the Lycée Marivaux high school, are rehearsing Romeo and Juliet for a school production. They are eager for something indefinable to enter their lives: “freedom, their dreams, their ‘first time’”. Their external lives have little in common with their inner lives, as we discover from the diaries they keep and where they record all the little gaps ruining their daily lives but about which, outwardly, they say nothing. Love’s Poison is structured around four diaries, interspersed with text messages, telling four versions of the same story.
How does a 54-year-old man get inside the head not of one, but of four girls? “I have a 17-year-old daughter-in-law. She and her friends presented me with an amazing gift: they gave me their diaries. They were giving them to the writer, not to the father-in-law.” So, he wanted to talk about friendship, about that cruel age: “I don’t like people laughing at those teenage years. It’s a time that was difficult for everyone, a time when you’re looking for yourself. You make mistakes and you’re constantly having to face down other people’s judgments, starting with your own.”
I’m not responsible for the success of my books, my readers are.
What does one write in a diary? “Sometimes, what you are, sometimes, the image of what you want to be.” It’s a delicate matter, then, interpreting diary entries in which truth is sought anywhere but on the page.
The Franco-Belgian author from Lyon is much exercised by the business of “seeking elsewhere” and constantly ponders the human condition and the freedom to flourish in a multitude of spaces of ever-changing parameters. Those spaces can be imaginary, as they are for Madame Ming, who invents and, above all, loves the children she never had, or they can involve the crazed and tragic illusion of turning into a work of art to win admiration.
The writer and the importance of other people
“I’m not responsible for the success of my books, my readers are. Obviously, I’m the one who writes them, but if a novel lives, that’s because people are reading it.” But then there’s his special “device”, his capacity to draw the reader into his stories. A rare contemporary writer to join Molière, Victor Hugo and Maupassant in students’ school bags and on school curricula, Schmitt remains for young generations, the touching, amazing author of Oscar and the Lady in Pink, a novella listed among the top 15 international bestsellers. Such rankings are hardly the result of a “critical mass” effect. It’s hard to imagine that thousands of readers confuse stupidity with benevolence, but there’s clearly a lack of benevolence with regard to a philosopher who bothers to unravel the grand ideas of his time to make them accessible to everyone.
One of Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s finest prizes was awarded in Bordeaux in 2013 by Ardua, a group of academics and philosophers, so, from the stable from which he came. Schmitt is one of the most widely performed playwrights in France and Germany. Among his plays, Don Juan on Trial and Partners in Crime are remarkable examples of his talent for attention to detail. “I leave criticism to the pessimists,” smiles (he smiles a lot) the creator of the unshakable Odette Toulemonde, recalling that great humanists are worth more than great minds.
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s heroes are mostly women (what an observer!) and children, for whom he has just re-written the text of Carnival of the Animals. He writes about love and faith, freedom and simple people; like the vicar who shelters the Jewish boy, Noé, baptising him but making him learn Hebrew, the language of the Jewish Bible; or the corner-shop owner, Monsieur Ibrahim; or Odette, the accessories saleswoman. But remember, too, that Schmitt is offended that Beethoven is dead “when so many morons are alive!”
“I love Bordeaux,” declares this fan of the 18th century, “because it has a life that takes responsibility for itself: it successfully grew up and grew beautiful.” So, if he can glean a few minutes tomorrow, he will go out and take the muddy air along the banks of the River Garonne and think of Mauriac who once declared it “a dark city where hatred flourished.”
Is. de montvert-chaussy
Métro - « Love is an elixir, a cure or a poison »
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt welcomed me at his office in Ixelles, where he talked about his new novel, Love’s Poison, an exploration of the multifarious manifestations of love written in the form of the diaries of four girls who believe more in friendship than in love.
Is it easy to write about love in the first person?
I don’t know if it’s easier to write as “I”, but it’s easier to demonstrate the diversity of feelings involved in love with characters who say “I” and who are not actually talking about the same thing. The four girls in my novel don’t call “love” the same thing.”
How do you write like a teenager?
That’s the whole point of being a novelist: you turn into somebody else. And then, I was helped. I’ve got a 16-year-old daughter-in-law, and when I told her I was going to write about the age of first times, she and her friends brought me their diaries – an absolute gift, with neither exhibitionism nor restraint. They told me they were giving them to the author, and they know I don’t judge my characters.
Could they see themselves in your novel?
Oh, hugely! And the great thing is, they’re not the only ones to recognise themselves in it (laughs)! I didn’t base my characters on any of them specifically, but what I took from their diaries was the violence of emotions that’s specific to those years. I also used the issue of control versus letting go. When you’re a teenager, your body is changing and you become subject to impulses and desires you didn’t have before. Suddenly, the child is overwhelmed by urges and sentimental attachments which take up a huge amount of space. That whole inner upheaval continues throughout your life and forces a person to find their place through their experiences. In the novel, the four teenagers aren’t all going to manage it. Colombe eventually finds herself. She grows up to be a formidable woman who knows how to accommodate love in proportion to her life. She has the capacity to love and to be loved. For the others, it’s much more tragic.
Don’t today’s teenage girls believe in love, then, or even friendship? Isn’t that a bit pessimistic?
I don’t think I’m a pessimist, but I’m under no illusions. The novel ends with Colombe finding love’s proper dimensions. For me, it’s very important to write stories that argue for a true concept of love and of lucid love. Love is the goal of a path, of a journey. A person isn’t capable of loving just because they’re overcome by the feeling of love. At that point, we’re just in love. And, that’s where the troubles begin (laughs). I think everyone has to go through their own initiation into love to arrive at love. Adolescence is so sensitive that it causes disasters and inflicts violence on other people – as happens in Julia’s story – or to the self – as happens to both Raphaëlle and Julia.”
The parents in your book don’t project a good image of love.
That’s something that’s specific to our age. When I read the diaries of my daughter-in-law and her friends, I realised that the model of “one couple for life” is broken. When I was young, of course there were already divorces, but in the background was this pattern of love that was supposed to last a lifetime, because a divorce was something horrible. Nowadays, there are adults who say that love lasts as long as it lasts but that afterwards, they’ll find love with somebody else. To be honest, I think it’s better there’s not just one model now. But then what happens is that, when you find love, there’s an aspiration to eternity, an absolutism. My teenage girls have the sense of being surrounded by disillusioned adults, so they break away from them because they think they’re not experiencing the same thing.”
And then, the key theme of your novel is Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet.
It’s the ultimate story of adolescent love in literature. The story of Romeo and Juliet is as beautiful as it is tragic. When my novel opens, it all looks rosy, almost like a piece of chick-lit. Romeo and Juliet arrive from the outset and you sense it’s a way of saying “beware love’s poison!” I’m not saying love is poison. It’s a substance which, according to the quantities you ingest, is an elixir of life, a cure or a poison. I think it’s naïve to expect something from love. The truth is, it’s love that expects something from us. We’re the ones who bring love into existence.
IN A FEW LINES
Julia, Raphaëlle, Colombe and Anouchka are four teenagers and the best friends in the world, who don’t really believe in love. Anouchka sees her parents’ separation as proof that love doesn’t exist. What matters most for the girls is their friendship, which they “padlock” with adolescent ceremony. However, new urges and feelings are unleashed in them. At the same time, their school is putting on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The play forms an apt key theme, which, reflected in the girls’ diaries, demonstrates the panoply of love’s feelings.
Bretagne actuelle.com - « A novel isn’t a study in sociology »
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, novelist, playwright, non-fiction and short-story writer, a translator and also a theatre owner and director, is one of the most widely read authors of the contemporary world and his plays are among the most frequently performed. Translated into 43 languages and staged in 50 countries, the Belgian Academician confirms that “in a dream about love, everything is beautiful except the point of waking up!” Bretagne Actuelle met him on the occasion of the publication of his novel, Love’s Poison, and of a children’s CD-book, his adaptation of Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals.
Jérôme Enez-Virad: In what way is your previous book, The Elixir of Love, a prequel to your latest novel, Love’s Poison?
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt: They’re both about love, first between adults, then between couples from the next generation. They’re epistolary novels without a narrator, so there’s nothing between the characters and the reader. Everyone tells his own truth without mediation, i.e., a subjective truth and not the whole truth, unlike a narrator who probes for accuracy.
The Elixir of Love involves adults using email to communicate, a method that’s modern and contemporary, whereas Love’s Poison is structured around the diaries of four young women. So why the reversed generational media?
E-ES: With the arrival of IT on the scene, our relationship with time changed dramatically. In Laclos’ day, love affairs developed over time. Letters could take several days to reach their recipient, who then had plenty of time to reflect on the ins and outs of their previous letter. Both sides had time, only because there was no alternative. These days, communication is instantaneous even between grown-ups – an acceleration that means the epistolary genre has to be updated. But a diary is one of the last bastions against the invasion of IT for young people. The decision to cover a page with ink is no different from the 18th-century reflex.
Is this a book about passion or about its discovery?
E-ES: It’s a book about the first tragic and wonderful overwhelming experience of passion.
“Augustin can be Romeo. I’ll play Juliet” writes Julia. Can the Shakespearian vision of love be conveyed to distant centuries?
E-ES: Yes, beyond the shadow of a doubt! Passionate love will always be passionate love.
But do people still love in the same way they did in the Renaissance?
E-ES: Yesterday’s models aren’t necessarily the same as today’s. Nevertheless, the same violence and the same madness are the companions of passionate love.
So, is there a timeless universality about love?
E-ES: If there’s one thing that’s universal and timeless, it’s love. These days, sex has taken over from love, and you can disassociate the two, but the feeling of passionate love is exactly the same as it always was.
Love’s Poison also deals with jealousy, manipulation and betrayal, which is all very universal, but why go back to Shakespeare when, in the meantime, significant models have come to the fore in the works of Wagner, Marivaux and others?
E-ES: Because of the tragedy and the misunderstandings, but also because of the tragedy of misunderstandings. We were just talking about the way a person’s sex life can be completely separate from love; but let’s not forget that, until the 20th century, sex wasn’t associated with love in an imperative and systematic way: it was, above all, about reproduction. In the meantime, it’s become a thing in its own right that can be disassociated from love. Which is why, in this novel, Shakespearian passion helped me avoid the pitfalls of more recent references.
Is that what led you to tragedy and ending up in hospital?
E-ES: These days, intensity is far more important, almost to the point of neurosis. Love is still associated with the happiness of longevity, whereas passion is short-lived, violent and more akin to suffering. And that’s why Raphaëlle’s grandparents are a comfort to young people in search of long-term intensity.
There’s another sentence in the book: “If you don’t love me any more, that’s because you never loved me.” Do you think it’s as cut-and-dried as that?
E-ES: Of course! When you’ve really fallen in love, it’s for life. Even if you separate and go off in a huff; otherwise, it wasn’t love.
Your four protagonists are all heterosexuals. Why that choice?
E-ES: (Very diplomatically) I’m not going to answer that one. A novel isn’t a study in sociology, still less a political tract or diatribe about current affairs. I refuse to let journalism enter the world of fiction. If I’d wanted to talk about homosexuality, I’ve have worked on the character of Anouchka’s father, who’s gay, or I’d have made the point clearly, the way I did in my short story Two Gentlemen of Brussels. That wasn’t the point.
I asked because it’s topical, not only in your book about discovering love but also in the face of the “Manif pour tous” (“March for All”: a French protest movement against gay marriage), which is raising political consciousness, or the Pope trying to tone down the Catholic discourse on homosexuality.
E-ES: You’re right to ask me, and I’m not refusing to answer but to enter the fray which an answer would involve. As a Christian, I have to say that the “problem” isn’t about the union of two people of the same sex but about the word “marriage” on which the different sides are grafting their refusal. We should be thinking in terms of “union for everyone”, which allows for a distinction between commitment and marriage.
You also wrote a version of Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, with delightful watercolour illustrations by Pascale Bordet…
E-ES: I asked for her illustrations because I wanted to put images to a new interpretation. Pascale Bordet is a costume designer, but the precision and inventiveness of her work neatly captures the meaning I wanted to give this CD-book.
What’s the difference between your version and the one by Francis Blanche?
E-ES: Francis Blanche prioritised humour and word-play that don’t actually have anything to do with the music, whereas I was keen to respect the score.
Why did you write it in verse?
E-ES: Firstly because children like poetry and can learn words they didn’t know through it; rhyme and rhythm are an excellent conduit for vocabulary. And secondly, because I like it!
If you had the last word, what would it be?
Leschroniquesculturelles.com - « Love’s Poison, by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt »
“In love, you don’t choose, you’re chosen by love. Juliet and Romeo are engulfed by passion, the way a virus contaminates a community. It’s something external, which seeps in, carves out its bed, prospers and grows. They suffer from their passion, feverishly toss and turn, hallucinate, stake their all on this plague, and finally die of it.
The romantic play, Romeo and Juliet, is a truly clinical account, an investigative report of a disease in which I play Patient No 1!”
In this book, the second after The Elixir of Love in a series about love and passion, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt pursues his exploration of the emotion of love – a theme on which I think he excels – and focuses on the troubled time of adolescence.
Julia, Anouchka, Colombe and Raphaëlle are four 17-year-old girls and the best friends in the world. They have just started their last year at school, and we follow that year, during which they discover passionate love (for better, for worse), through their diaries.
You might think the subject of adolescence and four girls’ discovery of love a bit hackneyed, but Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt skilfully rejuvenates the theme through the lens of Romeo and Juliet, which is both reinterpreted and re-written. At issue is the madness of love in a school which is surely called “Marivaux” for a reason but where the games end in tragedy, the way they do in Shakespeare but for different reasons. The characters lose their footing: bodies change and they don’t like it. Then there’s the thorny question: how can you believe in love when all the couples around you are crumbling and splitting up? All, that is, except Raphaëlle’s grandparents, who provide light in the darkness, though it’s a waning, painful light. So, the teenagers learn about seduction and about their power over boys; they learn, too, about manipulation, jealousy and betrayal. In the secrecy of their dairies, they don’t spare one another. They turn into women.
Although I thought this book didn’t go as deep as the first one, I was touched by what it had to say about the discovery of love. One minor criticism, however: I don’t know how much familiarity Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt has with teenagers, but as I interact with them on a daily basis, I struggled slightly to believe in the tone and style of the diaries. They are too well written, too literary and too lyrical to be totally convincing … but for that same reason, they’re nicer to read!
Bretagne Actuelle - « « Un roman n’est pas un échantillonnage sociologique » »
Romancier, dramaturge, essayiste, nouvelliste, traducteur, mais aussi propriétaire et directeur de théâtre, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt est l’un des auteurs contemporains les plus lus et les plus représentés dans le monde. Traduit en 43 langues et joués dans 50 pays, l’académicien belge assure que « dans un rêve d’amour, tout est beau sauf le réveil. » Bretagne Actuelle l’a rencontré à l’occasion de la sortie de son roman Le poison d’amour, et d’un livre-disque pour enfants, adaptation du Carnaval des animaux de Camille Saint-Saëns.
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