Le Figaro 17.08.2017 - « Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt: The soul laid bare »
“Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt: The soul laid bare”
He will be one of the stars of the rentrée on more than one count. As a new member of the Goncourt Prize jury, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt will join nine colleagues to engage in the delicate task of compiling the long list of novelists for the most prestigious French literary award, whose winner will be announced on 6 November. He will also feature as a big name in his own right for his latest book, a collection of powerful short stories – remember that he himself won the Goncourt Short Story Prize in 2010.
The Revenge of Forgiveness opens with “The Barbarin Sisters”, a tale that packs a punch and is perhaps the most emotionally charged in the collection. Lily and Moïsette are twin sisters, their names already suggestive of their trajectories. The first arouses nothing but admiration, the second, nothing but dismay: she was unexpected and was given the name “Moïsette” because her parents were going to call her “Moïse”, if she had been a boy. “A default name, which didn’t augur well for the life to come…” writes Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. Physically, the sisters are hard to tell apart, even in old age. The elder sister wears her heart on her sleeve, achieves academic success and meets her prince charming, while the younger one fails at whatever she turns her hand to and has a string of disastrous relationships. She believes her ill luck to be due to her sister and persists in being as unkind, cynical and awkward as she can. Lily says nothing and forgives her sister everything.
From the opening pages, it’s clear that we’ve stumbled on one of those terrible, tragic news items. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt handles the plot with admirable skill, as he does in the other three stories. There are no parallels here with Maupassant’s Pierre and Jean, a novella that probes the innermost workings of human nature. Instead, Schmitt has produced a superb psychological thriller in the best tradition. The same is true for “Mademoiselle Butterfly” and the last story in the collection, “Draw me a Plane” (a reference to Saint-Exupéry), in which Schmitt imagines an old centenarian pilot who knew Saint-Exupéry.
In “The Revenge of Forgiveness”, also the title of the book, we meet Elise, who decides to move out of her family home and rent a studio-flat near a prison in Alsace. Her daughter’s murderer received a life sentence and is being held in the Ensisheim jail. She visits him regularly, despite the perpetrator’s initial refusal to see her. Her sisters think she is mad, but she sticks to her plan to restore to this man his humanity.
The story symbolises Schmitt’s entire oeuvre as a study of the human soul in all its complexity and mystery.
Le Pèlerin - « Forgiveness? Harder than you think! »
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is a specialist in the human soul, and in his latest work he explores forgiveness in all its complexity.
The dictionary definition is crystal clear: forgiveness is the writing-off of a fault or offence; it means not holding the hurt against the perpetrator or feeling any resentment towards him.
So, is forgiveness clear?
If you read The Revenge of Forgiveness, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s latest set of short stories, the sentiment is more complex and needs deciphering. To that end, the author has brought together four stories that shed light on each other like the facets of a diamond. So is forgiveness clear?
A collection of short stories is a real book.
Not always. Unlike the author who is beaming. The list of the new season’s plays at his Rive Gauche theatre in Paris is superb, while the short story is a genre at which he excels. “Contrary to what you might think, a collection of short stories is, for me, a real book with a theme and a structure. The stories can all be read independently but they’re all part of an overarching plan, a bit the way a symphony develops several movements around a main theme.” Is forgiveness so easy? Does the person who bestows it gain power over the person who receives it? Can you absolve yourself?
Love is not lost when it is differed.
The variations are infinite. “In ‘The Barbarin Sisters’, Lily, the twin on whom fortune smiles, forgives her less fortunate sister (Moïsette) everything from the outset, never imagining the humiliation and hatred she is generating by her kindness.” On the other hand, in ‘Mademoiselle Butterfly’, inspired by Puccini’s opera, William, who had abandoned Mandine in the name of social status, is exalted by the power of forgiveness and by the sacrifice of the woman he shunned.
Love is not lost when it is differed and it continues to shine.” But the central story, “The Revenge of Forgiveness”, from which the collection takes its title, enters the dark corridors of the law. “The lawyer of a famous serial killer serving a life sentence once asked me what I thought about the motives of the mother of one of his victims, who was visiting the killer in prison.
I spent years trying to fathom out the aim of this woman who’d been so brutally cut off from her daughter, trying to evaluate the share of pity and the share of punishment. Eventually, I answered the lawyer with this short story.” The last story, “Draw Me a Plane”, involves a German second-world war pilot who cannot forgive himself for taking a person’s life. “We’re getting to the nub of the problem. Can a person absolve himself? Reduce a person to the act he committed?”
Can a person absolve himself?
On the basis of compassion which connects us to one another and of possible redemption, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is a proponent of forgiveness. A sentiment, which, in spite of its ambiguities, allows people a future and gives them the chance to make amends, but it needs to be treated wisely and in good faith.
Lire - Septembre 2017 - « Tales with implacable reversals »
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt brings together four extraordinary lives in four stories on the theme of forgiveness. In the first, The Barbarin Sisters, Lily and Moïsette are born the same day half an hour apart, in the village of Saint-Sorlin-en-Bugey. For the first four years, they live as one person, then a birthday present shatters their union and over time, the younger sister turns against her older twin.
Mademoiselle Butterfly introduces William Golden and hinges on a bet he made while on holiday in the Alps. As a teenager larking about with his mates, he agreed to seduce a girl with learning difficulties, never dreaming how the encounter would affect him and shape his later life…
The Revenge of Forgiveness revolves around Elise whose daughter was murdered by a serial killer, a man she decides to visit in prison. The meetings are strange for her and for him, because Elise intends to guide him to the world of human compassion he doesn’t know exists…
Finally, Draw Me a Plane describes the encounter of a little girl, Daphné, and her next-door neighbour, Werner von Breslau, a lonely old ex- pilot. He agrees to her request to draw her a plane, little suspecting the past memories that will gradually resurface.
Can a person be reduced to a single act? Is forgiveness so simple? These are questions Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt asks throughout these stories with their implacable reversals. He responds with his unfailing virtuosity.
Au féminin - « A must-read »
“The Revenge of Forgiveness” by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
A sister jealous of her twin who loves her sincerely; a man who abuses an ingenuous girl before robbing her of her child; a mother who tries to understand her daughter’s rapist and murderer; a taciturn, misanthropic father who recovers his compassion by befriending a little girl and reading to her from The Little Prince: four stories that explore our deepest, most violent feelings. Is forgiveness possible in the face of rivalry, betrayal and secrecy? Can everything be forgiven? These are questions raised by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s latest stories, where betrayals abound and sometimes lead to crime. But things are never black and white, as the author demonstrates, while he unveils the hearts and souls of his protagonists.
A subtle study of human psychology.
La Libre Belgique - « Schmitt at his best »
The short story is surely the genre in which Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is at his best. The proof is his latest book, The Revenge of Forgiveness. “It’s my favourite genre,” he says. “Stories require brilliance, and a fall when the last line reveals a truth that explains everything. In a short story, every word counts. They need the conciseness of a play and the density of the time of a novel, the other kinds of writing I practise. Maupassant, Colette, Marcel Aymé and Simenon wrote excellent short stories.”
Schmitt writes excellent short stories, too, and in this collection, surprises and falls, all to do with the theme of forgiveness, include: twin sisters, one of whom is led to kill the other after 80 years of lives lived in a mirror; the mother of a girl murdered by a serial killer and who wants to understand the man’s crime; a former German war-time pilot transformed by the little girl next door as he reads to her from The Little Prince, and the best of the lot, a millionaire banker whose past catches up with him when he has a child by a simple-minded girl he met in the mountains.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is about restoring a person’s compassion to them; it means not reducing a person to a single act. But if forgiveness is noble, it can be ambiguous, because it involves making peace with oneself, sometimes even casting oneself in the role of the hero. Forgiveness is supposed to be difficult, but being forgiven can be just as difficult.
There’s also remorse and exoneration from wrong-doing: isn’t that all rather Christian?
The old pilot discovers the crime he committed, and when he puts a face to his victim, he can’t forgive himself. The banker must somehow atone to be able to enter the dimension of love – it’s an assumption. That’s all rather Christian, I grant you, but I want each story to be read as a kind of fable, where things are both unique and universal.
You’ve sold millions of books. What motivates you to write even more?
It’s always like the first time: the first anxiety, the first nerves, but also the same appetite. Every time, I feel I’m just beginning, like an apple tree producing apples. Story-telling is vital to me, because, for me, that’s how the world takes shape. I write to discover what I think and to explore human complexity. I don’t feel I’ve got a particular expertise, but I love risk, and it’s a sense of dissatisfaction, the feeling that I’m never reassured, that leads me to go where angels fear to t
VSD - « From a scholar whose books always hit the spot »
A string of Molière awards, a Goncourt prize (for the short story), books read and plays performed in dozens of countries: everything this rather secretive scholar writes seems to hit the spot. Plays and short stories are on this month’s bill of fare.
“I’ll have a Perrier with a slice of lemon…” Clearly, the holiday sun is still shining down on this phenomenal writer: is he from Madagascar, is he Cambodian? At 57, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt claims roots that are far less exotic (Alsace and Lyon). As for his tan, he honed it in Greece. For now, he has just emerged from his lair in the Forest of Cambre on the outskirts of Brussels.
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. It’s the new season and I’m back in Paris. I only come a few times each month, because my work involves writing, after all. My life is very … divided. There are times when I’m out and about, travelling and attending to my plays or bringing out new books, and so on. And then there are weeks of silence when I withdraw from the world to reinvent it and get back to Brussels and my manor-farm in Hainaut.
I need an elevated vantage point. My family came from the “working hill” (the Croix-Rousse) in Lyon, and when I was a child we lived on the “praying hill” (Fourvière) in a flat overlooking the city and the valley. I could see the Alps in the distance. That bird’s eye view has always been essential for me to write. In Paris, I’ve always lived on top floors, while in my houses, I put my study on the top floor.
And what’s on the ground floor? The kitchen? Real life?
Yes, that’s right, real life. On the next floor up there are the bedrooms, and then I go right to the top in search of the blank page – the blank page of the sky. In Brussels, my office is a painter’s studio with skylights. OK, so the sky isn’t exactly blue in Belgium, but still … I wouldn’t say my office is like Flaubert’s “gueuloir” (“shouting room”), though, because that’s where, in silence, I try to hear the characters and their stories. It’s my “écoutoir”, my “listening room”.
They’re a funny set of characters who confessed to you in your last collection, The Revenge of Forgiveness. The title is perverse, just to begin with…
I was venturing into zones one seldom enters. Like the story of the mother who’s trying to understand her daughter’s assassin: what she really wants is to make a serial killer understand so that he will experience hell, too. In parallel to her taming the assassin, I put in a stray cat that’s taming her.
On the subject of cats: in the glossy magazines, you’re always shown surrounded by dogs. But in that story, there are descriptions that make me think you know all about cats.
I do, indeed! I had a cat that spent twenty-two years with me. He survived a fall from the sixth storey and two cancers. Léonard, his name was. He was a colossal stray and supremely intelligent. I used to take him with me to the hotel; he did his business in the bidet and let me take him out on a lead. I just love cats. But these days I just have dogs and it’s too late for me to impose a cat on them: they’ve decided they’re their enemies. Cats or dogs: life functions very well with animals. I think that, the more I write, the more I need company that doesn’t talk, namely, music and animals. […]
L'Avenir (Belgique) - « The Revenge of Forgiveness »
Four short stories, four lives with forgiveness as their central theme. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s new opus is out tomorrow.
“It’s like an inner necessity: the need to explore a theme. Then a story comes to me and I write a novel. Or else several stories and it turns into a collection.” And this time, the theme of forgiveness came to Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt in the four stories that make up The Revenge of Forgiveness, his latest book, on sale from 1 September.
The story that gives its name to the collection is pretty chilling, since – without giving away the ending – it involves a woman whose daughter was raped and murdered by a serial killer. The mother tracks him down in his prison and tries to understand. “I’ve had this story in my head for 25 years. I met the lawyer of a serial killer and he told me about the bizarre attitude of a woman who was shocked by the killer’s lack of empathy and his indifference during the trial. So, she started visiting him in prison. The victim’s other relatives were scandalised. However, when you’re faced with barbarity, you want to understand. I’ve met a lot of people in de-radicalisation centres who are confronted by that kind of lack of compassion. How do you return compassion to a person?”
Three other stories make up this collection. One, The Barbarin Sisters, is also very dark, while the other two, Mademoiselle Butterfly and Draw Me a Plane (a tribute to Saint-Exupéry) are more optimistic. “I like them all equally. I wanted to show forgiveness in all its complexity. It’s a sentiment with a deeply spiritual dimension that isn’t shackled to a specific religion. There are even policies for forgiveness enabling states and people to start over. But sometimes, there’s egoism involved, as well. You forgive in order to be at peace with yourself, not necessarily with another person. Furthermore, it’s not easy to be forgiven. It means you’re doubly humiliated by someone more compassionate than you.”
Not like Amélie Nothomb
Between plays, novels, short stories and non-fiction, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt appears to be immune to the fear of the blank page. “No, it’s true, I’ve got at least thirty ideas for novels, short stories or plays,” laughs this Franco-Belgian author. “I regularly want to switch genre. I like putting myself in danger, being out of my comfort zone. It’s got to be adventurous and swashbuckling!”
But there’s never any question of writing and then binning it, like Amélie Nothomb every year. “I’m very fond of Amélie, she’s a friend. But I think she’s one the few “graphomaniacs” I know. She has a physical need to write every day. Not me…”
Le Journal du Québec - Canada - « Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt - The Revenge of Forgiveness: four formidable and sublime short stories »
The soon-to-be honorary chair of the International Book Fair in Québec, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, elected to the Goncourt Academy in 2016, has turned his talent to a collection of four sublime short stores that explore the full pallet of human emotions in The Revenge of Forgiveness.
The latest book from one of Québec’s favourite authors explores the theme of forgiveness and revenge in a collection of four short stories that was widely acclaimed across Europe as soon as it reached the shelves.
“I wanted to shed light on the kind of multi-facetted diamond that is forgiveness. All of us are faced with the issue of forgiveness at some point in our lives because, when we’re hurt or aggressed, when someone lies to us, we’re faced with the problem of forgiveness. You think: right, shall I forgive or shall I take revenge?” he observes, with that familiar benevolence of his.
“There are always these two prospects when we’ve been hurt: forgiveness or revenge. We’ve all been there. The two words seem like total opposites. So, I gave the book the title The Revenge of Forgiveness because I wanted to show that, actually, it’s a bit more ambiguous and paradoxical than we like to think, because in actual fact, sometimes the best way to take revenge can be to forgive because forgiving is difficult, but it’s equally difficult to be forgiven. And then, who is being forgiven? Between forgiving other people and forgiving oneself, there’s a stack of nuances. By writing four stories, I can explore and trace the theme of forgiveness in different ways.”
The collection consists of four short stories of formidable efficiency: “The Barbarin Sisters”, “Mademoiselle Butterfly”, “Draw Me a Plane” and “The Revenge of Forgiveness”. In the first story, twin sisters love and hate each other for 80 years. “Mademoiselle Butterfly” deals with a cynical young man and an ingenuous, naïve young woman.
The third story, “The Revenge of Forgiveness”, is about a woman making prison visits to a serial killer who murdered her daughter. This story took Schmitt out of his comfort zone. “I was descending into zones I’d never entered before, both by getting under the skin of a mother visiting her daughter’s assassin and by getting inside the words of a serial killer, because she’s trying to discover when, in his childhood, he lost all compassion, the tipping point. And I had to carry on and empathise completely with an assassin. It was deeply disturbing.”
The collection finally emerges “into the light”, he adds, with “Draw Me a Plane”, in which a hardened, reclusive old man realises that he was probably the pilot who brought down Saint-Exupéry’s plane. “We’re dealing with something terrible, but there’s nevertheless a redemption.”
Extremely positive reactions
The book elicited extremely positive reactions as soon as it came out. “My books have rarely been so well received so unanimously. People love it unreservedly, because there are so many different colours in it. […] These are tales about a fall, and that is a wonderful characteristic of the genre. It’s a unique art form.”
Schmitt has also confirmed in interviews that he will be in Québec next spring as the honorary chair of the International Festival of the Book in Québec. He has forged strong links with Québec and visits several times every year. “I know my way about now, I’ve got my favourite places, my friends. There are all sorts of things I want to do. One day, it’ll all turn up in a book!”
L'Evantail (Belgique) - « Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, the soul laid bare »
HE WILL BE ONE OF THE STARS OF THE NEW LITERARY SEASON. A NEW MEMBER OF THE GONCOURT PRIZE JURY (ALONG WITH VIRGINIE DESPENTES), ERIC-EMMANUEL SCHMITT WILL ALSO APPEAR AS A POSTER BOY FOR HIS NEW BOOK THE REVENGE OF FORGIVENESS, A COLLECTION OF FOUR SHORT STORIES IN WHICH THE WRITER OBSERVES AND UNVEILS REDEMPTION AND ITS HIDDEN FACETS. ERIC-EMMANUEL SCHMITT LOVES LAYING BARE THE HUMAN SOUL AND TELLING STORIES ABOUT ITS DEEPEST RECESSES. I MET HIM IN BRUSSELS, A FEW DAYS BEFORE THE GONCOURT PRIZE LONG-LIST WAS ANNOUNCED.
- – Your latest book is neither a novel nor a collection of short stories… So, what is it?
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt: I don’t write short stories like my colleagues, I have my own way of writing them. These four stories are all interconnected. I wrote them from the first to last line, exactly as you read them. “The Revenge of Forgiveness”, which gives its name to the book, is followed by three little sisters who came very naturally into my head. They all describe the different forms forgiveness can take.
Revenge is significant throughout the book. Why that theme?
The story, “The Revenge of Forgiveness”, was the first to come to me just after I’d taken over the Rive Gauche Theatre in Paris. I’d met a lawyer for a serial killer being held in the Ensisheim prison in Alsace. In my story, Elise decides to meet her daughter’s assassin, the serial killer, Sam, who is serving a life sentence, also in Ensisheim. Forgiveness is a curious human sentiment that’s sometimes incomprehensible. I tried to understand why Elise acted as she did. Marc Dutroux, for instance, is a criminal who absolutely terrorises me. There’s calculation involved in his compulsive killing. He planned how he was going to lock away the young women then kill them one by one in the same cellar. It defies my understanding and I have no desire to understand that criminal.
Have you ever had to forgive?
Yes, sometimes with contempt. I find it difficult to forgive anyone who hurts the people I love. Members of my family were at the Brussels-Zaventem Airport at the time of the terrorist attacks. By a miracle, they were unharmed but the bullet whizzed right by me. Because my flesh and blood was under threat, I was inclined to revenge. I went out there and talked to a lot of the victims of that bombing. I felt as though my inner limits had been touched. It’s even more difficult to be forgiven. You’re put in a humiliating position; your nose is rubbed in your wrong-doing and you’re faced by someone who’s more compassionate than you. The dimensions of forgiveness are variable. The decision to forgive unleashes a process, it opens up a pathway that can lead to peace in your relations with the offender.
You’ve been a member of the Goncourt Academy for a year. How has your first year on the jury been?
I agreed to Bernard Pivot’s suggestion in the space of an afternoon. I had to choose between the Goncourt Academy and the Académie Française. The first is all about writers who are passionate about writing for other people: it encourages altruism. There’s a point to it. The Académie Française is about making one person famous: you’re not doing anything. I’m not trying to get famous: fame came to me as soon as I began writing. I don’t know if I could have tolerated the wait for success and the bitterness that entails. We get together every first Tuesday of the month. We have email conversations every day about what we’re all reading, which was an idea Bernard Pivot introduced. I’ve read 84 novels. We produce the long-list (15 titles), which will be revealed on 5 September.
Is Amélie Nothomb in with a chance this year?
Amélie Nothomb, a bit like me before, has had so much success she doesn’t need a prize. A lot of the jury think she’s out of the running for the Goncourt. That’s debatable, and personally I don’t agree. You shouldn’t exclude someone from the Goncourt on the grounds that they’ve already had so much success. Otherwise, Michel Houllebecq wouldn’t have got it for his novel The Map and the Territory (published by Flammarion) in 2010, when the prize had eluded him before, in particular in 2005 (The Possibility of an Island, published by Fayard, received the Interallié prize). Today, I don’t think it would. It all depends who comes to the table. It’s mathematical and delicate.
Corinne Le Brun
7sur7 (Belgique) - « To forgive someone can sometimes be the worst possible thing you can do to them »
Revenge and forgiveness seldom go hand in hand. A betrayal, a wrong move or verbal violence can provoke, either revenge, which may bring relief more quickly but rarely provides a long-term solution to the distress caused, or you can decide to make a proper effort and opt for forgiveness. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt combines both in his unsettling new book, The Revenge of Forgiveness, a collection of four very different short stories, which all size up the pros and cons of the act of benevolence that is forgiveness. It reminds us that nothing is ever simple, nothing is ever only black or white.
In your book, you deal with the theme of forgiveness. Is that because it’s more necessary than ever these days?
And how! It crops up every time there’s a terrorist attack. Can you forgive extremists, madmen who are out to destroy people, to destroy peace and sow terror? How can we live with such divisions? Forgiveness is also a question of peace: individual peace and peace between people. It’s a contemporary theme for our time but it has existed as long as men have walked the earth. In all civilisations, in all religions, in all spiritualties, the question of forgiveness is paramount.
The theme must strike a significant chord in you for you to want to devote a whole book to it now and not five or ten years ago. Why is that?
It’s the result of considerable inner questioning on my part. Like anyone facing evil, I’ve had two choices: I can forgive or I can take revenge. When I examined these two possibilities, I realised that they weren’t that straight forward. Sometimes, the worst thing you can do to a person is forgive them. It’s all the ambiguities of forgiveness that interest me. Often, when we forgive a person, we want to offload negative feelings, like hatred, revenge and resentment, which are just exhausting. Forgiveness, which looks altruistic, is actually egoistic. Paradoxes fascinate me. Things are more complicated than one thinks or would like to believe. They say it’s difficult to forgive but it’s also difficult to be forgiven, as I show in the first short story, “The Barbarin Sisters”. Of these twin sisters, one of them is loving and the other experiences her position as a victim and thinks her sister is overshadowing her and breathing her air. She wants revenge, and the more she takes revenge, the more her sister forgives her. To be forgiven is to have your nose rubbed in what you did wrong and at the same time, it’s about living under the eye of someone who’s more generous than you are. You’ve done something wrong and you’re cast in the role of the baddy into the bargain.
That’s something else that reappears in your short stories: family relationships are always complicated.
That’s a constant in my books, although I had very loving parents whom I loved. I didn’t love them because we were the same family: I loved them because they were who they were. I never felt that the principle of love was kinship. I’ve been a father to children who weren’t mine. I play a role in other people’s lives even though they’re not my family. My mother passed away a few months ago. I adored her, but it’s not a mother I miss, it’s the person she was.
With you, forgiveness often comes to a sticky end: people die after being forgiven or after having forgiven themselves.
Yes, but they’re not the same deaths. In “Draw Me a Plane”, death is a redemption. That man thinks he did something horrible in the past and he realises what it was afterwards. He suddenly finds it unbearable. He can’t forgive himself. That’s what interested me in that short story. The little girl gives him the key: she tells him, you don’t forgive something, you forgive someone. To forgive is to say to someone: “You’re not only what you did.” It means saying to a child: “You’re not just the silly thing you did.” Or to a criminal: “You’re not the crime you committed, you’re other things, as well.”
But can one forgive a criminal? Can one forgive a terrorist who decimates a family? Can one forgive everybody?
I’m a proponent of forgiveness. But there are some things I don’t know that could forgive. If someone hurts me, I can always forgive them, but if someone hurts the people I love, I’m not sure that I can. So, I’m caught in the logic of emotion. At the time of the Brussels-Zaventem Airport bombing, my family was at the airport. They’d taken off 10 minutes before the explosions; the person who checked them in died. I had to wait for them in Rome, I had to wait for them to call me to tell me they were OK. If the worst had happened, I don’t think I would have been capable of thinking about forgiveness. Forgiveness is a pathway, anyway, it has an intellectual time and an emotional time. You decide to forgive, but emotional forgiveness only happens after a few days, months or years, at which point you agree with your decision to forgive. Deliberate forgiveness is there to give you the space required for emotional forgiveness to take place. Forgiveness is a live act.
Is it easier to forgive other people or oneself?
Other people. I can’t forgive myself for certain absences, I can’t forgive myself for the hurt I might have involuntarily caused certain people. I feel very close to the last character, who can’t forgive himself, either. Maybe I love other people more than myself.
The short story with the same title as the book, “The Revenge of Forgiveness”, gave rise to all the others. The story involves a woman visiting her daughter’s murderer in prison…
Twenty years ago, I met the lawyer who was dealing with a famous serial killer. He told me what a terrible disappointment the trial had been for the victim’s parents. The man hadn’t shown any remorse or regret; he was inflicting another kind of violence on them, which was indifference. The parents came away with no understanding and no sense of comfort. The mother of one of the victims had reacted in a way that had shocked everybody: she was going to the prison to see the killer, who’d been given a life sentence. The lawyer was wondering what she was looking for. The story is what I think.
You say the lawyer told you that story 20 years ago. That’s not exactly yesterday and you’ve only just come back to it now. Were the beginnings of the story languishing in a bottom drawer?
No, I never take notes, I have complete faith in my brain. If it records something, the story builds itself on its own. It’s an experience. In fact, I’m pregnant. The foetus feeds off everything in my life, until the story is ready. I don’t sit down at my table every day wondering what I can write. I only write a few weeks per year with a sense of total urgency.
We shut the book wondering about our own capacity for forgiveness…
That might have been my aim. I’m a philosopher by training, my stories always have their roots in philosophical thought. I sow seeds. The idea is that, when you’ve finished reading, you question, consider, discuss. I love telling stories, I love giving characters life, but in each novel, story or play, there's always a fable in the background, a thought-provoking story. That is my literary plan.
You’ve been a member of the Goncourt Academy jury since last year. How is that going?
I realised I’d become paralysed as a reader. I was reading the classics. I’d shut the windows of French literature and was reading my friends’ novels and the great classics but I wasn’t really going any further. I’m delighted to have taken on this task: I’ve discovered there are vast numbers of talented people out there.
Le bouquinivore - « It’s hard not to like a book by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. »
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt has to be one of my favourite authors. He belongs to that small circle of heterogeneous authors I never tire of reading and revisiting with every new book.
His latest collection of four short stories, published for the new literary season 2017, revolves around the theme of forgiveness.
It has to be the third story, from which the book takes its title, that touched me most and gave me most to think about. Elise has tragically lost her daughter who was raped and murdered by a serial killer. Elise tries to understand the reasons for his brutal crime and she starts going to visit him regularly in prison, hoping that he will end up repenting and she will forgive him. And that’s where the author’s genius lies, as he lets us touch the power of forgiveness with our fingertips.
It’s monstrous to place these stories in a hierarchy, but incontestably, the third and first are far and away my favourites.
It’s hard not to like a book by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, especially for his writing and his sense of language. He knows how to take us with him and make us think, this time, about forgiveness and whether it’s both an act of kindness and also a weapon of revenge.
Again, I can’t say more than “go and read this new collection”: it can’t fail to move you.
Songe d'une nuit d'été - « A class act of story-telling »
Four stories, one of which I haven’t yet read, the one with the same title as the book. The subject just seems too depressing. So, I’m going to talk about the other three, which involve a village tragedy, a love story and a redemption. This is a powerful book, a glimmer of light in the dark like a meteor in the summer sky, like something obvious that is followed by silence. To believe in forgiveness and in its virtue is to believe forever in miracles and to reject the cold and dark with all one’s might. I was reminded of the wise structure of The Sect of the Egoists. Paper characters here become flesh-and-blood people and deliver a message that seems so banal, we’d think we’d seen, read and heard it since the dawn of time: love always conquers. But it can be difficult sometimes to know that love, to recognise it and to understand it. Sensitivity has its own intelligence that touches our hearts and souls. You’re not telling a story, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, you’re talking right here beside us about what is universal and is the only thing we have: life. A class act of story-telling
Les chamoureux des livres - « Big favourite »
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is an author I don’t know much about. So far, I’ve only read his superb The Alternative Hypothesis, which impressed me, although some passages are a bit long.
Now, the author brings us four short stories: twin sisters who love and hate each other in equal measure throughout their lives; a powerful man who gets involved with an ingenuous young woman at his risk and peril; a former German serviceman, whose friendship with a little girl leads him to read Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince to her; a woman visiting her daughter’s assassin.
Although they seem very different, the stories all gravitate around one and the same theme: the theme of forgiveness. And that is where the book’s strength lies. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt uses four different stories to talk about forgiveness, but in an unusual way, offering the reader a glimpse of how complex that sentiment can be and how the journey there (and what a long journey it is) can take different forms.
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt has an impressive ability to wear different hats from one story to the next. He writes beautifully, his characters are all equally interesting and the stories are superbly crafted. In fact, I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about this book, even the endings wowed me; they were all so unexpected.
After reading this book, there was one thing I wanted to do: get down to reading more Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. Although these four stories are pretty tough, the author restores our faith in humankind. In The Revenge of Forgiveness, a title suggestive of what the author wants to teach us, we learn that forgiveness can appear in different guises. An absolute must-read.
My blog so chou - « Outstanding value for the new literary season 2017 »
You can’t remain indifferent to the title of this book because it associates two opposing ideas. According to the dictionary, forgiveness is the action of discounting an offence. You wipe the slate clean and move on.
Here, however, the use of forgiveness is distorted: it is used by evil as a means to get revenge.
The author places his readers in the position of the jury. He asks us to empathise with his protagonists and imagine what we would do in their place.
I found these four short stories utterly compelling. They made me think about the true meaning of forgiveness and sometimes take sides and try to understand the characters’ thought processes in the face of a given situation.
The book represents outstanding value for the new literary season 2017 and I heartily recommend it.
Critiques Libres - « A book that acts like a tonic »
Like Concerto to the Memory of an Angel, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s new book is a series of (enigma) variations on a single theme, here, forgiveness and the strength and unexpected effects it can have.
Forgiveness is an apology for a morality of redemption and it can have important and beneficial consequences. You’d think things would turn out OK under the auspices of forgiveness, when those involved seem inclined to understand the reasons and effects. The development of that idea is well handled in an unfussy, efficient style, as though to give the stories the stamp of the obvious. The hint of naivety which this philosopher gives the stories is appropriate for a book that acts like a tonic and rings true.