L'élixir d'amour


Is love just a chemical process or is it a spiritual miracle? Is there an infallible way of making someone fall in love – like the potion that once united Tristan and Isolde – or, on the contrary, are people completely free to fall in love?

Former lovers, Adam and Louise, now live thousands of miles apart, Adam in Paris, Louise in Montreal. In letters detailing past heartbreak and fresh dalliances, they challenge one another to make the person they fancy fall in love. But this is a game that surely conceals a trap…

A pertinent observer of the vagaries of the heart, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt explores the mystery of love and attraction.


Le Figaro - « E.-E. Schmitt: games of love »

The scars of a love life that time has not healed brought Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt the realization that, if we are to be happy, we need to prioritize “lucid love”. This is the premise of The Elixir of Love (Albin Michel), a novel structured around the letters between a man and a woman who have separated and settled, respectively, in Paris and Montreal. Through their correspondence, Schmitt probes the enigma of attraction. He confirms that for his couple to succeed, they need to love one another with all their failings. He ponders the existence of a potion capable of arousing passion and questions the hazards of instant gratification – dangerous games conducive to jealousy and possessiveness. For him, real love should outlive pleasure, but that is rare these days. In Brussels where he lives today, he is told that the city holds the world record for separation. “But it’s also the city where, afterwards, it’s easiest to relocate…” he adds with a smile

Jacques Pessis

Toutelaculture.com - « “The Elixir of Love”, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s updating of Dangerous Liaisons »

In his new opus, which comes out (unusually) this spring, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt imagines the correspondence between two former lovers who ended their affair to find out more about new love… In the bookshops from 2nd May.

Louise and Adam have ended a ten-year love affair that was both passionate and mutual. Adam suggests friendship with Louise on bases that are all the more solid now that they live apart: he in Paris, she in Montreal. Through good years and bad, their letters grow increasingly affectionate, and the pair encourage each other to go in search of new love. Better still, Louise appears to hand Adam his new prey on a silver dish: Lucy, a pretty, young Canadian colleague who is going to work in Paris where she knows no one. Adam, a psychoanalyst, bets Louise that his profession will lead him to seduce Lucy…

With more of a nod to Wagner than to Donizetti, Schmitt’s Elixir of Love reduces the number of writers of Dangerous Liaisons to two characters, both drawn with panache and whose letters are extraordinarily intimate. The element of manipulation is slightly less credible but adds piquancy to the aphorisms, good advice and common sense concealed in these, often very short, missives. The smouldering embers give Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt the chance to gamble with moralists…

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, The Elixir of Love, Albin Michel, 162 pp., 15 euros, publication date, 2nd May 2014.

“Weariness with a person is a kind of obsession: you’d rather think of them with distaste than not think of them at all. Louise.” (p.94)

BE - « JULIE GUADET read The Elixir of Love by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt (Albin Michel). Publication date, 2nd May. »

The first line of the book?
“If you’re listening, Louise, hi. If you can’t hear me, goodbye.”
Tell us the story.
Louise and Adam have separated and now live thousands of miles apart, she in Montreal, he in Paris. They’re still fond of each other and launch into an exchange of letters, in which they go over their past, their friendship, passion, dating relationship, and love.
How long did it take you to read?
Two hours.
The sentence that made most impression on you?
“Skin is all that separates love from friendship. It’s a fine line…”
One good reason to read it?
For the author’s instructive appraisal of love and dating relationships and also for the way he puts words to the bonds between men and women, something it can be difficult to describe.
Whom would you give it to?
To everyone. The book is enlightening whether or not you’re in a relationship.
What grade would you give it?
A. The words are spot-on and the emotions conveyed in the letters are superbly described.
Julie Guadet is in a long-distance relationship

Julie Guadet

Le quotidien du médecin - « The Elixir of Love »

At issue in The Elixir of Love – a witty gem of a book by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, playwright, novelist, writer of short stories and non-fiction, musician and director, to mention just some of the hats he wears – is the question, whether it’s possible to make people fall in love. Louise, a solicitor, and Adam, a psychoanalyst, have separated after five years of living together. She has had enough of his affairs and leaves Paris for Montreal. Adam writes to her and suggests they turn their “wounded passion” into “tranquil affection”. The book consists of their letters which describe, at times, the wounds of the past, and at others, their new romantic adventures. This is an epistolary novel, then, dedicated to love, but the treatment is thoroughly modern and involves a surprise confirming that, today just as much as yesterday, the game is never up… (Albin Michel, 156 pp., €15)

Martine Freneuil

Femme Actuelle - « The Trials of Passion »

A novella to be read in one go, by the author of “Mr Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran”
Louise and Adam’s relationship is burnt out. She has emigrated to Canada while he stays ruminating in Paris. From behind their computer screens, they go over their lives in an exchange of emails and try to find the answer to their failed relationship. Louise and Adam choose a psychoanalytical approach to the problem; but can love be solved by Freudianism? It’s not easy to turn over a new leaf when you’ve been in love. To prevent the scars forming, they tell each other about their new sexual adventures. Could this epistolary match have a positive outcome? Such is the moral of this fable for our times, which you can read in an hour.
The Elixir of Love, Albin Michel, 162 pp. €15.


Lapresse.ca - « The Elixir of Love by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt: the essence of love »

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s new book, The Elixir of Love, takes its pace from the immediacy of exchanged emails.

In The Elixir of Love, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt explores love and desire, territories that are often confused in his opinion. Two cities make up the backdrop to his novel: Paris and Montreal, each having its own seasons, scents and colours, and where, significantly, the culture of love is very different.

The flame between Louise and Adam has gone out. While she flies to Montreal, he stays behind in Paris. Since the ocean inevitably prevents a rekindling, Adam suggests they turn the remains of their passion into affection. Louise slyly replies with a challenge: to discover the secret of love in order to cause someone they fancy to fall in love. The hunt is on: each must choose their prey.

The book takes its pace from the immediacy of their exchanged emails. Schmitt thus embarks on an updating of a somewhat neglected but no less delightful genre: the epistolary novel. He handles the form as a serious lover of the Enlightenment and the French language – quite simply, then, as a lover.

Qu. Because The Elixir of Love is a short, concise novel, it could seem light-weight at first sight, but in actual fact, you’ve rather cleverly filled out the background…

A: Yes. The work should hide the work; the artistry should hide the art. I hone my writing until you can no longer see any trace of my labours and it looks so natural and spontaneous that you think it came out effortlessly. My creative-writing teacher isn’t actually a writer, he’s a musician: Mozart. A composition has to look painless. That’s how it can suddenly enter people’s minds. At least, that’s what I try to do. I love writing short pieces – some of my most popular books, like Oscar and the Lady in Pink or Mr Ibrahim, are very short -, but it takes me as long to write a novella as it does to write a full-length novel. And I find the French language ideally suited to a kind of writing that’s reined in and ready to burst out.

Qu. Like music, then. At the same time, The Elixir of Love is a real mine of aphorisms. There are at least forty of them…

A: When I started out writing for the theatre, a bit over 20 years ago, some critics described me as a fount of aphorisms. Over time, they realised that it came naturally, that the page hadn’t been written to surround the aphorism, but that the philosophy had been concentrated into an aphorism. It’s a fundamental part of how I write, to the extent that I’m no longer conscious of it.

Qu. Nevertheless, it’s in the spirit of the 18th century…

A: I feel as though I’m a living 18th-century author! That’s where my roots lie. For a start, there’s the ever-present Mozartian model. The only proper job I ever had was as a Philosophy lecturer at a university where I was officially a 17th- and 18th–century specialist. The Enlightenment offers ideals that I carry about in me: the urge to share knowledge; pedantry – as subtly as possible –, and also the use of non-philosophical genres to convey philosophical thought, i.e., philosophy in the form of a story, a novel, a play or, as here, love letters.

Qu. In The Elixir, Paris and Montreal are a bit like theatre sets, or maybe screens on which the characters project their souls as the seasons pass…

A. A place should say something about the character, especially in a short novel. Paris, for Adam, is a place of libertine arrogance, a beautiful, macho city entirely oriented towards love, but at the same time, it’s completely rotten inside. It’s a city with two seasons, stifling and freezing. It’s a metaphor for love. Between the tropics and the ice age, is there a happy medium? That’s what he’s looking for. For Louise, Montreal is a place where she can rebuild her feminine identity, a place where women can be different because they’re far more independent, less oriented in their behaviour towards men, the way European women are. It’s a city at the gateway to the natural landscape. It’s a place where she can touch base and change.

Qu. Is it women that interest you here?

A. I’ve always been struck by the difference between French women and Canadian women, and by the way that influences sexual relations. Any European man who’s had a relationship with a Canadian woman can’t believe how frankly they can talk about what’s happened, including sex. In France, it’s only ever the man who proffers an opinion on the issue. Which says it all about the persistence of machismo on the Old Continent!

Qu. When Adam writes that “love had to be invented to poeticize life”, cultural differences are transcended and sublimated…

A: Adam observes that love rekindles one’s sense of wonder and surprise. It’s like refreshing rain. When you’re in love, routine is erased and you go back to noticing things because you see them with somebody else. Love harbours the key to renewal through wonder and surprise, and that’s highly beneficial. Basically, Adam tells us that he’s in love with being in love.

Qu: Could The Elixir of Love be adapted for the stage?

A: Yes, I’ve already considered it. And I’m a bit inclined to give it a go. The advantage of a rapid exchange of emails is that they’re exactly like the lines of a play.

Qu: Emails are also a way of reviving letter-writing…

A: Yes, contrary to what everybody says, I think we write more today than people did 30 or 40 years ago. At the same time, when you send texts, it’s instantaneous. In Laclos’ day, the time it took to write a letter was the same as the time it takes to think something through. People knew a letter would take days to get there. When the answer arrived a week later, their lives had already moved on. I’d say that slow, horse-transported correspondence promoted lasting sentiments like love, and that the quick correspondence of the present day is more likely to promote emotional turmoil and desire.

Qu: Your book shows that men tend to project themselves on to a woman and that the woman knows this, and that’s how she makes a man work. Is that how the trap functions?

A: I think men are more predictable than women. When a man says ‘yes’, he means ‘yes’. When a woman says ‘yes’, it might mean ‘yes’, ‘no’ or something else. Women have a sense of real-life psychology. They analyze themselves and they analyze those around them. Men tend to generalize when it comes to psychology: they think about the human condition but they don’t necessarily analyze themselves adequately, or analyze their real-life relationships with real-life women.

Qu: In fact, women have control by allowing men to play the sorcerer’s apprentice?

A: Yes, that’s right. Sexual relationships are a bit of a game where the rules aren’t necessarily explicit and what’s implicit is just the best bet.

Qu: Basically, the Don Juan myth?

A: My first play, “Don Juan on Trial”, was a variation on Don Juan. I’ve always been obsessed by these issues. How long should love last? How do love and desire interact? Once desire is satisfied, does something come out of it? If so, is that something love? The problem with love is that the same word means two different territories: desire and emotion. We experience our serious love affairs on the frontier but there’s always the risk of falling into one of the two territories then not being able to get back to the other.

Qu: Are we free to love? Can we choose the person we fall for? Are we chosen?

A: I don’t think we really have the freedom to choose the person we fall in love with. It’s more something that comes upon you. The one freedom we have, is the freedom to miss an opportunity, I mean, not agreeing to love someone. The great thing is when you take the plunge and tell yourself: “I’m going for it!” It’s more difficult in the present era because we valorize refusal while acceptance has been de-valued. Control has been idealized. We think we’re being clever by saying “no”. Saying “yes” is acquiescing to what’s going to happen to us, privileging something that’s beyond our control. Agreeing to an affair is saying the big “yes”.

Richard Boisvert

Le Huffington Post - « Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt publishes The Elixir of Love (Interview) »

Le Huffington Post Québec
By Anne Bourgoin

He has written more than 30 plays, novels and novellas and directed several films. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt positively devours life. In his latest novel, The Elixir of Love, the prolific author explores the mystery of desire and love. We met him during his brief trip to Montreal.

Mr Schmitt, you have written a lot about spirituality. Why did you choose love this time?

Love itself is spirituality. To love someone is to decide to put down roots in that other person. To imbue your life with love is to prioritize both intensity and endurance, in other words, to be fully in the present but at the same time to envisage the future.

The separation of Louise and Adam leads to an exchange of emails on the theme: are we free to fall in love? What were you hoping to explore?

What interests me is the friction between desire and love. I think the main problem with love is that we have the same word to denote two territories: the land of desire and the land of sentiment. Now, desire can sometimes do without sentiment; it can be self-sufficient and end when pleasure ends. Sentiment, however, doesn’t always involve desire and the flesh. We love our children, our parents, friends, etc. That kind of love involves a physical being, but it’s not sensual or sexual. And at the frontier of those two lands are our serious relationships when we try to have both at the same time, and that’s not always easy because we’re not always in synch. For instance, attachment to someone can last and desire can have procrastinations, hesitations, absences. Should we decree that once desire is gone, that’s the end of love, or should we wait? That’s how the novel begins. Louise and Adam have separated, and he tells her: “Skin is all that separates love from friendship. It’s a fine line.” For her, it’s humiliating that there’s no longer any desire between them, because that was essential. The whole book is about that.

The Elixir of Love is the title of an opera. What made you choose it for this novel?

It’s about a love potion. Potion wouldn’t have meant the same to people and elixir is a delightful word because it’s so sensual. The title is all about the potion: can we deliberately make someone fall in love? Do we have that power? Is there some sort of behaviour that can infallibly generate love? It’s a way into the subject of love. What are the principles, the drivers, and so on? What interested me behind the word, was to say, “yes, but there’s a trap behind it all.” Of course, you can deliberately make someone fall in love, but can you deliberately stop it? When Adam tries to make Lily fall in love, he thinks he’s not going to stop it. But Lily passes and goes off. He hadn’t planned that. And the love grew in him and he hadn’t foreseen that, either. There’s the use of the elixir but there’s also the question why you use it. It was a fictional theme with several stages, many layers.

You give the appearance of writing with consummate ease, all in one go. Is that really the case?

That’s always the impression I aim for. (Laughs) I love making people think it’s simple, though that can be hazardous. “It’s so easy!” Yes, but it takes so much work to conceal the work! In The Elixir of Love, there’s an admixture of fiction and philosophy that’s completely interwoven. It’s almost as much a serious book about love as a novel.

The Elixir of Love, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, Editions Albin-Michel

Anne Bourgoin

cultur'elle - « Love had to be invented to poeticize life. »

I may not put the same faith in Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt as I do in Didier Van Cauwelaert (I’m a monotheist), but he’s still an author I find hard to resist, especially when he’s telling us about the world’s greatest mystery – love – and is probing its mechanics.

Louise and Adam have gone their separate ways, after five years of love that has taken the froth off their desire. Louise has put the ocean between them by moving to Canada and, on Adam’s initiative, they start a correspondence because he doesn’t want them to become strangers to one another. The question that concerns them is: can love be engineered…

Although this is a slim volume making it more a novella than a novel, The Elixir of Love is a far-reaching and profound work that seeks to probe the mysteries of passionate love. The operatic title – a reference to the myth of Tristan and Isolde – is revealing even if we’re not strictly in the realms of magic. Through their exchange of letters, the characters of Louise and Adam take shape and are differentiated. Adam is an avatar of Don Juan; indeed, some of the themes Schmitt tackled in Don Juan on Trial are revisited here, including the opposition/confusion between Eros, corporeal love, and Agapé, spiritual love. For Adam, the two are fundamentally different, which is how he justifies his infidelities, because, although he loves Louise, he has ceased to desire her, not that that mattered: “sex and love occupy different territories”. Louise, on the other hand, starts out as the more romantic of the two, seeing the two types of love as inseparable, but by the end, she is more pragmatic and wised-up.

Ultimately, the real question in this quasi-philosophical novel concerns freedom in love, a question Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt is careful not to answer, leaving the reader to decide for herself. As usual, this is also an erudite novel, involving references that are more or less easy to discern (readers won’t necessarily spot them all, but that doesn’t matter), from Dangerous Liaisons, of which this is obviously a modern telling, to Tristan and Isolde via Don Juan, Stendhal on love, and Freud (Adam is a psychoanalyst). There are, of course, some splendid pages on the theme of sexual love and a wonderful passage about opera that brought tears to my eyes.

It’s a shame about the length, but The Elixir of Love is still a glittering novel that offers a delectable read.

The Elixir of Love
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Albin Michel, 2014

Caroline Doudet

Le Semeur - « The Alchemy of Love »

Louise and Adam are separated and now live thousands of miles apart, he in Paris, she in Montreal. By email, they set each other a challenge: they will make someone fall in love.
Their correspondence describes past wounds and their present lives and new adventures, and they swap ideas on the mystery of love and attraction.
But playing with love potions – a trap to make people fall in love – surely conceals another game…
This is the story of The Elixir of Love, the latest novel by playwright, novelist and film director, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt.
Translated into some fifty languages and a member of the Royal Academy of French Language and Literature of Belgium, Schmitt is one of the most widely read and performed authors in the world.
The Elixir of Love, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, Albin Michel, 156 pages, €15.