Pennac embodies his Journal d’un corps

Le Journal d’un corps by Daniel Pennac. 

Pennac_afficheRegular readers of this blog know that I love theatre. There’s something special about seeing flesh and blood actors a few feet away from you, impersonating characters and telling a story night after night for an audience. Perhaps it resonates with childhood memories of listening to stories before bedtime or the pleasure comes from the knowledge that these actors are playing for us, the people sitting there and not for a camera. In a way it’s more personal. When my professional schedule leads me to Paris and there is time, I always look for a theatre play to watch. Last week was Mass Appeal and this week, it was Le Journal d’un corps by Daniel Pennac, with Daniel Pennac. If you’d looked inside my head when I found out about this on my usual theatre website, you would have seen my brain doing cartwheels in there. That’s how happy I was. I had loved the book Le Journal d’un corps and I’ve written about it here. I’ve been a Pennac fan for a long time now, loving the Malaussène series (see Guy’s review here) and his memoir about teaching, Comme un roman. It’s in this very book that Pennac lists the 10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader which are also advertised on my blog. Bref, he and I have a long story of one-sided admiration, my side of course. So, I felt like a teenager going to see her favourite rock star playing unplugged.

Pennac_wikiMy brain was doing cartwheels again, after the show. That was amazing, he was amazing. The concept of seeing an author reading his book is appealing to a bookworm, per se. The concept of seeing a writer impersonating his words is mind-blowing. When you read a book and the writer is a real author, you hear their literary voice. There’s no way to know if this voice is their natural voice or if it’s ventriloquism. For Pennac, his physical voice matches his literary voice. His voice is a little nasal, conveying the irony, the wit of his words. He’s a gourmet of words and he lets them roll around his tongue, reaching his taste buds and gives them back flavoured with good humour and passion. His lower jaw gives a special texture to his voice and a unique rhythm to his sentences. His eyes are a bid hidden by Harry Potter glasses but his mischievous look escapes their metallic frame, revealing his rebellious side. Everything in Pennac’s body speaks of childhood, play and of his healthy appetite for life and language. This is what I felt when I read Le Journal d’un corps. This is what I saw on stage, and I was sitting in the third row, quite close and with a clear view. How often do we have the opportunity to see a writer on stage, ten meters away, living his text on stage. Not reading it, playing it, turning the writer into an actor, giving life to his own words. Not often. He has the ease of excellent actors and teachers. I would have loved to sit in his class and hear him read masterpieces aloud.

Apart from the performance, the play reminded me how good the book is. It’s funny, accurate in its rendition of the human condition, universal and particular at the same time. If you’re French and you have the opportunity, go to the Théâtre du Rond Point and watch Pennac on stage. For foreigners, there’s always the book, sadly not translated into English. Yet.

PS : Post publication of this billet, I asked Folio whether Le Journal d’un corps will be translated into English. Good news for UK readers, MacLehose Press will publish it. Publication date still unknown, though.

  1. June 26, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    How lucky you are – and at the lovely Theatre du Rond Point. I love that place. Out here in the provinces, we’re lucky to get “The Lion King” and the occasional rehashing of a Sam Shepherd play.

    • June 26, 2014 at 10:43 pm

      I was lucky to be in Paris at the right moment.
      I’m confused: don’t you live in San Francisco ?

      • June 27, 2014 at 3:27 pm

        I do, and I’m exaggerating a bit about “the provinces,” but you’d be surprised by the poverty of the San Francisco theater scene – certainly as compared to Paris, where one can see something fantastic nearly every night, or even to Los Angeles, where theater is thriving compared to SF. We get lots of touring versions of Broadway hits and a smattering of fairly pedestrian revivals of more literary classics. Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart doing Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land earlier this year was an extremely rare exception to the usual hum-drum fare one finds here.

        • June 27, 2014 at 5:27 pm

          I’m really surprised by what you describe. So for good theatre you need to live in New York and nowhere else? (Chicago maybe?)

  2. June 29, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Emma: jumping into the conversation here. I used to be a frequent theatre attendee in SF and I went to some of the bigger places then ended up preferring littler theatres. Had some great times with some magnificent plays for several years and then times became very boring with either old titles or such PC stuff it wasn’t worth it.

    • June 29, 2014 at 10:20 pm

      Pff, this is really sad for such a big and lovely city.

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