Home > 1990, 20th Century, Dubois Jean-Paul, French Literature, Made into a film, Novel > Kennedy and me by Jean-Paul Dubois

Kennedy and me by Jean-Paul Dubois

Kennedy et moi by Jean-Paul Dubois. 1996 Not translated into English. (*sigh*)

Je m’appelle Samuel Polaris. Mon nom ne doit pas vous dire grand-chose. Dans la profession, on m’a toujours considéré comme un auteur sympathique mais secondaire. Quelqu’un de lisible mais de mineur. Un saisonnier de la littérature. Je n’avais pas à me plaindre de cette situation, d’autant que, dans son ensemble, la critique me ménageait. Jusqu’au jour où, invité d’une émission littéraire, en direct, à la télévision, j’ai refusé de réagir aux questions que l’on me posait. Je n’avais pas prémédité cette attitude. Simplement, lorsque le présentateur s’est adressé à moi, j’ai marqué un temps d’hésitation avant de répondre. Séduit par ce vide, j’ai senti que je devais en rester là et retenir mes phrases comme un plongeur sous-marin retient sa respiration. J’ignore encore pourquoi je me suis comporté ainsi, mais, ce jour-là, moi qui suis en permanence hanté par le doute, je sais que j’ai fait preuve de dignité. Devant ces caméras, face à tous ces gens, mon silence était une forme d’obscénité. J’étais assis sur mon siège, immobile, calme, buté, et je laissais fondre les mots dans ma bouche. Au cours de cette longue apnée, il m’a semblé que mon père, mort bien des années auparavant, était à mon côté et m’encourageait.Lorsque toutes les tentatives pour me faire desserrer les mâchoires eurent échoué, il se trouva quelqu’un d’assez lucide pour proposer d’interrompre l’émission. C’est ce moment que je choisis pour sortir de mon mutisme. Je me levai comme un homme qui s’apprête à faire une déclaration et poussai un cri interminable, un cri terrifiant qui remonta de mon ventre. Ensuite, je ramassai mes affaires et sortis sans bruit. My name is Samuel Polaris. It probably doesn’t mean anything to you. In my profession, I’m considered as a nice but secondary writer. Readable but minor. A seasonal worker of literature. I couldn’t complain about it, especially since most of the critics left me alone. Until the day when, as a guest in a literary talk-show broadcasted live, I refused to react to the questions I was asked. I hadn’t planned this attitude. However, when the anchorman talked to me, I hesitated before answering. Seduced by this void, I felt I should remain silent and hold back my sentences like a diver holds their breath. I still ignore why I behaved like this but that day, I who is always haunted by doubt, I know I was full of dignity. Before these cameras, in front of all these people my silence was a form of obscenity. I was seated on my chair, immobile, quiet, and stubborn and I let the words melt in my mouth. During this long apnea, it seemed that my father, who had died years before, was standing by my side approvingly. When all attempts to make me utter a word failed, eventually someone was lucid enough to suggest ending the show. I chose this moment to come out of my absolute silence. I stood up like a man ready to make a speech and I yelled a long cry, a terrifying cry coming from my guts. Then I picked up my things and left silently.(My translation)

I know this is a long quote but it represents well the tone of this fantastic novel.

Samuel Polaris is 46, he’s a writer and he hasn’t been able to write a line after the episode he relates in the previous quote. He just stays home, idly spending his days in his office with a beautiful view on the ocean. His wife Anna is a speech therapist in a private clinic. She’s been cheating on her husband for three years with the clinic’s ENT specialist. Samuel knows it but doesn’t care. Samuel and Anna have three grown-up children and they don’t understand them anymore. Sarah, the eldest is finishing school to become orthodontist. She chose this career path for money and heads to a petit-bourgeois life. Nathan and Jacob are twins and work in the Internet industry. They are some kind of geeks, talk in binary mode and have that secret understanding only twins have. Samuel doesn’t relate to them and to be fair, Anna doesn’t either.

The novel is a first person narrative, giving us a direct access to Samuel’s troubled thoughts. It’s intertwined with Anna’s point of view, told by an omniscient narrator. Samuel is depressed and he slowly drifted away from family life. His children are materialistic strangers, creatures from a generation he doesn’t understand. He has now sunk to the depths of his own black pool of misery. He buys a gun. (Note to American readers: this is not a common thing in France) Will he manage to give a kick at the bottom and resurface to the light of life?

The best adjective to describe this book is FRENCH. It’s introspective, seen from the side of a man who doesn’t know what to do with himself anymore. It was made into a film and, as the cover of my copy gives it away, the director chose Jean-Pierre Bacri to play Samuel’s part. A perfect choice. He has the physic, the voice, the right frown and the right pout to impersonate Samuel. I even wondered if the scenario wasn’t written before the book. Now, I want to watch the film and I could imagine it. Dubois’s style is excellent, sober and yet powerful. He was born in 1950 like Samuel and he might have poured some parts of him in this novel.

Dentists have several parts in this novel as Samuel suffers from an acute tooth ache at some point and as Sarah and her boyfriend are dentist-to-be. I don’t know how it is in other countries but in France’s imagery, the dentist is a symbol of a greedy, petit-bourgeois and snob person. Dentists are supposed to make a lot of money, charge a lot for their work and enjoy their wealth. It’s not as noble as being a doctor, as if they chose dentistry because they failed in medical school. I wonder why they are so mocked; after all, anyone with a tooth ache will tell you they are very useful. Perhaps it stems from the difficulty to bond with a human being who works on your teeth with a surgical mask while your mouth is wide open. It doesn’t foster communication, does it?

A character who is a writer, who experiences a mid-life crisis, who lives beside the ocean, probably in Biarritz since Dubois refers to surfers, a wrecked marriage, difficult children, all this sounds like a book by Philippe Djian. The two writers are from the same generation but don’t have the same sense of humour. Dubois has a dark sense of humour and applies it to situations while Djian is more into self-irony. However, if I’d read Kennedy et moi without knowing the name of its author, I would have guessed Djian.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that this novel was translated into English. Dubois’s other novel Une Vie française is available in English but I didn’t enjoy it as much as this one. Well, you still have the film…

  1. August 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    I know I would really like this one, so I’ll have to try and track down the film. Bacri is an excellent actor and he excels in the roles where he’s cast as slightly anti-social. The scene with the talk show reminds me of several French films I’ve seen.
    Thanks.

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    • August 19, 2012 at 10:31 pm

      When I wrote the review I felt sorry that you couldn’t read it: it’s your kind of book, you’d love Samuel’s crazy reactions and his opinion of his daughter and her boy-friend.
      The film was a success and it had good critics. It’s probably a good alternative. I really really want to see it too.

      Like

  2. August 19, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    How nice that you review him as have I discovered the author this week. I was going to buy Une vie française … I might rather read this instead if you liked it better. In any case, he sounds like a writer well worth discovering.
    I was wondering where it is set as he sees the ocean.
    It’s true what you say about dentists. It’s actually possible they do not do very same studies, they may be abot shorter. I always compare them to lawyers. Most lawyers and dentists I met in my life really did it for the money with some exceptions, of course. But corporate lawyers and dentists have somehting in common.

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    • August 19, 2012 at 10:38 pm

      Une vie française is kind of conventional compared to this one. I really liked Samuel.

      About dentist and corporate lawyers, it’s probably due to their tariff. In the office sometimes I think our lawyer bills every breath when I see the invoices. (No offense, Max, if you read this. I know you work very hard and certainly don’t charge all your hours)

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      • August 20, 2012 at 10:25 pm

        I can think of quite a few dentists in film: Compromising Positions, Little Shop of Horrors. I suppose they make good subjects.

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