My deepest secret fear

December 29, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Tu verras by Nicolas Fargues. 2011 Not translated into English. (Perhaps it will be later)

Fargues_tu_verrasI picked this novel in a bookshop because the first page gripped me. A father was talking about his difficulties with his twelve-year-old son Clément and his newfound interest in R&B. After a few pages, I realized that Clément had died less than a week before and that his father, Colin was trying to cope with his grief.

It’s a first person narrative and Colin’s head is a sad place to be. His pain is a mountain that comes from his belly, invades his lungs and overflows through his eyes. Every detail from everyday life reminds him of Clément and it strikes him he’ll have to keep on living without him. Fargues manages to avoid the pitfalls of useless pathos, though. Colin is lucid, inventories his flaws, and comes back to his life as a son with divorced parents, to his failed relationship with Clément’s mother, to his lacking as a father. Colin bares his soul but is never an exhibitionist. His life is now tasteless but this new indifference to consequences leads him to take initiatives he wouldn’t have taken otherwise.

I think that this novel is particularly contemporary. Nicolas Fargues was born in 1972, he has the same age as his character. Colin got the custody of his son after his wife divorced him. He decided to renounce to a promotion to take care of Clément and fatherhood is vital for him. He changed nappies, prepared bottles of milk and doesn’t rely on a woman to raise his son. Welcome to the 21st century and welcome to a new generation of men, my generation, who are invested in their fatherhood. Colin is like many fathers in France these days; the ones you see in a suit, pushing a trolley in the morning; the ones that attended ultrasounds, helped with anti-stretchmark cream and studied parenthood books. Imagine that novel written in the 1950s? No way.

I was overwhelmed by the text because I can relate to Colin. Losing a child is probably one of my deepest fears and just thinking about it makes me shiver. Sometimes, I also saw myself in Colin’s reactions to Clément’s small rebellions. All parents know that, sometimes the stress of everyday life unleashes the worst out of us. Clément was 12, like my daughter now. I could relate to the struggles of this father with his adolescent son.

Clément qui était mort au seuil de l’âge des tentations, des mensonges et des conneries à ne pas faire, où l’on se gave de chewing-gums pour couvrir une haleine de cigarette et où l’on dissimule un joint dans le rabat de son carnet de correspondance, à l’âge où on rêve de coucher avec une fille, où l’on se connecte en douce sur le site YouPorn, à l’âge où vos parents ont du mal à s’enfoncer dans le crâne que vous n’êtes plus un enfant, que vous ne leur appartiendrez plus comme avant et que ça passe nécessairement par cela, devenir un adulte et préparer tout seul son bonheur pour demain : s’affanchir, qu’ils le veuillent ou non. Clément died on the threshold of the age of temptations, of lies and stupid things not to do. The age when we stuff our mouth with chewing-gum to cover a cigarette breath, when we hide a joint in the cover of a school textbook, when we dream of sleeping with a girl, when we connect to YouPorn in secret. The age when your parents struggle to get in their heads that you’re not a child any more, that you’ll never belong to them the same way and that this step is necessary to become an adult, to prepare on your own your happiness for the future. To set free, whether they want it or not. (My clumsy translation)

Adolescence is a difficult period for a child and twelve is the turning point between childhood and adolescence. Fargues depicts this beautifully. Children need to adjust to the changes in their bodies; they start shifting their set of references: what their friends think becomes more important than what their parents think. They start challenging their parents’ beliefs and values. The turmoil of adolescence is often described, but most of the time, nothing is said about the parents’ feelings. Sure, you’ll hear about fights and shouting and irritation. But what Fargues portrays here is how a parent needs to adjust too, when their child becomes a teenager. It’s a time to let go, to accompany your child towards adulthood. A parent needs to turn a page in their relationship with their child at this moment. The time of easy games and Santa Claus is over. It’s a time when you think “When did I shift from faking Santa Claus has come over to lending my mascara?” It’s not always simple to move on and react tactfully. Colin becomes aware of all this as he thinks about Clément, the futile fights over clothes, music or school. Clément was trying to find himself and Colin was trying to find another himself in him. It could only end up in conflicts. I sympathized with him, with his grief, his regrets. It made me think about my own behaviour as a mother.

This novel is also an accurate portray of today’s France. This is not Paris with Amélie Poulain, it’s the real one. Some critics said it shows that our children live in a world of consensus, of appearances and are under the pressure of “normality” and want to blend in. I don’t think it’s new for this generation; it’s always been like this. Clément wanted to be accepted by other children in school like every child in the world. I don’t think children and adolescent really like to stand out and be original, or if they do, it’s only marginally.

As you see, it’s a thought-provoking book and really, don’t shy away from it because of its theme. It’s well-written and Colin’s voice rings true, which is certainly why the book is so good.

  1. Brian Joseph
    December 29, 2012 at 2:07 am

    This sounds very powerful and terribly sad.

    I agree most, but not all young people want to blend in. I also agree that this has been true down through the generations.

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    • December 29, 2012 at 9:24 pm

      It was, I had to stop reading at times: too emotional
      I think most teenagers don’t want to stand out of the flock and at the same time wish to assert themselves. Hence the importance of clothes, make-up…You need a strong personality to voice anti-conformist ideas and stick to them.

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  2. December 30, 2012 at 3:40 am

    I don’t think I’d like this Emma–just not my taste more than anything and not a criticism of the book at all.

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    • December 30, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      This is probably not a book I’d choose for you but I’m not sure you wouldn’t like it.

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  3. December 30, 2012 at 10:02 am

    I hadn’t heard of this before. I have no children but I can still relate to the feeling of loss, only I would prefer a memoir on a topic like this and not a novel.

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    • December 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm

      I’d rather know that the pain I’m reading about is not real but imagined by a novelist.
      The loss is something crucial in the book and it touched me emotionally but the thoughts and gut feelings about parenthood are what interested me. The story enlarges to wider thoughts than just coping with the loss.

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  4. acommonreaderuk
    December 30, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    The effect it had on you is a little like the effect that Agnes Désarthe’s The Foundling had on me. We now have two small grand-daughters and the loving protection we extend to them is no less than it was for our own children 25 years ago.

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    • January 1, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      These books can’t leave you indifferent because they deal with something we are all afraid of. The untimely death of a friend or a relative is something we’d rather not think about.

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