Each writer has his kitchen. His hobbies, his tricks. That of Jean-Paul Dubois (Toulouse, 1950), last Goncourt prize , is one of the most original. On March 1, he sits down at the computer and writes the first sentence of a novel. On March 31, he ends it.
Between the two dates he writes every day without a break, from ten in the morning until three in the morning, with an hour in between to cycle. Eight pages a day. Then give the book to the editor. And until another March. “I’m a one-month-a-year writer,” Dubois says in a telephone interview. “The rest of the time I repair things, I take care of the people I love, I live.”
The most recent result of this particular method is Not all men inhabit the world in the same way , published in Spanish by Alianza de novelas, in translation by Amaya García Gallego, and in Catalan ( No tots els homes viuen de la mateixa modo ) by Edicions 62 in translation by Pau Joan Hernàndez.
With this story of caring men confronted with adverse situations, Dubois won the most prestigious award for French literature in 2019. Bernard Pivot, who until December chaired the Goncourt Academy, compared him to John Irving and William Boyd. Another writer, Frédéric Beigbeder, described him as “a great American novelist who lives in Toulouse.”
“I make books because I can’t make movies,” he confesses. “But I always have in mind the framing, the scenes. I roll the movie as I write. And to shoot I need a voice, the voice off that counts, that of the narrator ”.
Not all men inhabit the world in the same way , his twenty-second novel is a set: Toulouse, Denmark, Canada. And it is, above all, a voice, that of the narrator, Paul Hansen, the son of a French woman and a Dane who speaks to us from a Québec prison cell where he lives with Patrick Horton, a motorcyclist from Hell’s Angels, and with their dead relatives.
“We live permanently with ghosts, with people who continue to inhabit us through memory and memories,” says the author. These people – the dead, the ghosts – accompany him while he writes, and at the same time accompany his character, a loser who is only apparently a loser.
“The starting point of the book is the life of a man I know, Serge,” says Dubois. “He is a humanly formidable guy. He is what is called a superintendent: someone who does everything in a building in Canada. And it takes care of those who live there. He helps them, takes care of them, does their shopping when the ground is frozen. He has seen them grow old. His life haunted me. I am fascinated by his generosity, his elegance and his intelligence ”.
The book tells of life in the cell and the relationship between Paul and Patrick. And also the biography of Paul. His childhood in Toulouse.
The march to Canada in the footsteps of his father, who is a Protestant pastor, in a mining town. Work as a janitor in an apartment building in Montreal, meeting Winona, a seaplane pilot. And the moment when everything goes wrong. Or so it seems.
A story of good men going astray? “No, on the contrary. Both father and son begin to be truly good people from the moment they rebel, when they do not accept the unacceptable ”, disagrees Dubois. “When I write a book, I choose a field. You have to choose between those who have power and those who don’t. The reason I make books is because in my life I chose never to have patterns or to exercise any power over anyone. ”
Dubois always dreamed of being the owner of himself and his time. “Even if it is to do nothing, or to work a lot, but for me and with the hours that I want,” he clarifies. “I’ve always gone to bed at three or four in the morning and wake up when I’m no longer sleepy. For me this is the foundation of freedom ”.
From a young age, he looked for a job that did not occupy him all day. He was a reporter for the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur , which allowed him to write on his own terms, away from the newsroom and the hassles of the shutdown (his reports in the United States, published under the title L’Amérique m’inquiète , are true true stories). But I wanted more.
After winning the Fémina award in 2004 for A French Life , she was able to leave journalism to dedicate herself exclusively to literature. Only in March, although during the remaining 11 months he collects, willingly or unwillingly, the material that will become fiction. “I am the boss and the worker, I do everything,” he sums up. “That’s why I make books: to be the owner of my life. It is my only pride and my only ambition. “