8 September 2023

The writer Pierre Michon, in Guéret, in 2007.

“Les Deux Beune”, by Pierre Michon, Verdier, 156 p., €18.50, digital €15.

Readers of Pierre Michon know this: “The king comes when he wants”. This is the title of a collection of interviews given by the writer (Albin Michel, 2007). It means, to put it succinctly, that literature – inspiration, grace, whatever you want to call it – happens as it pleases. It arises when it sees fit, regardless of the expectations and efforts of those who dedicate their lives to watching for it. It is in particular to this quasi-divine law that he attributes the thinness of his bibliography (in other words: texts he deemed worthy of publication), inversely proportional to his fame as a contemporary classic.

Over the decades, Pierre Michon had expressed his hope of following up on The Big Beune (Verdier, 1996), this bewildering novel of desire which is undoubtedly his favorite book. With the king definitely showing up when he wishes, “La Petite Beune” arrived some three decades after “La Grande”, with which it is published today under the title The Two Beunes. And what is immediately striking is a miracle: when so many years have passed, it immediately manages to relaunch the almost hallucinated erotic tension that carries the first text. The Big Beunehowever, ends in a form of appeasement: “And finally we all slept, the Beune continued. »

On this sentence closes this text of eighty pages whose narrator is a teacher sent at the age of 20 to teach in a school in Dordogne, very close to the cave of Lascaux – still open to the public in this year 1961. Plunges him into a form of feverish astonishment the village tobacconist, Yvonne, whom he introduces in sentences that have become famous: “I hardly believe in beauties that gradually reveal themselves (…) ; only apparitions carry me away. This immediately put abominable thoughts in my blood. »

Read also (2020): Article reserved for our subscribers Pierre Michon: “Whoever writes must not be the same man as the one who speaks to you”

And that’s about it. On the banks of the Beune, this modest stream to which the author gives the dimensions of a mythological river, the story winds around exchanges of glances, scenes of rural life tinged with a savage threat, discoveries of the paleontological heritage of the region. For a long time, Pierre Michon thought of entitling his book The origin of the worlda reference as much to Courbet’s painting representing a female sex (1866) as to prehistory and the birth of art.

Sentences with extraordinary density

Appearing at a time when relations between men and women are no longer envisaged quite as they were thirty years ago, and making fun of it, “La Petite Beune” ties the same symbols to the heart of sentences of extraordinary density, lovers of semicolons, tempted by the alexandrine which sometimes gives them a Hugolian scansion. From “La Grande” to “La Petite Beune”, while the outcome is always postponed, sexual symbols are brandished, animal totems take turns, scenes are replayed – a procession of children carrying the remains of a fox in the former finds an echo in a Mardi Gras ritual of the latter. Looks are constantly exchanged, circulating and increasing the pressure.

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