by Corinne Royer
Actes Sud, 334 p., € 21
Corinne Royer dedicates her latest book “To those who struggle” and also “To those who fall”. The novelist seized on a news item from 2017: a cornered farmer, riddled with debt, literally chased by the health authorities and even the gendarmerie. Yet this capricious land had been cultivated with care and patience for generations. A heritage of which Jacques Bonhomme was proud. But everything goes wrong: the laws of nature are violated by administrative regulations. When all seems lost, there is only flight, a nine-day run that sets the pace for the polyphonic novel. Neighbors, friends, sisters bring their voices to try to understand the inexorable descent into hell of an angry peasant.
Magnificent loser, he does not weaken: “Colossus, get up and surrender to none other than the beauty of the world”, convinced of his right. Who can understand this nobility of the land? “We smell the scent of beasts and harvests, straw and dust. We are filthy, that, for sure, we are filthy!, old Baptiste concedes. It may sound miserable, tasteless, but life is fine for us. “
That was the peasantry. To this was added modernity, made of technicality and constraints: “One of the perverse effects of all these standards is that they necessarily induce a need for investment and therefore borrowing. And to repay these loans, we have to industrialize, produce more, faster, cheaper ”, notes Pierre, the civil servant aware of the vicious circle. “He could consider himself a victim of the aberrations of the system”, underlines his sister. Lonely, Bonhomme is not alone, however: he is the standard bearer of a whole people of the earth who suffer in silence. But he cannot be silent: “To be a peasant is first of all to be a standing man. “
The man in the wounded honor dreamed of another world, of another agriculture, of working the land in harmony with the life inherited. Faced with incomprehension, he becomes wild, neglects his animals, gets trapped and locks himself up. He is ready for anything: “To be confronted with someone who has nothing more to lose is a terrifying experience. ” The choral novel accumulates in short chapters the pieces of a puzzle without escape. The incisive literature bears witness: with an inflexible pen, Corinne Royer describes this agricultural world adrift, sacrificed, and dignified. If the rebellious man is to lose face, it will be with his feet on his land, in the middle of the earth.