The Country

Year: 
2005

While trying to define the essence of “The Country”, MD creates a clever definition of the self that is perpetually changing.

Darrieussecq invites us deep into the land of her fluid thoughts and we follow them joyfully: when boredom might threaten her writing, she writes shrewdly in several simple sentences that always entertain us; however, Darrieussecq lets this shrewdness stop in her character Marie Rivière’s narration, because her language shows all the stratums of a person’s identity. The central question in this book is that of belonging. What is it made of? Does it come from the dead (the memory), from noticing the world (the family), from love (the couple), from language…In short what is it that makes a “country”?

If one is looking for an author who writes of metamorphoses, nuances, ghosts, and discoveries, it can be found in The Country; although Darrieussecq fails to explain the main point in the novel (to define a tangible geography), this elevates the text to another level. The river runs, nourished by the tributaries of France , Europe , the world, from the dead and the living, and most of all from love. “They lived together for a period of time; a bubble formed between time and the others.” The only geography that Darrieussecq describes takes the form of a mould: the “dead” element in the living, the “couple” element in the “family,” the latter moving to another vast unit, an embryo of a fetus that the narrator waits to become a part of her body.

Writing, like feelings, are finally all that these elements can rely on- the rest is fiction, seeming to tell us that the narrator is attempting to return to her family in “B country” (like Darrieussecq’s native Bayonne ?), but she will fail (for the better) and return to Paris , the “country” that chose her, as if there had not been a time when she belonged.

But writing is also a language, and how we completely adhere to it when, “The French order it [language] to clarify the nature of things. The masculine dominates the feminine; if all the women of the world were with a male dog, they would be obliged, the women and the dog, to become masculine: the women and the dog are just being obedient.” In the end, The Country is less of a book about belonging than a joyful itinerary of (re)approval. It’s about a trying to find belonging in life.

Nelly Kaprièlian, Les Inrockuptibles, August 17th -23rd 2005

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The “disappearing public place”
In The Country, Marie Darrieussecq struggles with the questions of one’s relationship and belonging with the Earth, in a novel and unexpected way.

Marie Darrieussecq, in each of her novels, hesitates and oscillates between two possibilities, two hypotheses, and two ways of being, either with presence or absence. In true literature, one can understand the latter. It’s this absence that bravely takes the reader to the border that separates fullness and emptiness and shows the reader who marks this distinction. Of these two lands, the second is evidently more disturbing. Although absence is not the uniform, spread out, or equal, it is always plural, different, and strange. The author’s courage let’s us explore this universe and sometimes let’s us live there; she binds the citizens or ghosts of this “country” and their knowledge together. 

In the last paragraph of her novel, MD writes succinctly that: “The ghosts do not prowl around in limbo. They only exist in a collision. This is the only other way for them to appear.” When Darrieussecq’s first book, Truismes (Pig Tales), a flamboyant and carnal novel that frightened us about our most banal actions, is compared side by side with The Country, it is easy to see that it is the more incarnate of the two. But this incarnation does not claim its victory over absence. It does not filled like a hole, an emptiness, or a depression. Elsewhere, in this domain, this kind of victory would mark a sort of end of writing altogether… “You find that writing will bring you back to the table, intensely receptive of the ghosts.” 

The Broken Self

“This book speaks of living and being born somewhere, combining these types of rundown and diverse people” metaphorically from the map of France, from Paris to the south, to the Atlantic coast. Her country is both recognizable and imaginary, undoubtedly taking part in the Pyrenees but also residing in a place where there are no maps; this place is given a fictional name, Yuorangui, a country that has just been granted its independence. “Everything that made me human, I took with me. I had become m/e (j/e).” This broken “m/e,” as the psychoanalysts say, “not broken nor schizophrenic, but split and undone.” This is the state of the narrator: “My broken self (j/e) was running in my thoughts…and absorbed myself and was absorbed by the road, the trees, the country, these thoughts and this writing.” 

The novel is built around alternating voices: the first person direct and indirect, whom follows the exterior narration, the two shifting effortlessly and becoming two distinct voices. “She tried for 20 years to return home, but now it did not matter if she got home, but more so of embarking on a new exile…” With her “old language,” her particular funeral customs (the House of the Dead [Maison des morts] where one visit the deceased who are holograms), her substantial prose can elucidate an exhaustive knowledge, making this country resemble an island. To the question of her origins, there is a simple response: “I was from here.” Even in the final analysis, the identity is never just “the place of the unconscious.” On this strategy, Darrieussecq’s novel renews itself by an original and unexpected track, the question of belonging (to a language, to a world, to a nation), without maintaining the least nostalgia for the classic vision or traditional of taking root. “We were from a country if it was wanted; but this country was the realm of emptiness, a planet of monkeys covered in sand where the arm of a lost statue rises up from the ground.” All the same, there is not weakness nor compliance in favor of fights for independence: “All of Yuorangui who claimed to represent their country had lost a bit of their reason. Everyone who claimed to be from Yuorangui also were fearful, like being fearful of madmen.” At the end, there is nothing to say that is verifiable or suspicious: “She was standing on the Earth and it was turning.”

The other element of this book is relations. Marie belongs to a set of siblings, she is a part of a family, received and transmitted. She must keep her place, advance, be a sister and a mother, between a dead brother, Paul, and another, Pablo, an adopted child, who becomes crazy and calls himself the son of General de Gaulle. The few pages on Pablo are among the most beautiful and just of the entire book. At the point where these two storylines meet up, the main question appears suddenly with force and urgency. And above all, with a sense of obviousness: we are never finished taming our ghosts.

-Patrick Kéchichian, Le Monde, 26th August 2005

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Marie Darrieussecq’s novel, chosen by Télérama and France Culture 

One reads Marie Darrieussecq’s new novel with the impression of lightly floating. This spirit escapes; it dreams, evades, comes back, like following the countryside. Without a doubt there are liberties taken in the text, following along the spirit’s digressions and wandering. But there are also links with the invisible, like all of the ghosts that accompany and haunt us, one new time: the sensation of emptiness, omnipresence, the strangeness of our presence in the world, death, and absence…

The Country creates a world in which a young woman leaves Paris to return to her childhood home, a place nearby the sea and mountains which greatly resembles the native region where Darrieussecq comes from, born in Bayonne in 1969. A writer and a mother of a young son, she is pregnant and has started to write a new novel. This doubling of expectations- a child and a book- that she equally lets come to her- are born into a reflection that progressively becomes more and more intimate. These questions, Is being born a part of the senses? What constitutes our origins? A region, a language, traditions?, substitute themselves little by little for a more singular memory. The brother who went missing several days after his birth, the meeting with her husband Diego, the necessity and the mystery of writing. The Country evokes a personal geography, vibrant with intelligence and sincerity. The story is one intertwined with genealogy and family, with sentimentality and love. It portrays geography of the living and of the dead, one that only literature could portray even at a distance. It doesn’t matter what country you come from- all that matters is to learn to live with yourself.

-Michel Abescat, Télérama, 31st August 2005

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The Country is a brilliant reflection of the two tracks of identity and of the question of one’s origins…

Baptiste Liger, Technikart, September 2005

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Marie Darrieussecq is born somewhere…

Regarding the question of identity, of belonging, the writer produces a novel that is very simply beautiful, fluid, and intoxicating.

The sea and the long beaches, mountains plunging to the sea, an assortment of cities and towns, between all of this a criss crossing patterns of main roads and secondary ones- in short, what constitutes a “country?” Being born there, having this countryside as a scenery for still powerful childhood memories, does this suffice as a definition for belonging? Does this draw itself upon the contours of an individual’s identity? It is a question that shows just below the surface, throughout the prose of Marie Darrieussecq’s new novel. Her novel is simply beautiful, fluid and profound, astonishingly absent of heaviness, even though the material that she tackles is dense.

There are two tracks that the narration takes: Marie Rivière tells the story, in first person and in the present. The other voice is in the third person, which describes the place and observes Marie, who watches her live and evolve, and who listens to her thoughts, although at a distance. Marie Rivière is a writer, she has a husband, a young son, two brothers, Diego and Tiot, and she is pregnant with another child- a child whom she knows will be a girl and who’s name she has already chosen: Éphipanie (Epiphany). Marie and her unborn daughter leave Paris and move to “the country”: the place where Marie herself was born, where here parents live, and where a long time ago, her brother died. The country of Yuoangui, in between France and Spain, “a little showy, it has an easy beauty that the residents seem to pull over their roots like suspenders.” This country is trying to acquire its independence. 

The Country incorporates superb writing on childhood, maternity, death, and absence- the absence of others and the absence of the self. This novel is stamped with a worrisome sense of unease. The order of the chapters creates a pseudo-itinerary, one that follows Marie’s thoughts, who is pregnant, a bit empty, and whose vagabond reflections falsely spiral around the question of belonging. This belonging could be to a place and to a memory that attaches itself to the narrator- visual sensations, smells…- to a language, a genealogy and a family, to loved ones in the present, those who disappeared, and those to come. 

Also, belonging- something that day after day affects our actions, our affections, our harmless, but most decisive choices- belonging, it can be defined as faithfulness to oneself, to one’s desires, and to one’s destiny. 

Natalie Crom, La Croix, September 8th 2005

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Marie Darrieussecq’s Basque Dream 

With her novel The Country, Marie Darrieussecq rediscovers the land of her ancestors. In an independent Basque country, ghosts and newborns come together…it is a breath of fresh air, but with some insolence. 

A confession from Marie Darrieussecq, the idea for this new novel germinated three years ago when a journalist from a Spanish Basque television station came to interview her. The reporter saw Darrieussecq, the author of Pig Tales [Truismes] and born in Bayonne in 1969, as a Basque writer with French expressions! “Whenever you like it or not, you are Basque, just like an escargot is an escargot,” the reporter informed her. 

Far from offending her, Marie Darrieussecq was enchanted by this definition. And this pure literary product of the Rive gauche, which takes place in the very Jacobin Rue d’Ulm in Paris, begins to learn this language ruffled with guttural consonants, the same ones that cradled Darrieussecq during her childhood. She gave a traditional Basque middle name to her daughters and frequented assiduously her fellow countrymen of Bilbao and San Sebastian. 

Darrieussecq’s novel is the result of a return to her roots. Her heroine, Marie Rivière, returns to live in a foreign land in the middle of Europe, with its island feel, a totemic mountain, its modern style villas dotted along the cliffs, and its museums [uninteresting/inert/limp?] that resemble two drops of water in Basque country. This Basque country does not have the traditional frontons nor espadrilles, instead it is full of iridescence and atmospheric phenomenon, and could not be portrayed any better since Pierre Loti.

The porosity of the world

The only difference from Pierre Loti’s novel, “Ramuntcho” is that in Marie Darrieussecq’s plotline, a reunified Euskadi has seceded for independence! It’s a stroke of novelistic genius, or simple anticipation, as Spanish Basque country seems on the edge of auto determination, which nevertheless gives the novel the feel of having woken up from a dream. There are ironic occasions that are nearly imperceptible: a concert by a fierce and wild group that supports the independence movement, a colloquium where a “great writer of the nation” pontificates his views. And then there is the meeting with Christelle a friend from middle school, who was renamed “The Swallow” [Hirondelle] in the Basque language. She owns a shop on a road “formerly known as French Republic Road” in a city that could be Bayonne. Darrieussecq takes us to the edge of unwritten history, in an ancient, although tiny land. 

But do not worry; Marie Darrieussecq will not turn into a polemic. Honestly, this story focuses on her family drama more so than current politics. This family drama includes an adopted brother who lost his mind and her mother, an artist, who is more famous than her daughter (what rivalry)! But these scraps of her memory are recovered by her unique obsession, because these memories are piously conserved in the form of holograms in the bizarre “House of the Dead” in Basque country, the land of her ancestors. This walk down memory lane coincides with a double creation: that of her unborn daughter and of a new novel. Marie Rivière excels at describing the internal and hormonal changes to her body. Enough said about the suspense where nothing seems impossible; at page 290, young Épiphanie is born and the novel about family origins has already been written. 

According to Darrieussecq, ghosts and newborns suckle from the same breast in the literary world. Darrieussecq’s detractors will pester her the most for her biggest problem in the book, the baby’s bedroom. Or about the certain typographical affectations that do not replace a truly novel elaboration. Fans of the Basque writer “with French expression” will marvel at the porosity of the world, of this art of shifting reality on its axis. And what’s more, this [ ] that effortlessly flys over an abyss of white light, above the Atlantic.

François Dufay, Le Point, September 8th, 2005

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Euskadi Told Me

Writing is like a long-distance race that takes away your energy. The first sentence in Marie Darrieussecq’s new novel makes you dive in without warning: “ I was running, unaware of those I was passing by. I was running, [tam tam….] slowly, at my own pace. One hour, right ahead. In a breath. The road was clear. I was running. In a certain manner, I had also left writing behind. The book was writing itself on its own. I was running, becoming a thought bubble. One comic book character came into the strip. Her body was her problem, her brain was satisfied with her organs.” 

Marie Darrieussecq’s style is always recognizable, even a certain toughness. In 1996, with the publication of Pig Tales [Truismes], The Birth of Ghosts, and most recently, White, the reader knows that her descriptions and sentences are always tied to the sensational. And there are always some ghosts and spirits, like she was capable of walking between two worlds, our and the land of the dead. 

With The Country, Marie Darrieussecq begins to tell us the tale of her return to the land of her ancestors. To better cover her tracks (or to confuse us), she splits up the plotline in two distinct parts, while thus multiplying the points of view. 

At first, thanks to the interior monologue, we follow the state of Marie Rivière’s soul. The heroine, who decided with her husband Diego and her young son Tiot, to leave Paris and return to Yuoangui, the country of her roots, an imaginary land wedged “between France and Spain”. And here is the central part of the plot, Rivière’s return to her roots, where we meet the spirit of her beloved grandmother, or where she makes us feel guilty for leaving Paris, where her brother Pablo is institutionalized because he thinks he is Charles de Gaulle. 

The other change in the novel is the transformation from “I” to “he”. And the text takes the high road, underlining the importance of Rivière’s reintegration into her childhood home. The plot thus progresses by intertwining the two voices. 

This narrative dichotomy permits the author to explore the country of “Yourangui”, like the fictitious country of Syldavia in the Adventures of Tintin, opens up with impunity. Despite all of this, behind the makeup of fiction and its pelotas, ferias, old language, characteristic folklore, ambivalent desire for autonomy, we can see Basque country (Euskadi for close friends), where Marie Darrieussecq was born in the heart of “BAB” (Bayonne, Anglet, Biarritz). It is a highly sentimental land, so much so that Darrieussecq transfigures the geography under the name “BCB”. The other indication (and certainly not the last) is that the author confides in us, concerning Pierre Loti, “that it was all the rage,” she writes, “to play up your Yuoangui ancestors” while we keep thinking about the book Ramuntcho by Loti, oh yes, that Loti, don’t be embarrassed about it!

Like all of Marie Darrieussecq’s novels, there is always the question of travel. A trip in The Country, is experienced like an epiphany, in the most broad sense of the word. Marie Darrieussecq digs deep into her past and finishes by recognizing that “it’s maybe that, being somewhere. A geographic sentiment, knowing a land like one knows a face.” What good would our trip be on this earth if we lived our life trying to forget our roots? 

Olivier Delacroix, Le Figaro, September 15th, 2005

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The Country 

Between faction and political fiction, the theme of Marie Darrieussecq’s new novel is returning to one’s native country. But, most of all, the novel follows a radical shift from the subject matter at to the narrator of a very psychological book, thanks to a choice in the writing style that is simple: alternating from the first person to the third person narration and from the original “I” [je] to the broken “I/me” [j/e].

The narrator, who is pregnant with the little Éphiphanie, her husband Diego, born in Patagonia, and their two-year-old son, Tiot, leave Paris for Yuoangui country. Somewhere between Spain and Landes de Gascogne, this small country is requesting its long-awaited independence. The local authorities have wooed the young woman, a well-known author, hoping to get her support in the name of national literature. But she hardly speaks the ‘old language.’ Tiot, who assimilates quickly to the Yuoangui language, as well as French and Spanish, helps his mother as an interpreter for most of the everyday tasks. Thus in this half serious, half burlesque manner, the novel spreads out to encompass a complex plot about her family, including a plastic surgeon mother, an adopted brother with schizophrenia, Pablo, who is convinced that he is the son of General de Gaulle, and the memory of her grandmother, Amova, who gives her thoughts on the metamorphosis of the worship of the dead, seemingly inherited from traditional ethnic dress. The House of the Dead is a high-tech place that allows everyone to speak with the deceased (reappearing in the form of a hologram), who explain what haunts people in contemporary society. But the essential point in the novel is about a person’s connection with his or her geography and other factors of his or her identity. Using an almost poetic license, Marie Darrieussecq cites the body, gender, and a person’s character as an outline to explain the continuum of physics, biology, anthropologic laws, and culture. But what makes this novel tangible to its 21st century readers? It is the fusion of naturalism, the positivist social critique, which reminds us of the majority of our psychological fixations. The Country is without a doubt one of the most important novels of fall 2005. 

Spirit, October 2005

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The narration is full of extremely resonant paragraphs. The soundness of its observations, the choice of words will touch all of the male readers, but more so the female readers. You can count on the women readers to admire these paragraphs in the same sanctimonious manner as buying a piece of furniture at Ikea. This mobility of the descriptions, or the fog that surrounds them, is the basis of their charm. Darrieussecq’s Basque country is not a tourist’s guide; neither espadrilles nor the traditional Basque cloth are discussed. This entire land is seen with a view to the future and to the past, which is extremely different than the exoticism of Pierre Loti, which can be appreciated to the extreme.

Épiphanie is simply born by the stroke of the writer’s pen, whereas The Country was born line by line through the heart and soul of the woman who writes about it and the reader who follows her footsteps. The novel is a veritable family story, showing the double personality of the narrator’s mother and father, the birth of a daughter, and the unexpected cult of death. 

M. Delaunay-Brohan, La République des Pyrénées, September 30th, 2005