Interview by Amy Concannon and Kerry Sweeney (March 2004)

How and why did you choose to write about the South Pole?

My husband is an astrophysicist, and he spent two years in the middle of the South Pole collecting, in the snow, meteorites (a career that I liked to caricature with the character Ukla). Therefore I had irresistible data to use to plan a book.

For a long time I have been working on the theme of a void, and on two questions: “What are we doing when we are doing nothing?” and “Where is the center of the world?” To be trapped for months in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by white, lost in a difficult time and place, was an experience that I wanted to explore.That would say something about the human.

My husband is very close to the character of Lutin. My husband’s experience was really fascinating, and crossed so close to my own questions, that I didn’t really choose to write White (all of my novels pop into my head with my knowing where they came from, and I don’t have any choice but to write them: they make me).   ButWhite is without a doubt the least personal book, the one that depends the most on the experience of another.It was almost necessary that I separate myself, to be able to move on to other things.

For better or worse, it is without a doubt my most novel-like book, and the least autobiographical.All the scientific data came from my husband, the rest is fiction.

What is the reason behind writing this book, personally or universally?

To respond again to my two famous questions. To question the void.My favorite novel writers try to answer these questions, each in their own way: from Melville to Modiano!

Is the Pole the center of the world?Or, on the contrary, its farthest point?  Everything is geography in my books.Psychology and history are geographies. And writing is close to a zen exercise for me, a sense of  “doing nothing” where the psychological me is evacuated.To write is to be absent from myself, to echo, to be porous to the world, posed there.

Is this book what you envisioned to write about or did it change somewhat?

Yes, after many difficulties.

White was first interrupted by the birth of my son, in April of 2001. I no longer had the concentration or the time necessary, momentarily, to launch myself into this empty construction site, where I had to leave everything for the white. Therefore, I wrote Le Bébé.

When I began White again, September 11 occurred. I had already written 80 pages of White, a first version where Edmée was a CIA agent. After 9/11 that became completely absurd, everything in reference to the CIA was obsolete or indecent. Not only could we no longer joke about it, but also, nobody knew what a secret agent does. What did it mean; a secret agent in the South Pole?

At first, my idea was a bacteriological lab buried under the ice: a real thriller plot. I was without a doubt asking myself too many questions of morality after 9/11, after all I would have been able to write this thriller all the same, but it didn’t interest me as much as before.

Therefore, I threw out the 80 pages (4 months of work), simplified it all, stated over at zero: just a love story. Very difficult to write.

I stayed “stuck” for several months after the opening scene, when Edmée gets off the plane. It is the Callas that saved me, that sent me to lyricism. Hearing them, I understood how to dare to write love scenes, all the sentiment, all this ardor, without justifying anything.

Do you think that the writing style of White is a similar to the style of your other books?

All of my books have a different writing style.   For each subject its own form,  for each book its own rhythm, its own harmony… but the profound style stays the same, the questions stay the same.

The writing style of White is staccato in the beginning, it tries to shake you, to make you seasick; the sentences are shorter than in other books, it goes quickly, there are noises, sounds, the phantoms play…

Do you identify with the character Edmée?

Like all of my characters, yes and no. She is rather nice. 

Why is it so important to find out where Peter is from?

Peter and Edmee both know that the language that they speak is a random convention, like the place they were born. They know that it is not very important.The exile is their identity, but with the South Pole, they find a hyperbolic exile, they are close to being thrown off the planet. 

Why are the past parts of Peter and Edmée’s lives so important in the story?

They have a common secret and this secret is that children can die. They fall in love over this secret.They get rid of their phantoms maybe because they met each other.

Why are there often sections about characters by themselves, rather than conversation among characters?

Because I don’t always know how to write dialogs, especially romantic dialogs.  But I’m working on it…I am in the process of learning that dialog… But I like to be in the mind of my characters, it is more comfortable than opening their mouths and hearing them speak.

In addition I think that white and emptiness hardly incite dialogue.The pole isolates the characters much more than any other place.

Are the futuristic ideas based on anything specific in the present?

Like all of my other books that are slightly shifted in time (Truismes, Naissance des fantômes ), in the future 10 or 20 years in“science fiction” they liberate me from the probability of the times and the present space. It gives me the liberty to invent (here holographic telephones.) I can let my imagination run wild without holding back. The hologram (that I reuse in my book,Le Pays) is an old topic of science fiction, a very interesting presence-absence for my reoccurring themes. The body is there without being there.

Is love a very important aspect for a lot of books or is it not vital to a book?

One can do surely without it.

Dreams, imagination, solitude and the roles of women seem like very important themes in your writing…  

I haven’t written about dreams since Bref Séjour chez les vivants. It is a very particular piece. I don’t remember who said “tell a dream, lose a reader.” For example I found G. Perec’s book about dreams, La Boutique Obscure (I think that is the title) is his worst book, the most tedious. Telling a personal dream, it’s always obscene, a direct link to our unconscious, our secrets. More obscene than talking about sexual experiences.

I tried to invent plausible dreams for my characters. They are fictional dreams that could correspond with their thinking.

When is the time to tell about a dream? With what syntax?

It is natural for me to write about women. I am a feminist in my life, but not necessarily in my writing. I don’t think I am a feminist writer. The ideas involve danger, ghetto and minorities. There are maybe feminine themes, but the writing has no sex, just like the mind.

Why did you refer to 9/11?

It is a historic event that permits us to situate the action in a future that is close to 2020.

Why did you write about Imelda Higgins so much? Were you inspired by the true character of Andrea Yates as intertextual reference?

The name Andrea Yates is not known in Europe. This story is typically American, with the beginning typically American, radical, about feminism and the pain of death.

This inspired me but if Andrea Yates was known here, I would have shifted the account compared to her story.

In my distant family, a mother killed her eight-year-old son by hitting his head on the bathroom counters. That greatly inspired and traumatized me.  

I think that to be the mother of someone suggests many different forms of love or forms of hatred. Nothing is uniform or social in this intimacy. Nothing that agrees with conventional discussion of the mother.