28 October 2017

Marie NDiaye: Les Grandes Personnes (2011)

In six years Marie NDiaye published five plays: Hilda (1999), Providence (2001), Papa doit manger (2003), Les Serpents (2004) and Rien d'humain (2004). Her sixth play, Les Grandes Personnes came seven years later. In that time a great deal had happened to her: winning the Goncourt, moving to Germany, and becoming a recognised figure of literature at least among French readers of serious works. Andrew Asibong, in his Marie NDiaye: Blankness and Recognition (2013), suggests that although the usual themes are in place, there has been an accompanying 'incongruous drift towards 'uplift', which is sometimes 'superficial' and 'crowd-pleasing'.

Éva and her husband Rudi are being visited by the ghost of 'their' daughter – actually the product of a relationship between Éva and Georges, we discover later – who walked out of the home many years before, although not due to any physical abuse on their part, indeed it seems they have almost killed her with kindness. Her ghost lives in the space under the stairs (which recalls Fanny in En famille). They share their problem with the less well-off couple Georges and his at times bizarre wife Isabelle.

Georges and Isabelle have had just one child, who is a schoolteacher and simply known as Le maître, and who tells his parents that he has been sexually abusing some of the children in his care, that he has raped several: the parents ignore the matter. The question comes to a head at a meeting of parents of the children, with Madame B. accusing Le maître of sodomising her eight-year-old son Karim  with a dildo. The kid's name of course indicates a non-European birth, and Le maître calls her 'Saloperie d'étrangère' and 'Sale métèque'.  In the end Le maître just flies off, reminding us of the daughters in La Sorcière. But these episodes themselves remind us of a true-life incident in which NDiaye's husband was commended by taking a pedophile schoolteacher and driving him to the local police station in Cormeilles, Normandy, where the couple were living at the time.

But there is also another trauma: Éva and Rudi have adopted a son who has the voices of his dead parents speaking from his chest, and they urge him to kill his adopted parents. But Éva and Rudi speak to the voices, and there appears to be a kind of resolution.

My other posts on Marie NDiaye:
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Marie NDiaye: La Sorcière
Marie NDiaye: Rosie Carpe
Marie NDiaye: Autoportrait en vert
Marie NDiaye: Ladivine
Marie NDiaye: Trois femmes puissantes
Marie NDiaye: La Femme changée en bûche
Marie NDiaye: Papa doit manger
Marie NDiaye: En famille
Marie NDiaye: Un temps de saison
Marie NDiaye: Mon cœur à l'étroit

Marie NDiaye: Les Serpents
Marie NDiaye: Quant au riche avenir
Marie NDiaye: Tous mes amis

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