6 December 2017

Christian Signol: Au cœur des forêts (2010)

After reading a book of interviews, and novel and a play by Bernard-Marie Koltès, Christian Signol (a very popular writer, but not in the same way as, say, Marc Levy or Guillaume Musso) pulled me back to earth with such a jolt that I'm still wondering 'What happened?'. Signol was born in Quercy (Quatre-Routes-du-Lot) in 1947, and has since 1984 published at least one book a year. And they're not short, as this one is over three hundred pages.

I question how much revision Signol subjects his books to, as in the beginning of this book at least there are a number of repetitions, although this novel taught me a number of things about trees, such as oaks take far longer to mature than spruces, and so on. But trees are very much the main characters in this novel, in which the ageing first person narrator Bastien owns a reasonably sized plantation: he knows that trees have to breathe, can feel pain.

Essentially this is the story of Bastien's life among the trees, of his memories, and of the present, in which his grand-daughter Charlotte comes to stay with him several times, and is very interested in family history, particularly in the disappearance long ago of Bastien's sister Justine, but of course Charlotte is technologically clued up and can research things on the internet that Bastien has no idea of.

So, hovering around Bastien's business with trees is an unsolved mystery that has haunted him for decades. So too is his memory of his father's concerns for a seriously wounded German soldier in World War II: most French people would have left him to die or have finished him off, especially members of the Resistance, people such as Bastien's father. But no, his father had a heart.

The story of the German soldier fascinates Charlotte as much as the fate of Justine, and she Googles for some time, finally resolving the mystery: the dying soldier passed on his address to Justine who told him she'd visit his family after the war to tell them how he died, which she does and ends up marrying the German's brother, and her daughter Magda (the result of the marriage) Charlotte tracks down so she (Magda) can visit Bastien to tell him the story, and of how Justine lost her life in a car crash in the 1960s, never daring to tell her whereabouts to her family, especially to her mother who'd lost her brother in a Nazi atrocity in the village.

Yeah, I know. Highly readable, but I won't jump at the chance to read too many of the novels Christian Signol churns out.

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