8 August 2017

Jean-Christophe Rufin: Le Collier rouge (2014)

Jean-Christophe Rufin, as in his Goncourt-winning Rouge Brésil, is interested in culture conflict. Le Collier rouge is more about the conflict of two political ideologies, or is it really? Maybe the conflict between the animal and the human world, to the detriment of the human? Or what exactly is the main theme?

Whatever the conclusion reached, the origins of this short novel began in Jordan in 2011, when Rufin, working for an unnamed weekly magazine, was enjoying one of his many idle moments with the late photographer Benoît Gysembergh. The photographer spoke about his grandfather who had received the Légion d'honneur during the First World War, but was afterwards arrested and tried following a transgressive drunken act.

And so we have Le Collier rouge, set just after WWI, in which Morlac (also Légion d'honneur) has been imprisoned for (we don't discover until the end) decorating his dog Guillaume with the medal during the 14th July ceremony. The story takes place in Berry, near Bourges, and the military judge Lantier has the problem of carrying out a series of interviews with Morlac, who's the only prisoner in this unnamed small place. The excessive wine-drinking jailer Dujeux sounds as if he's going to be an interesting character, although he just fades into the background as Morlac's actions and beliefs come to the fore, as well as his relationship with Lantier (and specifically the character of the judge himself).

All this notwithstanding, the main character in the book is the dog Guillaume: faithful and extraordinarily intelligent. Guillaume is the thread which runs thoughout this novel, from the first sentence when his howling is disturbing Dujeux, to the final sentence when Lantier takes him home to his wife and children in the back seat of his car, when Guillaume seems to smile at the idea of his being a present.

In between all this is the uneducated Morlac transforming himself into a pacifist anarchist largely through his lover Valentine's books (Marx, Phoudhon, Bakunin); and Lantier's determination not to go out on a negative note.

And the winner? Fidelity, of course: case dismissed.

My other Jean-Christophe Rufin posts:

Jean-Christophe Rufin: Sept histoires qui reviennent de loin
Jean-Christophe Rufin: Rouge Brésil | Brasil Red

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