The author from Toulouse publishes a novel about the roots and wear and tear of time.
How did the story of this family of destitute gentlemen threatened with expropriation, which is history and tragedy at the same time, come about?
As a child, I spent a month every summer in a sheepfold in Montrafet, near the Corbières, surrounded by about twenty cousins. We lived there like savages, we looked for treasure…
And as soon as I arrived, I had the acute feeling that the holidays were coming to an end, that childhood was coming to an end… In order to make these childhood feelings communicable, I wanted to invent a story that expresses this, this feeling, that nothing is difficult. I had this great Lampedusa novel in mind cheetah and this sentence: “Everything has to change so that nothing changes.”
I believe in that. From the start we have the feeling that everything will be saved or destroyed. This 1000-year-old castle is collapsing under the ravages of time, management is threatening, nature is rebelling… There is no reason for hope and yet the future is often in ruins.
The real protagonist here is the Château de Montrafet, this citadel that watches over the Testasecca family…
Yes, exactly, and with all that it symbolizes. It is an anachronistic monument, not one of those ceremonial strongholds like those built from the 16th century onwards, but a rest castle, those fortified castles of the olden days that served to protect the crops and house the populace during the invasions.
With its anarchic turrets, it represents both this atypical and anachronistic family, which, like them, is held together only by its ramparts and its supports. It’s a bit like the mythological castle, my mother’s castle, which is there to protect her.
A veritable labyrinth patched from end to end, it is like a ship taking on water. And the question is, will you go down with it…
Here we are in a precise geography, at the foot of the Corbières. Is this the country of your childhood?
I am actually at home there. My grandfather was a farmer in Montrafet. The places I describe in the novel all exist except for the castle. What I like about the Corbières is their brutal, monolithic, dark side. As a child, I had the impression of standing on the threshold of the Sahara.
Provence shows a floral and happy face, while in the Corbières it is the kingdom of brambles, wild boars, peeled plateaus and broken stones.
I always knew that one day I would write a novel about my homeland to qualify my roots, because roots are very concrete, they are smells, tastes in the mouth, they bear the sign of where we come from.
This tragic-romantic epic is above all the story of a revolt against the ravages of time, a hymn to the family…
That’s it. When I hear the beautiful words about inhabiting the world, I hear the word abode.
The real castle is the family. In my opinion, the true roots and true home lie in this obligatory and non-chosen connection.
And when you see some families tearing themselves apart during an inheritance to keep land, tell yourself they’ve lost sight of what’s important. Because the family is the only dwelling there is. It is she who gives meaning to everything else.
A modern tragedy
Winner of the 2020 Orange Prize for his novel Before the Long Red Flame, which portrays an uprooted being, an anonymous hero of the Cambodian war, Guillaume Sire, a teacher in Toulouse and Montpellier, draws a modern tragedy with mythological overtones in Les Contreforts ubiquitous nature.
The story of a family who have dedicated themselves body and soul to their ancestral castle, which has been hit by the bad weather, the ravages of time, the unruly vegetation and the administrative steamroller.