Interview | Gabriel Josipovici, author & critic

Gabriel Josipovici is a pre-eminent British novelist, short story writer, critic, literary theorist, playwright, and a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement. Georgia’s exclusive interview for BookBlast® celebrates the publication this week of his latest novel, The Cemetery in Barnes, (Carcanet).

You were born during World War Two in Occupied France, what are your memories of that time?
I was born in Nice but we escaped to La Bourboule and Le Mont Dore in the Massif Central during the war. They were spa resorts for people suffering from lung problems, and so were full of hotels – La Bourboule was for children and Le Mont Dore for adults.

My parents had arrived in France newly-married from Egypt. My father had done his studies in French and wanted to go to a French university so he got a place at the University of Aix-Marseille. They lived in Aix while he did his doctorate, and then bought a house in Vence. Somehow they failed to take on board all that was happening. War started and I was born in Nice in October 1940, on the last day they could have got out back to Egypt as they had tickets for a ship. Nice was not the zone libre, but it was under tutelage of the Italians who were good to their Jews.
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Spotlight | Patrick Modiano: public novelist, private man

Writing is a strange and solitary activity. There are dispiriting times when you start working on the first few pages of a novel. Every day, you have the feeling you are on the wrong track. This creates a strong urge to go back and follow a different path. It is important not to give in to this urge, but to keep going. It is a little like driving a car at night, in winter, on ice, with zero visibility. You have no choice, you cannot go into reverse, you must keep going forward while telling yourself that all will be well when the road becomes more stable and the fog lifts.” So spoke Patrick Modiano − for whom the fog has most certainly lifted − at the Swedish Academy, Stockholm, on 7 December 2014. He is the eleventh French writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

A refreshing antithesis to the self-promoting writer blasting forth at every opportunity, Modiano is a private man and remains aloof from the Parisian literati. There is a big difference between writing − intensely personal − and doing a turn in front of a live audience. Writers who feel that the words on the page are the point and everything else − including the web − is a distraction, could well be heartened by Modiano’s words, “A writer – well, a novelist at least – often has an uneasy relationship with speech. Calling to mind the way school lessons distinguish between the written and the oral, a novelist has more talent for written than oral assignments. He is accustomed to keeping quiet, and if he wants to imbibe an atmosphere, he must blend in with the crowd. He listens to conversations without appearing to, and if he steps in it is always in order to ask some discreet questions so as to improve his understanding of the women and men around him. His speech is hesitant because he is used to crossing out his words. It is true that after several redrafts, his style may be crystal clear. But when he takes the floor, he no longer has any means at his disposal to correct his stumbling speech.”

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