Christophe Fourvel

I have always seen reading or performance as an invitation to dialogue.

After completing a Stendhal mission in Sweden in 2020 in the footsteps of Stig Dagerman, Christophe Fourvel talks about his influences, his time in the middle of a pandemic and his journey as a writer fascinated by the arts.

Updated on 15/01/2021

5 min

Christophe Fourvel
© Marin Fourvel

Your early novels had a pared-down feel, often haunted by melancholia. How do you feel you have evolved as an author?

The pared-down quality is linked to the beat of my own inner drum and I haven’t finished with it yet. I like when a text is reduced to its very nerve, and I feel as though I worked with a single colour, somewhat grey-blue melancholic monochromes, for a long time. Then there was a period of rupture in my career, when I felt like I no longer had enough enthusiasm to begin a new project. I’ve never been one to chase fame, but after around fifteen books, the lack of recognition and the difficulty in bringing them into being made me feel like a failure. But in that empty space, my desire to write nevertheless persisted. I thought that if I wasn’t going to stop writing, I had to at least write differently... For my next novel, I wanted to use a much broader colour palette; this resulted in a five hundred-page novel with occasional hints of the burlesque, into which I wanted to distil everything I was at the time I wrote it (Chroniques des années d’amour et d’imposture, Mediapop éditions, 2018). Then I think I returned to a more collected style of writing with my subsequent books. Perhaps a new kind of pared-down, but with a broader colour palette this time.

Other people’s work and the way it resonates with our lives are among your inspirations. Who are the artists that have stayed with you?

I have always seen reading or performance as an invitation to dialogue and I wanted to respond to the artists who have had an effect on me. It’s important not to understand everything in order to make creative progress: you need to be confronted with works that are beyond you. As a teenager, I remember seeing a film by Luchino Visconti, Death in Venice, just for its title and having come out of it completely captivated without really having understood what it was about. The artists that you love stay with you for a part of the journey, then make way for others. Samuel Beckett has shown me that you can be bold and free when writing, as has Arno Schmidt. John Cassavetes, for example, played that role with his films, and Pina Bausch with her pieces. Discovering this work was a major moment for me. 

You often run creative workshops combining writing with other artistic practices. How do you approach interactions with the arts? 

I have noticed a total lack of culture in these workshops. I meet people – both pupils and adults, in remand centres or learning establishments, for example – who have never experienced any artistic emotion. By mixing disciplines, I want to give them a taste of everything, even if it means prioritising one thing over the other depending on what they are naturally drawn to. When dealing with people who are deprived of art, I think that the more ways in you give them, the more likely you are to reach them. 

The artists that you love stay with you for a part of the journey, then make way for others.

You were supported by the Institut français as part of the Stendhal programme for a trip to Sweden to write your upcoming novel. Can you tell us about this project? 

For the past thirty years I’ve been living with the works of a Swedish writer called Stig Dagerman. He was a young man whom I’ve always been immensely fond of and who continues to influence me. He committed suicide at the age of 31 and left a young body of work that was never fully completed. I had long thought about doing a project based on my relationship with this writer, but it took time to find the form. I have now come up with a modular piece, designed as a constellation of texts around the planet Dagerman. Something far removed from traditional biographical forms that instead focuses on the influence of a body of work and the bonds we might forge with it. I wanted something that reflects his work, as well as Sweden and my own relationship with the country.

In the context of this health crisis, how did your journey unfold in a country that has taken the opposite approach from its European neighbours in managing the pandemic? 

My journey happened as naturally as could be. I left before the lockdown in France, and when I arrived there, nobody was wearing a mask and all the shops and restaurants were open. The pandemic was there but Sweden has a different way of seeing things. I had planned for an extremely solitary month so my plans weren’t thwarted. I also spent some time in a French lycée, where I realised that young people don’t know much about Dagerman’s work. The older ones had studied him at school, but his work now seems to be part of the past.

With Covid-19 still present, have you had to change direction in your research?

I wanted to write a few pages on his life and needed to set off in his footsteps to do so. I only came back with half a page from my visit to the village he was born in, but every word was inhabited by the physical experience of the place. The text couldn’t have existed if I hadn’t gone there. Living there, I also started writing poems in Swedish, deciding to borrow as few words as possible from the dictionary, even if it meant clumsy results, using just the 400-or-so words I have in the language. Ideally, I’d like to publish the novel for the centenary of Dagerman’s birth in 2023. I might be ready before but I don’t want to push myself: taking the time to write books is a necessity that we tend to forget about.

In 2002, you went on another Stendhal mission to Uruguay for your book Montevideo, Henri Calet et moi. What did you take away from this experience?

I went to Uruguay to look into Henri Calet, a clandestine character who was on the run after a robbery committed in the company where he worked as an “accounting assistant”. With an almost detective-like perspective, I had to reconstruct the elements of his life and meet the people he mixed with. With Stig Dagerman it was different, because we know everything about his life. What’s more, Montevideo is a Latin place where people are very open and delighted to be speaking French, while my time in Stockholm was a more introspective one. One thing’s for sure: being chosen for a Stendhal mission restored my confidence in what I was doing. I felt I had greater legitimacy by becoming a French writer going to work abroad.

The Institut français and the writer

Winner of the 2020 Stendhal programme, Christophe Fourvel stayed in Sweden to write his next novel. The Stendhal programme supports French-language authors whose writing project justifies living abroad for at least one month.

Find out more about the Stendhal programme 

L'institut français, LAB