The Spiritual Life (“La Vie spirituelle”), by Laurence Nobécourt

1 min

The Spiritual Life (“La Vie spirituelle”), by Laurence Nobécourt

This introspective narrative describes the quest of a novelist who roams Japan in search of a poet born of her imagination.

© Grasset

In the name of prose

Laurence Nobécourt, previously known as the author Lorette Nobécourt, now signs her work with the first name she was given at birth, which she returned to late in life, thus making a break with a difficult past.


After she attended business school and a course at the Journalist Training Centre, she became editor-in-chief of Trouveries, an antiques magazine, before beginning a career as a novelist with her first book, The Itch (“La Démangeaison”) (1994). This tale of flesh suffering from eczema was the starting point for an eclectic body of work, from the introspective monologue of The Conversation (“La Conversation”) (1998) to the solitary voyage of Interior Patagonia (“La Patagonie intérieure”) (2013).


Going beyond reality

Showing how fiction can penetrate or even surpass reality, The Spiritual Life (2017) features a writer who, like Emma Bovary, lives in books: She goes to Japan looking for an imaginary poet she herself created and dubbed Yazuki, who she eventually meets.


Unlike Flaubert's heroin, this confusion between imagination and reality is not the result of an alienation, but rather of an emancipation. A kind of freedom that only writing can make possible.



A recurring character

Yazuki's character was born in March 2003, when a newspaper suggested to Laurence Nobécourt that she write a news column. Not being a close follower of the media, she was a little nervous about the undertaking.


By chance, her “Weekly report” fell just as George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq. The gravity of the event, or perhaps the unusual nature of the exercise, lead the novelist to conclude with a poem, the verses of which she attributes to an invented Japanese author, Yazuki. He becomes a recurrent figure in her works, gradually expanding beyond the fictitious role she assigned him.


Tokyo, my love

It is her long relationship with Japan that led Laurence Nobécourt to spontaneously imagine a Japanese protagonist as the common intertextual theme of her work after 2003.

This personal attachment to the country of the rising sun, which she has had since she was a child, is one of the subjects of The Spiritual Life. To write the book, Laurence Nobécourt spent several weeks in Japan in 2014, tracing the footsteps of her character. Tokyo and Hiroshima hold a prominent place in the story, as much for their snowy beauty as for their enormous size, shocking to the novelist who, for her part, has chosen to live in the countryside.


The Institut français and the project

Winner of an Institut français Stendhal Residency, Laurence Nobécourt lived in Japan in 2014.


The Stendhal programme allows French authors or authors living in France to travel to a foreign country and work on a writing project related to that country.