Friday, June 14, 2013

"A detective novel belongs to the great family of tales, legends, myths": The Fred Vargas Detectives Beyond Borders interview, Part 2

In the conclusion of her interview with Detectives Beyond Borders, Fred Vargas gets inside protagonist Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg's head. She discusses the origin of Adamsberg's name and says detective stories are really myths and tales. (This may explain her penchant for quirky characters.) She discusses her abiding love for secondary characters, reveals that Lt. Violette Retancourt arose from the dead, and finally, shares the joys and agonies of writing a character who insists on recurring, book after book.

(Read Part I of the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Fred Vargas.)
===========
Detectives Beyond Borders: You told L’Express newspaper that “Adamsberg is not a man of intuition.” Why do so many reviewers say otherwise? 

Fred Vargas: I don’t like excessively simple definitions of an human being, real or invented. It is not this adjective I would choose for him (but you know, I still don’t know Adamsberg totally. Sometimes he gets on my nerves — too slow — sometimes he surprises me, and so on.) I would rather say, I suppose, that this awakened dreamer has more possibilities than others of having the doors opened between his subconscious and conscious minds. That’s why, I suppose, ideas come to him in a strange manner. Also because he has an exceedingly strong visual memory.

DBB: Your novels are full of human marvels, the man who talks backwards in The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, for example or Violette Retancourt. Where does this motif come from ? Why is it important to you? 

FV: I don’t know! I have never tried on purpose to create strange characters. But, once again, they come to me like this, they impose their personalities on me. So, I go with it, and sometimes, it may be fun. I suppose also that I am no fan of so-called «normality». 

DBB: One could interpret the name Adamsberg as Adam + berg, the German word for mountain. Adamsberg was born in a village in the Pyrénées. Is he the natural or original man who comes from the mountains? 

FV: That’s a good example. When I chose this name for him (I don’t especially like the sound of French names), I did research, I checked that no one had this name. I realized only later that it could signify «Adam’s berg», Adam’s mountain. And it isn’t at all, of course, a name from the Pyrénées. Original or natural? I would prefer «natural». What I surely wanted (and don’t ask me why!) is that he would be a man from the mountain. 

DBB: You write often about improvised families : the family in The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, the protagonists of The Three Evangelists, Danglard without a wife but with five children whom he loves, Adamsberg and his son. Your novels remind me in this respect of Daniel Pennac’s novels, and maybe also of Michel Foucault, who would talk about new forms of family relations. Discuss, if you would, the role of families in your books, and why they appear so frequently. 

FV: Again, I must «discuss» the thing after the fact, because these strangely composed families come naturally. What is sure is that I don’t want to insert the normal day-after-day life in my novels. Not because I don’t like it, but because, from my instinctive (and intellectual) point of view, a detective novel belongs to the great family of tales, legends, myths, etc., and not to realistic literature. So I am not attracted, in a book, by usual families or situations. Too real. These groups enforce the sensation of writing a small, dreamed tale. 

DBB: You admire Ed McBain for having created eternal characters, who do not change from one novel to the next. How do you manage this with Adamsberg, Danglard, Retancourt while at the same time preserving their interesting, distinguishing characteristics? 

FV: Actually, I deeply admire Ed McBain (and James Crumley, and Donald Westlake and Kinky Friedman and so on) for the exceptional sound of his language. I appreciate encountering his characters, Meyer Meyer, Carella, Bert Kling, but that isn’t my main reason for reading him over and over. His music is. 

The problem with meeting the same characters book after book is a solid one, and I don’t know if it represents an advantage. My first three books introduced different characters each time. Adamsberg appeared in the fourth. Then I abandoned him for three books. Then he decided to come back. So you see that I hadn’t planed to create a recurring hero, (In fact, I had planed nothing. I just wanted, at the very beginning, to write one single book for fun.) 

Then other characters gathered around Adamsberg, important ones and the so-called «secondary ones». I am always sad to have to quit a secondary character at the end of a book (never to see Joss the fisherman again, or the old man who speaks to his sheep, etc.). At the beginning of Seeking Whom He May Devour, I was obliged to kill Suzanne. I realized I was sad to lose her in this way. She remained in my head; I had affection for her. That’s why I decided to make her live again afterwards, by creating Violette Retancourt — without knowing Retancourt would attain such importance (without my authorization). 

And so the group grows, and the more I know them, the more it seems to me painful to abandon them. It is as if I was going to lose old friends, friends I don’t yet know completely. I was puzzled by the Evangelists’ disappearance. That’s why, here and there, one of them reappears sometimes (Marc, or Mathias).

For one book, I decided to create a rival for Adamsberg; I introduced Veyrenc, who would have to leave the scene at the end of the book. In the end he stayed. So you see that I have never had the ambition to create an «unforgettable hero». It is just that I can’t forget them, or they don’t want to let me in peace. It is a link, a real link. But it is difficult, a challenge: how to describe Adamsberg again and again, from book to book, without repeating the same sentences, using the same words. Not easy at all!
===========
(Read Part I of the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Fred Vargas.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

Labels: , , , ,

11 Comments:

Blogger seana graham said...

I really enjoyed both the Vargas interviews, just I really enjoy her books. Although so far I've only read two.

June 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. Vargas might say I took an excessively analytical approach, but I quite liked the result.

Which of her novels have you read? I probably liked This Night's Foul Work a bit less than the others, and the current Ghost Riders of Ordebec best of the bunch. I bought a copy of the original version in Brittany and will make one of my sporadic efforts to read fiction in French, with the novel fresh in my mind.

June 14, 2013  
Anonymous Anne - Le French Book said...

Great interview, Peter, as I said. I particularly like what Vargas says about not liking "excessively simple definitions of an human being, real or invented." This may be a bit of a trait in French writers. I find that in some of the books I've translated the characters are rather complex, with contradictory aspects to their personality, and not entirely "likable." Wait, doesn't that sound human?

June 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or maybe, if one wants to discuss national traits. French artists are attracted to eccentricity. I have seen that observation made about French classical composers, for instance.

June 15, 2013  
Blogger Kathy D. said...

Great interview, parts I and II.

In my view, Fred Vargas uses myths and folklore frequently. The first time I encountered this was in Seeking whom He May Devour, with legends of werewolves, yet, as always, the solutions are based in the scientific method with clues, evidence, deductive reasoning, etc.

In Have Mercy on Us All myths about the plague, which were believed by poor people, provided an interesting tidbit of information.

And on and on. Vargas does seem fascinated with regional folk tales and lore.This is unique, although some Scandinavians bring up old folklore also.

But the way Vargas brings in these old beliefs and myths is unusual and makes for a great read.

This Night's Foul Work may not be my favorite either, but it still went back to medieval texts -- and it introduced the 12-syllable-Alexandrine verse speaker Vyrenc.

Anyway, this is a great interview, and I think now I'll link the url to Vargas fans.

P.S. I hope she wins the CWA Dagger this year. Ordebec is stellar.

June 30, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the kind words, and thanks for offering to send the link along.

You're right about folklore and folkways. Her books are shot through with that sort of thing. Don't forget the town crier in Have Mercy on Us All. Her fascination with the odd (to her Parisian characters) Quebecois speech and names in Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand arguably fits this pattern as well.

I'd guess that The Ghost Riders of Ordebec has a good chance to win the Dagger.

June 30, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Very nice review, Peter. I think that "creating worlds that closely resemble the real one" is very apt, and obviously some people will have more of a taste for this than others. It happens to be something I like very much.

And nice to see Kathy D. around these parts again. I think she may be one reason I picked up Vargas in the first place.

June 30, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I think this may have ended up on the wrong post, but as it's Vargas related, I guess that's okay.

July 01, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: Thanks, and I, too, welcome Kathy back. Creating a world that closely resembles the real one can't be the easiest thing for an author to do. It's awfully easy to go too far.

It's tempting to see Vargas' backgrounds as a scientist and a historian combining to contribute to this tendency.

July 01, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Yes, I can see how the scholarly background might help to give a little counterbalancing weight to the whimsical aspects.

July 01, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Vargas has had some interesting things to say about her own tastes in crime fiction. Her predilection for Ed McBain made me want to interview her, and she mentioned Donald Westlake in the interview. And I did ask her about each of her careers influences the other.

July 01, 2013  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home