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Jean-Bernard Pouy

Jean-Bernard Pouy

I did this interview with Jean-Bernard Pouy in his home in the Marais on 27 June between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm in 1996. His nine-year-old son was there, with a sprained ankle, and we all ate lunch together before the interview. We drank a rosé wine from the Côtes du Ventoux.

The author, at 50, was dressed almost identically to how Dantec had been dressed when I interviewed him – in black T-shirt and black (probably denim) pants – and he looked barely older than the writer he is 14 years older than. Pouy wore glasses and smoked cigarettes that he tore the filter off before smoking.

When I took his photo in the courtyard of his building, I told him that I wanted to get the paving stones in the picture, and I said it was very French. He said, “Very May ’68.” Of course, the students of the university of Paris in May ’68, of which he was one, built barricades out of the paving stones.

The interview started after lunch and while Pouy was in the heat of a good argument after I told him how impressed I was with French crime writing of the moment. So I flicked on the tape recorder. Keep in mind that it was conducted in French and that my translation is a very rough and spur of the moment transcript meant for use for my story for the Armchair Detective….

A [Pouy]: We shouldn’t try to hide that in France we have a problem. We took a taste to this literature, historically, thanks in a big way to the American literature. Even if some think that the great founder of crime literature is Balzac, in France with “Une Tenebreuse Affaire,” or Edgar Poe, who set “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” in Paris. No. We got our taste for it through the great American literature. And we know that these are writers who, I say without false modesty, go way beyond us. Who had an imagination, who have a country, a social, political, a history with problems just like ours, but multiplied by five. Since the territory is multiplied by five, the space is five times bigger.

Q: As is the population.

A: There was a whole French school that tried to reproduce this American style in a very French, Parisien setting. This was the school of writers such as Simonin, in the ’50s, Le Breton, Largaux with Pigalle, the group, gangsters. That’s something really local.

Now what’s important with 1968 and Manchette, is that Manchette knew American literature very well. He analyzed it very well, and he liked this comportamental literture. But what’s important with him is that he gave us the “right” to say: “you are French, you can do the same thing, divided by five.” That’s how I see it.

And so a French school was born, and it is, in my opinion, not less good than Anglo-Saxon literature. The problems are not the same. Because of the enormity of things it’s a bit tighter. A city like Paris is not New York. A city like Limoges is not Dallas.

You have to see things proportionately. Here the problem we have with the road movie, or the literature of the road, is difficult because the distances are shorter. We’re not going to find ourselves alone in the desert here in France. In the U.S. you go from the desert to the forest to the town with more ease. In Chandler you see that. Chandler has fun with that. He jumps into his car and very quickly he leaves Los Angeles and he’s in a place where there are palm trees, yuccas, and the Indians. The border is not far.

It’s true that a novel starts at one end and finishes at the other, and frequently we see that in the U.S., in novels or films, they start on the east coast to go to the west coast, or start in the west coast to go the east coast. And it’s this sort of huge trip that is at the same time going from one psychological state to another psychological state, and we have a hard time doing that in France.

So we have a literature that is much more condensed. BUT thanks to people like Manchette we suddenly had the right to do it.

But we say to ourselves that the great Anglo-Saxon writers, and notably those of the North American continent, are really very great writers. And we’re authors who are not ashamed to write, but I’m well aware that someone like Harry Crews or someone like Jim Harrison, who deals with these themes, or even someone like Thomas McGuane, are people who have an imaginative capacity that is really very strong.

When you see that a cop of Missoula, Robert Sims Reid, wrote two books, the first was called, UN TROP PLEIN CIEL in France…. I can’t see a cop writing something like that in France. It’s impossible for a cop to write that. We have one, Pagan, who is venerated, but who came from poetry.

The difference, in any case, is there. There’s a connection with the writing, a connection to the world, and the enormous dimension of the world, that we don’t have. We’re kind of cramped into little things, and often the style is therefore also condensed. We don’t have this scope. I say this without false modesty. We don’t have this scope that comes with the great ones. Ellroy…it’s true that there’s a kind of paranoid dimension that is more complex and stronger than the same dimension of paranoia in a French writer.

Q: Maybe, but your book, L’HOMME A L’OREILLE CROQUEE is pure Kafka!

A: We get our revenge through quality. If we don’t have the scope, we have the history behind us. Yes. Joan of Arc, for example, the Americans cannot have. We have the history, the historical, literary and strong ethnographic references. But we have also this taste for playing with literature. Without forcing it, because I love to write stories, and I know that the first thing is to write a story for everyone. The crime novel is popular literature, and everyone must be able to read it. But it’s not for that we can’t say that we have a culture, interests, passions…and so we have the right to give very complicated references, we have the right to play literary games. But that should not overshadow the rest.

I think the great problem with “white literature” (mainstream literature) in France, is that all that stuff takes the over: the writers say, ‘look how I can write.’ While to write a crime novel in France, of first importance is to write a good story, a narrative, a tale. And then afterwards, behind it, if you want, you put your references, you put your political choices, you put your personal tics, or your idiocies.

For example, I wrote a book called LA PECHE AUX ANGES, in 26 chapters. The first chapter starts with an A and it ends with an A. The second starts with a B and ends in B. Etc. But you don’t see that if you don’t know about it. It’s a game that gave me pleasure, but it should not be something that prevents the average reader from getting into the story.

Q: In L’HOMME A L’OREILLE CROQUEE there is a terrible train accident. Trains seem to be everywhere in your books. Why?

A: I’m the son of a railroad station chief. There are trains everywhere. I love trains. That’s perhaps our strength. We have a very strong railroad history. It existed in the U.S., of course, but it’s not so strong there as the car. In France the train is very often used in literature, and has a very strong imaginative life and mythology. In Europe everywhere.

I see a metaphor in trains. There’s a French expression: “en train de.” It translates movement, reality, the actuality of life…en train de talk, en train de something. There’s the word “train” in it. And it’s true that this expression doesn’t exist elsewhere. In English there’s “ing.” In Italian something else. So, “en train de something” has an immediacy to it, and I think that crime novels are about immediacy. Crime novels are about right now. If the book has a literary quality, then it survives. But first there’s a concern for the real and in what’s happening today.

There’s a whole school in France–that of Daeninckx, for example–that plays on that. That plays on the journalistic investigation, the connection between the life of the present, and on one or two years of life. He plays on that.

Afterwards, what happens to the books? I think they survive if they have a literary quality. If they don’t, they just become part of the big cursus of popular literature…they’re at the BILIPO and…well…. No, there are Simenons that are really great, and others…. Then suddenly for some “reason X”–which in my opinion is a literary reason–there’s a Simenon that remains really strong 40 years later. The others are constructed on the same principles, but they don’t have the literary quality. Perhaps because he did it too quickly. Or because it was written too automatically.

Q: Do you, as a writer, fear over-production, or writing too quickly? I understand you write only one book a year?

A: I’m a little bit of a special case because I never wanted to write. I was a painter. Writing came completely by accident. The first thing I ever wrote was a tale that I told to adolescents in my job in a high school. And when I left the job, I wrote down this tale that I knew by heart, in order not to forget it. Because I said to myself, in five years I will have forgotten it, and it made me laugh as much as those I told it to.

Then someone stole the text from me and they published it as a kind of dirty trick. He had been fired from a publishing house, and he used it as a kind of provocation. I was no obligations, and that’s when I said to myself, well…gee…what if I started writing? So that’s when I wrote NOUS AVONS TUE UNE SAINTE, trying on purpose to be a bit demented. The meeting of Rimbaud with Jeanne d’Arc and all that. And it was immediately accepted by the Serie Noire. And I said to myself, well, let’s go.

But, one per year. Because, it’s not my work, so I don’t want to take the place of others. I have my place, and I write very quickly. I’m sort of in the line of Simenon, Malet and co. I write a book in 15 days, three weeks. I could write one every two months, no problem. But I don’t want to. Because the milieu–unlike anywhere else in the world–the milieu of the noir novel, crime novel, thriller, popular novel, whatever you want to call it, here we all know each other. We’re celebrated, there are lots of festivals, we have fun together, and so this conviviality means that we all know each other and we also know that there isn’t room for everyone. There aren’t very many publishers, not very many collections. For example, for every four Anglo-Saxon writers there’s one French one. [Published in France by French publishers.]

Which is normal. Some say it’s not, but it is. Because the Anglo-Saxon writers are more consequential. But there’s not much room, so I decided to try to leave room for younger writers because often–I don’t know if it’s like this in North America–but the crime novel is a genre where young new writers can be published more easily for the first time. They’re not confronted by very complicated publisher’s reading committees.

Q: And you don’t have the literary agent phenomenon here.

A: No agents here. Some people have tried to do it in France, over the past 10 years. But it doesn’t work. I think it’s for a very simple reason: it is relatively simple–or possible–to touch the director of a collection. I mean, to get his interest, speak to him, get him to read something. And to be sure that he has read something. But for this too, all you have to do is multiply by five.

It’s starting to get difficult in France. But there’s still a chance. Last year, for example, it was a very strong year because there were several things, like the 50th anniversary of the Serie Noire, with lots of publicity and articles and things.

Seven hundred crime novel manuscripts arrived last year at Gallimard for the Serie Noire. ThatÂs the same number of manuscripts, 700, that arrives between May and June, at Gallimard for the first (mainstream) novels of September. In other words, in two months, for first literary novels, “litterature blanche,” there are 700 manuscripts that arrive. A lot of people writing mystery novels, but still fewer than the literary.

So there is more possibility of a manuscript being read. Because there are a lot, but not yet too many, the directors of collections can still–along with their reading teams–read a lot of them. The weeding out is done quickly, of course. Directors of collections with the help of their reading teams can–some might say otherwise–but I don’t think they can miss a good manuscript. Crime novel.

Q: Speaking of editorial directors, there’s a cop named P. Raynal in NOUS AVONS TUER UNE SAINTE. And another named Tonino Benacquista. It’s pretty funny to see other living writers and editors’ names in your books. Why do you do this?

A: There’s Pennacinoni too, who is Pennac. It’s his real name, Pennacinoni. He’s Corsican. That was the sins of youth. When you write your first book, you put your friends in it. Benacquista was not known, Raynal was. Raynal started [writing crime novels] before I did. It’s a little, I won’t say thanks to him, but, I met him at that time, about 81-’82, and he had written a book called UN TUER DANS LES ARBRES. He was the first of us, and while he didn’t make me want to do it, he was the first.

But anyway, that was a thing of youth, you’re so happy to throw in your friends, and when no one knows them, sure why not? But then later [he whistles and makes a gesture that it’s crazy or weird].

Q: Tells us a little about Le Poulpe.

A: Le Poulpe was the result of something moving in two directions. One, we were [whistles again and shows that they were completely drunk] nicely ensconced in a bar one evening, and for me it was an idea that I’d had for a long time. I announced this thing, because I had abused the bourbon a little or I don’t know what it was. There was this guy who wanted to get into the publishing business, a young editor, who was there during this conversation, and who said, “I’ll do it. Let’s go.”

He was as drunk as I was, and the next morning, when everyone woke up, it was more like, “Watch out. Wait a minute.”

What happened is that with the rise in the quality of the critical perception of the crime novel last year–particularly because of the 50th anniversary of the Serie Noire–we lifted the level of crime literature in France.

We have a problem that you don’t have in the U.S.: we have a group of genre literatures, and then the real literature on the other side. Why? Because there was the creation of this pocket book collection that grabbed everything. In the U.S., a crime writer is a writer. I think Jim Harrison, for example, is considered to be a complete writer. Elmore Leonard too. In France, Harrison or Leonard would be published in a collection of crime novels.

So we have a problem because of that: it permitted us to survive, very very strongly, but we have the problem that we are always considered to be a literary sub-genre.

I really like this idea of the literary sub-genre, this train-station literature. I really like it because of the train. But, with this new critical attention, the genre was raised higher. That is, it was realized that we were real writers, like in the U.S..

But we’ve hit this ceiling that we cannot pass through. We’re stuck up against the ceiling while waiting to pass over to the other side. But that meant that underneath us, there was nothing anymore. There was the base literature, the really popular literature of the train station that sells enormously. And in the kiosks, you see a literature that is very strong and bought by people who take the train–soldiers and that–and that is of a very bad quality. Not only a very bad quality, but also pretty fascist…that is, stuff like SAS, The Executioner.

So we said to ourselves, “Well, now that the base is empty, we’ve got to fill it up. Otherwise, we won’t exist at that level anymore. We’ll exist, but not there.”

That’s why we decided to make Le Poulpe; so that next to the SAS there’s its opposite, in a way. That is, a libertarian character.

We wanted to occupy this area that didn’t exist anymore. Because Fleuve Noir and the good writers of Fleuve Noir like G.J. Arnaud, and others, had fallen. The Engrenage collection that used to exist has fallen. So there’s this empty space, this need weíre trying to fill.

Q: It’s a great idea, but the covers are so classy and good as to maybe distort that message.

A: It’s an American artist. Miles Hyman. An Americano/Francais. We chose this illustrator, who is a friend and who has read crime novels for a long time. And he’s really nice and interesting and he jumped right into the thing. We take it down a level by choosing silly titles with puns and ridiculous jokes on the cover in a effort to lower the level a bit because we know the covers are beautiful. And they’re “arty.”

Q: When I saw it the first time, I thought “poulpe” was in some way synonymous with the American “pulp” magazine?

A: Yes, it is. In Le Poulpe, what makes the interest of the collection is the game. Not the drawing of the same character all the time, but the differences. Each writer gives his version of the character. They don’t have to fall into the mold. It’s as if we took Bruce Willis and asked 10 different authors to draw him…I think Jim Harrison, Thomas McGuane, or John Updike, wouldn’t see the same character, while nevertheless having the same character as the base.

Q: Those I’ve read for the moment are nevertheless strikingly similar.

A: There’s a thin, four-page Poulpe bible, where I explain a little who the character is. So naturally, it doesn’t change too much, otherwise it would be a mess. It’s just a definition of the character, and what he lived through in his life so everyone writes the same things. And his obligatory meeting place, the cafe. But from there everyone is free. His girlfriend has become a bit of a stick character, so we’re going to be having the adventures of his girlfriend coming out in September. I know that’s a little politically correct…. Women are going to write–have written–the first adventures of Cheryl.

But Le Poulpe continues selling between 15 and 20 thousands copies each. It’s an extraordinary bookstore success.

Q: So they’re doing better in stores than in train stations?

A: We’re in the train stations, but it’s not really…maybe that will come. If it continues like this. The first came out in October (1995). We have lots of first novels. We have those who have written crime novels for a long time. We have writers from other disciplines, like screen writers or journalists. And then we have complete unknowns. The first real unknown was Jean-Christophe Pipin, whose book came out in June (1996), who works in a bookstore and decided to write one, and who gave it to me and I liked it.

I have to read them all.

Q: The books are a kind of literary game, as Patrick Raynal put it. What was his part in its creation?

A: Patrick Raynal is one of my two oldest and best friends. I created a character, that I defined. But you have to be very careful about what you do and watch out for your errors. So I called together Raynal and Serge Quaddrupani, and I invited them for a drink in a restaurant, and we redefined it and they changed some things so that it would be bigger than my ideas alone. So they had a big hand in it.

Q: How does a Poulpe writer get started? Do they call up and ask for the Bible?

A: It’s done in a very convivial way. That is, one has to ask me politely. If one asks me politely, I say yes. No, [clears throat], it’s 1) people I know who ask me; 2) people who I ask because I want to have a book by them, and 3) people who call me up. But one has to contact me. That is, one cannot do it just like that, one has to have the Bible, the four pages. One has to have read it, one has to pass by me.

Q: How long has the Poulpe publisher, Editions Baleine, existed?

A: Since Le Poulpe. Before that it was a small publishing house, that did books very privately. They did books of philosophy, psychiatry, and little stories that were maybe printed in 300 copies. Very private. They bought [Editions] Canaille. They took on Jean-Jacques Reboux, who is a really interesting guy who decided to found a publishing house in order to publish his own books. Not because his manuscripts were refused, but because after his first two manuscripts were accepted by publishing houses the houses folded right after they accepted his books, he said to himself “I have the evil eye. I bring bad luck to people.” So I gave him two books, one to reprint, and a new book, to help him get going a bit. Then Canaille worked very well. But he’s alone, and he can’t really do it alone, and he doesn’t really have good distribution. So he joined up with Baleine to have a stronger base.

Q: One that you gave him was your first book, wasnít it? Tell us a bit more about that.

A: SPINOZA ENCULE HEGEL. It was reprinted at Canailles long after its first publication. It started at Albin Michel in Mosconi’s collection in ’82-’83. But it was the last book [of the collection] and he purposely tried to make it go after…it was very complicated because I wasn’t on the cover…that was the book that I didn’t want to write. A long time afterwards when it was noticed that a lot of people were asking for it–because since then I had become a pillar of the Serie Noire–I gave it to Jean-Jacques Reboux at Canailles to reprint, and he sold 10,000 copies I think. Which is enormous.

Q: You have the reputation for helping many young writers. Tell us more about your help with Dantec.

A: Dantec is – bizarrely – and Benacquista–they were old students that I had when I was a cultural counselor at the high school. I knew them when they were really little. Dantec even smaller than Benacquista, because he came when he was in 6eme, so he was eleven years old. And I knew Benacquista in 3rd, so he must have been fourteen or fifteen. Fifteen. When I knew them they were really little. Benacquista was always with me. He was a friend of the family, and now he flies with his own wings.

But I lost touch with Dantec. After the BAC and all that, I lost touch with him. In one of my books, LA BELLE DE FONTENAY, I talk about him. Under the name of Maurice Lantec. I changed one letter. But I didn’t know at all what he was up to. Then he contacted me again, since I was still thinking of him. And he said to me, “I’m writing, I want to write….” And I pushed him to write a crime novel. And when I had the manuscript, I took it to Patrick Raynal. And he took it. Raynal immediately saw someone…. I’m not saying at all that it’s because of me. But I acted as a go-between.

Q: As a literary agent.

A: Agent, sure. Without the 12 percent. Agent, only because I knew him when he was young. But if one really wants to see how I might have helped Dantec, it’s that when he was twelve to thirteen years old, I’m the one who made him read books like CRASH, by Ballard–that we’re hearing a lot about now–or Spinrad’s novels. Already at twelve years old he was reading that stuff, Dantec. And if I introduced him to that–they were my favourite books–it’s because I knew he was capable of understanding it, and liking it. So if I had a small importance, it was that when he was young I introduced him to these books that really impressed him. I think.

Q: I have found that the general level of everything I’ve been reading in France has been of a very high quality. I don’t understand why the French crime novel hasn’t sold more in the U.S. Maybe it’s the same thing like with wine in France. You don’t sell many foreign wines here.

A: I think that’s exactly it. Here we say you can make wine elsewhere, but French wine will be the best. And I’d be pretty tempted to say that the great American noir novel, is pretty difficult to do as well anywhere else. When I read Harrison, for example…. [facial expression of amazement].

Q: Yeah, but the weird thing is, there’s a hell of a lot of crap being published in the U.S. too.

A: We only know what’s translated, of course. But I mean, for example, when you read people like Harry Crews…it’s a revelation…extraordinary… Even people less well known like Hunter Thompson…LAS VEGAS PARANOS was an absolute masterpiece. And for a long long time I’ve been a big fan of James Cain. I think that James Cain is really one of the leading…as good as Sherwood Anderson in another genre. Or Erskine Caldwell, who is for me a great writer. And I think that Harry Crews is in the same vein as Erskine Caldwell. That is, a tale with much more verbal madness than Caldwell, and more compact. But part of the same principle between desperation and absurdity and funniness and cynicsim.

Strength like that I find hard to find, really, in French noir literature. But that’s a really stupid thing to say too, because, if Camus first sent L’ETRANGER to the Serie Noire, it would have come out in the Serie Noire! It has everything in it to be a noir novel. And at the same time, Camus is the Nobel Prize, it’s a literature that is known throughout the world. L’ETRANGER is a murder, a study of place, with guy who is depressed because his mother is dead. It’s a literature that is very comportemental, very very strong. Having said that, we have so many crappy books that come out too…

Q: I get the feeling that French taste goes particularly toward the noir. These are not the biggest successes in the U.S.

A: It’s like that in France too. The biggest successes at Serie Noire have always been things like Carter Brown; the big success at Le Masque is Agatha Christie. In France, Spillane – Mike Hammer – worked less well. But Carter Brown [Australian] worked really well in France, at the time. The great noir novels of all time are not best sellers in France. They’re really well-known in a certain milieu.

Oddly, there has always been an intellectual milieu that pushed the crime novel, and that’s what saves me. It’s true that people like Andre Gide and Malraux on the board of directors of Gallimard said, “Your books are a pain in the ass.” Then they put down novels of the Serie Noire on the table and said, “Now here’s a book.” And they put down Dasheill Hammett, James Cain, Horace McCoy, saying, “Now here. These are novels.”

So that has existed for a long time. But apart from Ellroy who has passed up to the next level of the noir novel, and Hillerman, who had a success in France that goes beyond the noir novel, it’s really for those fans who are in the habit of buying noir novels.

This is a little what has happened to Pennac. He started in the Serie Noire, and now he’s elsewhere. So there are bridges, footbridges, but they’re pretty few. Having said that, among those who work well within the genre–maybe 10 writers–these are not the best sellers. We’re talking 50,000 copies. Pennac, COTE JAGUER, 60,000-70,000. That is nevertheless, for France, very good.

Q: It’s really not comparable to the U.S.

A: No, you must divide by five. When you see Philippe Labro, or Desjardins, or Jean d’Ormesson. They publish a book, it’s automatically 300,000 to 400,000. Only because there’s publicity. And there are the book clubs that hit 200,000 to 250,000 people immediately. The crime novel survives in France at 8,000 copies. So as soon as you pass 8,000 copies it’s considered a victory. If you arrive at 20,000 you’re a recognized writer. If you get to 40,000 you’re a star. With LA PETIT ECUYERE A CAFTE of the Poulpe I’m at 40,000. So finally, at fifty years old, I can say I’m a star!

Well. It’s pretty laughable, really. We’re somewhere between good literature and the rest, and the day we sell 50,000 copies we can feel like we’ve matched them. That is, we’ve created out of popular writing, good literature.

Q: Back to Dantec and you. I see echoes of NOUS AVONS BRULE UNE SAINTE and of your writing in general, in Dantec.

A: [Interested expression.] That’s the first time anyone has said that. Dantec is a grapho-maniac.

Q: Huge long books are new in the genre in France, aren’t they?

A: He’s changing a lot of things. There was a version of the noir novel that did not exist. And also the parallel of the other genre of popular literature, Science Fiction. Two genres that have the reputation of always being in competition. His is the response. If we could ally both of them, that would be a supplementary defense, a good thing to do strategically.

Q: To change the topic a little, I must admit that I was a little scared of coming over today, with all the derogatory references in your books to Americans, British, the English in general: Bourguignon, Rosbifs, Ameriloche, etc.

A: An inside joke. But no. The big brother…the Americans. We hate Americans, but we pass our time reading American books. We hate Americans, but we pass our time listening to American music. We go to American films. With the English, it’s difffernt. The English have been our traditional enemies for 1500 years. And it continues. With mad cow disease, and one Europe…if Europe isn’t working, it’s because of the English.

So that’s a tradition, a very European game, that one cannot understand elsewhere. The Germans aren’t our enemies, that’s something recent, the Nazis and all that. But with the English, they’re the ones who are on the other side of the Channel…the other side of the tennis net. There’s this partner-adversary thing to it. And of course, the British tabloid press spend their time talking about the frogs, and the frog-eaters. I have an English book that says, “Yeah, the French eat stuffed nightingales.î

There’s a very strong anti-French imagination in England, myth and rumours. So that’s a game. But we’re big defenders of the young British cinema, as they’re big defenders of French cinema. That doesn’t mean there aren’t insults flying through the press. It’s been going on for 1500 years. Well do we know that they’re the true connoisseurs of Bordeaux wine.

With the Americans, it’s something else. We know it’s a big country, it’s this, it’s that. We know it’s a fascist country. But as in all fascist countries, the avant-garde–the cultural, esthetic, artistic avant-garde–is so strong that we’re very attracted to all that is left-wing art, extreme left, because it’s really the strongest and most creative.

The American counter-culture formed me totally. That’s why I quote Ginsberg. I don’t quote Ginsberg as, “Hey buddhist New York poet….” I quote Ginsberg as really the one who…who was the starting point for me in reading. Reading Gregory Corso, people like that. Quoting Patti Smith is not just quoting an American rock star. It’s quoting someone who created a bridge between Rimbaud, the Rolling Stones, poetry and the avant-garde rock and roll. It’s true that they stopped the Vietnam War, and that we did not stop it. It’s the American counter-culture. We detest the same things, we hate the same things that the American left-wingers detest.

It’s our international leftist side: we’re against nationalism, and you have to count on the force of everyone everywhere. And it’s the same for Canadians. I’m a specialist on Michael Snow, the underground cinema director. I wrote a thesis on him. But I don’t care that he’s Canadian. It just bizarrely happens that it’s only over there that this sort of approach and chemistry could happen. But what Michael Snow might not know is that in the ë70s to ë80s when we went to see his films and found ourselves all together in these Parisian cinemas like a little secret society, it wasn’t at all a secret, but almost a political statement to oppose the other cinema.

There were some who bridged the two worlds a bit, like Denys Arcand. And all this side, it was all…everything that attacked the system, esthetically, politically, economically, was our world. Including the same thing with the English and the Americans, and at the time the Russians…depends.

Q: Patrick Raynal mentioned that this is part of the reason for Le Poulpe’s existence. There’s an attack against the extreme right in each book.

A: Yes, well you know, when you read Chandler, Marlowe never speaks of it, but Marlowe is a libertarian. Someone who is not influenced by the powers that be. Who doesn’t fall into the trap of keeping mum. And who is really free. While Spade, or Hammett’s characters, are really militants. They’re people who would be ready to enter into an organization. They’re political. Marlowe resembles more Le Poulpe in the sense that he decodes, he plays with language. He winds in and out of the problems, and he doesn’t count on any powers that be, or any outside power whatever.

Whereas Dashiell Hammett is more of a communist…that is, he’s capable, in order to fight against the system, to fall into a system that is, if not worse, then at least similar. And that’s the difference between the two, and that’s why I really like Chandler. Because he sees things coming, and his cynicism means that he cannot remain silent and mum, even if it puts him in a desperate situation, puts him in a difficult situation, makes him dark. That’s what’s really interesting in this literature.


  1. Pingback: A Bit More Crime Writing… Ancient Interview With Jean-Bernard Pouy | Brad Spurgeon's Blog

  2. Awesome interview!! In the movie “The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq,” Michel Houellebecg, played by Houellebecq, mentions “Pouy” as one of the writers he likes. This led me to your site.

    Nice work and I’m lloking forward to reading the rest of your entries.

    • Thanks so much! Unfortunately, most of this blog has to do with music now, rather than my past “exploits” in writing about French crime fiction! But I still take an interest in that area, and certainly will update someday with something similar….

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