In his new memoir French Spirits: A House, a Village, and a Love Affair in Burgundy American author and poet Jeffrey Greene writes about an increasingly popular subject: renovating a French country home. As it turns out, this do-it-yourself project is just a literary construction designed to provide an understanding of the soul of the French heartlands, often referred to as la France profonde.
Greene, who lives partly in Paris, uncovers that soul through characters like Madame Brissot, an angel of a real-estate agent that could read our hearts. Greene and his fiancée thought they wanted an old mill. However, Brissot sold them a village presbytery, at much less than the asking price.
The characterization of real people, says Greene, who will lecture on the subject on July 1 at the Paris Summer Literary Festival, is a very tricky business. Instead of fictionalization à la Peter Mayle, Greene relies on fiction techniques like dialog and pacing in order to honor true-life occurences.
His muse was Colette, especially her memoirs La Maison de Claudine, and Sido, which drew on her youth spent in Saint-Sauveur, not far from Greenes village of Rogny-les-Septs-Ecluses. Greene says the French writer showed him how to humorously depict eccentric characters while placing them in self-contained chapters that spin a much larger story.
As part of the Paris Summer Literary Festival, jointly organized by WICEs Paris Writers Workshop, the Village Voice bookstore and WH Smith, Greene will discuss The Art of Literal Truth, at WICE, on July 1 at 1pm. (20 bd du Montparnasse,15e, M°Duroc, contact : 01 45 66 75 50 or http://www.wice-paris.org)