Sobre a Autora, aqui, aqui e aqui
Heureux les heureux, de Yasmina Reza
NOTA DE LEITURA
Aqui temos mais um best seller de Yasmina Reza, que nunca faz a coisa por menos. O livrinho é curto (176 páginas), mas muitas coisas se passam no interior.
O título vem de um poema de Jorge Luis Borges, que abaixo transcrevo, mais precisamente do verso final.
Tem 21 capítulos, em que 18 personagens (há 3 que se repetem) contam a sua história na primeira pessoa.
A Autora não narra os diálogos do modo que é habitual, mas escreve sem parágrafos, indicando as falas com “j’ai dit”, “il dit”, “je dis”, sem nenhuma especial pontuação.
Não é um livro alegre, embora nos faça sorrir muitas vezes.
Parece-me que o sentido do título é que temos de aproveitar o melhor que pudermos aqueles momentos da vida em que nos sentimos felizes, porque neste mundo esses são a excepção. A regra são as desgraças.
A Autora é judia, suponho que não praticante. Há no livro inúmeras referências a judeus.
Um pormenor: a Autora refere a canção Sodade como sendo de uma portuguesa. A sua cultura política deve ser fraca (apesar de ter biografado Nicolas Sarkozy), pois deveria saber que Cesária Évora era caboverdeana.
A seguir, um elenco dos personagens titulares dos capítulos para ajudar a perceber a trama do livro.
Robert Toscano, marido de Odile, de quem tem dois filhos, Simon e Antoine. A mãe dele é conhecida por Zozo (petit nom).
Marguerite Blot, irmã de Ernest Blot
Odile Toscano, advogada, é filha de Ernest Blot e está casada com Robert. É amante de Rémi Grobe, de quem Raoul Barnèche é o melhor amigo.
Vincent Zawada tem a sua mãe doente com cancro que está internada no hospital onde trabalha o médico Philip Chemla. Ali tem uma atracção pela secretária médica Virgine Déruelle.
Pascaline Hutner, casada com Lionel. São amigos de Robert e de Odile Toscano. O seu filho, Jacob, convence-se que se tornou tal e qual a cantora canadiana Céline Dion.
Paola Suares é amante de Luc Condamine.
Ernest Blot, casado com Jeanette. Diz que, quando morrer quer ser cremado e que as suas cinzas sejam deitadas numa ribeira
Philip Chemla, oncólogo, homossexual, gosta que os amantes o esbofeteiem.
Loula Moreno, actriz, amante não muito fiel de Darius Ardashir.
Raoul Barnèche, jogador inveterado, casado com Hélène, de quem tem um filho, Damien
Virginie Deruelle, secretária médica, ocupa-se do tratamento de sua tia-avó Marie-Paule. No Hospital sente uma forte atracção por Vincent Zawada, quando este vai visitar a mãe.
Rémi Grobe, jornalista, amante de Odile.
Chantal Audouin, decoradora de acontecimentos, amante do Ministro Ecoupaud, a qual é paciente com Jacob do psiquiatra Igor Lorrain
Jean Ehrenfried é mais um paciente do oncólogo Philip Chemla.
Damien Barnèche, motorista eventual de Loula Moreno, desabafa com ela sobre as dificuldades que tem no namoro com Geraldine.
Luc Condamine gostaria de juntar o seu amigo Robert Toscano com Virgine Déruelle. Narra um jantar de spaghetti em casa de Robert Toscano, com este e Lionel Hutner.
Helene Barnèche, casada com Raoul. No autocarro, encontra Igor Lorrain seu amante de 30 anos atrás, quando ela tinha 26 anos.
Jeannette Blot, casada com Ernest Blot.
Robert Toscano, funeral de Ernest Blot
Odile Toscano, a família vai de comboio a Guernonzé (nome inventado) para deitar na ribeira as cinzas do pai, Ernest Blot.
Jean Ehrenfried, uma recordação de Ernest Blot.
Par Jean Birnbaum
Heureux les heureux, de Yasmina Reza, Flammarion, 190 p.
Acculé par mon interlocuteur, j'avais fini par lâcher : eh bien, c'est l'histoire de gens qui sont attaqués par la vie. Cela faisait deux jours que Miles Hyman, l'artiste qui illustre cette "une" du "Monde des livres", me téléphonait pour savoir de quoi parle le nouveau roman de Yasmina Reza, Heureux les heureux. Emporté par mon enthousiasme, je m'étais d'abord lancé dans des envolées par trop générales : promettez-moi que vous lirez ce texte ! C'est à la fois bouleversant et hilarant, on passe sans cesse de l'angoisse au rire ! Promis, vous lirez ? Oui, oui, bien sûr, avait répondu Hyent je vois mal de quoi il retourne... Ah, vous verrez, c'est une série de chapitres qui s'enchaînent comme des saynètes ordinaires ; il y a ce couple qui s'engueule autour d'un chariot de supermarché, cet adolescent qui se prend pour Céline Dion au point de signer des autographes à l'hôpital psychiatrique, ce joueur de bridge qui se met dans une telle colère contre sa partenaire qu'il en avale un Roi de trèfle... Je m'épuisais à vouloir résumer le livre quand l'illustrateur m'a interrompu : fort bien, mais pourriez-vous préciser ce qui rassemble tous ces personnages ? Oui. Ce sont des êtres qui tentent de faire face aux assauts de la vie.
Jusqu'à cette conversation avec Miles Hyman, je n'en avais pas une claire conscience : comme les précédents romans de Reza, celui-ci raconte une guerre où le rapport de forces est totalement déséquilibré. Au fil du récit, tel personnage est "attaqué" par une violente tristesse, tel autre par une mélancolie féroce. Page après page, la vie sème la désolation, elle défait les corps et ravage les âmes, usant de tous les subterfuges possibles pour diviser ses cibles et miner les alliances : “valeurs idiotes” et “entichements absurdes”, recherche de l’amour et quête du bonheur, chacune de ces chimères désarme un peu plus des êtres livrés à l’usure du temps comme aux blessures de la solitude. Malgré les familles et les couples, malgré la maîtresse ou l’amant, et jusque dans la mort, “tous, complètement seuls”.
Campée sur la ligne de front, Yasmina Reza juxtapose des monologues intérieurs qui correspondent à autant de stratégies de survie. “Je n’arrive pas à régler mon dossier de siège”, “La petite boule de chagrin est revenue dans ma gorge”, “Ça fait tant d’années que je n’aspire à aucune métamorphose”, “Il y a en moi une région qui aspire à la tyrannie”, “Je regarde le ciel et lui parle à voix secrète et véhémente”, “Je finis toujours par le payer quand elle enfile son costume de martyr”… L’écriture de Reza ne roule pas les mécaniques. Prises une à une, ses phrases pourraient paraître anodines. Mais leur mouvement, leur précision implacable, donnent au texte toute sa puissance d’entraînement, sa capacité à créer l’émotion.
Ce qui vaut pour les phrases vaut aussi pour les voix des différents personnages, entre lesquelles Yasmina Reza installe un subtil jeu de résonances. Cette manière d’orchestrer les consciences lui permet de diversifier les points de vue sur une même situation et de multiplier les versions d’une même existence. Ainsi peut-elle se montrer compréhensive, escorter ses personnages sans jamais les juger. D’un chapitre à l’autre, confronté à une semblable adversité (matrimoniale, par exemple…), tel être se révèle tour à tour combattant ou embusqué, veule ou solidaire, mari infâme ou ami irremplaçable. Toujours différent et pourtant identique.
Sous nos yeux se forme peu à peu une troupe, au sens à la fois théâtral et militaire du terme. Troupe bigarrée, endurante et vulnérable, où chacun tente de jouer son rôle, de sauver sa peau. Sur ce champ de bataille si défavorable, l’enjeu n’est pas de vaincre mais de tomber dans l’honneur et sans illusion, les yeux grands ouverts. Pour ce faire, les êtres humains ont une arme et une seule : le rire. Ici, le rire est une riposte, il se met en travers, c’est un rire de barrage au sens où l’on parle de tir de barrage : une explosion de dignité qui vise à ralentir la progression de l’ennemi. A la fin du livre, une famille se rend en Bretagne pour disperser les cendres du père défunt. L’urne funéraire est au fond d’un sac Go Sport. Et soudain, la contre-attaque : “On rit. Je crois aussi entendre papa rire dans le sac”, témoigne la fille du défunt. Lisant ce passage, on pense à la formule de Shakespeare dans Peines d’amour perdues : “To move wild laughter in the throat of death”, que George Steiner a traduite ainsi : “Faire surgir un rire sauvage, un rire émancipé, dans le gosier de la mort.” Oui, dans le face-à-face avec la vie et même avec l’au-delà, la situation comique est la seule situation de liberté : au théâtre et en littérature, cette vérité structure l’oeuvre de Yasmina Reza. Parce qu’il l’expérimente mieux qu’aucun autre, avec un tact immense et une sensibilité bouleversante, Heureux les heureux est son plus beau texte. Son grand roman de la consternation humaine.
Dans ce nouveau livre, construit comme une mosaïque, la romancière explore la déroute des couples, forme aiguë du malaise contemporain.
HEUREUX LES HEUREUX
de Yasmina Reza
Éditions Flammarion, 194 p.,
Encensée ou dédaignée, Yasmina Reza est rarement lue pour ce qu’elle écrit vraiment. Elle traîne avec elle la réputation d’avoir débuté en écrivant une pièce de théâtre, Art, accusée d’être un brûlot contre l’art contemporain, suspecte de poujadisme déguisé, en utilisant un procédé facile. Une discussion violente entre amis que sépare l’incompréhension devant un tableau monochrome blanc. Crime irréparable.
Ensuite, elle aurait commis une nouvelle faute de goût, en suivant, au jour le jour, le candidat Sarkozy en 2007, chroniqueuse de sa campagne victorieuse, avec parfois une proximité proche de l’intimité. Tout en dédiant son livre à un amant-fantôme, contrepoint désabusé et caustique, qui rôde dans les pages et s’avérera être DSK.
Circonstance aggravante : les pièces de Yasmina Reza triomphent sur les scènes des grandes capitales où elle est reconnue comme une dramaturge importante alors que la critique en France la boude. Son succès agace et dérange les gardiens du temple du beau, du bon, du juste.
Et ses romans entrent régulièrement sans tarder dans la liste des meilleures ventes. Quoi qu’il arrive. Son refus persistant de s’exhiber à la télévision est encore retenu contre elle. Un écrivain est-il condamné, pour séduire d’éventuels lecteurs, à jouer les camelots ? Est-il contraint de se plier à des règles de promotion qui lui échappent, de dilapider son univers en propos creux, de galvauder son imaginaire ?
Autant dire que le cas Reza est lourd aux yeux de certains et qu’ils ne sont pas près d’ouvrir ses livres avec bienveillance. Ils ont tort. Dans leur entêtement, percevront-ils que quelque chose bouge ? Même les plus remontés finissent par convenir que L’aube le soir ou la nuit n’était en rien un banal journal de bord mais le regard acéré d’une femme, soucieuse de traduire, avec du style, les dessous de la lutte pour le pouvoir, avec sa part de faiblesses, de volonté de domination et de sauvagerie feutrée.
Son nouveau roman, au titre étrange, emprunté à Borges, habilement construit en forme de chœur dont les voix se rejoignent sans vraiment se rencontrer, explore de nouveau le froissement conflictuel des relations entre hommes et femmes. Les chapitres, conçus comme des nouvelles, finissent par se répondre et mêler les attentes insatisfaites, l’usure du temps et les frictions d’ego mal ajustés. Vingt et un tableaux composent cette mosaïque où gravitent des personnages aux prises avec leurs tourments.
Schizophrénie d’un ado, qui se prend pour Céline Dion, et dont les parents n’ont pas vu venir le basculement ; cancérologue honorable qui, la nuit, cherche des corps à étreindre dans des bosquets alors qu’il voudrait connaître la vraie souffrance d’aimer ; malades gravement atteints qui s’accrochent à la vie ; amours bancales ; comportements délirants qui transforment l’autre en ennemi intime ; chagrins d’abandon.
La réussite sociale recouvre souvent des défaites intimes. La mort, avec dispersion des cendres, ne dénoue pas le dérisoire de nos existences sans espérance et sans vision. Et la tentation fugitive de s’adresser à Dieu n’est d’aucun secours, appel vain, voué à se perdre dans le vaste bureau des réclamations…
Saisissante, drôle et glaçante, la scène d’ouverture donne la mesure. Une querelle ordinaire autour du choix d’un fromage dégénère en crise de nerfs autour d’un caddie et vire en pulsions meurtrières refrénées. Dérapage habituel chez Yasmina Reza qui excelle dans l’art d’atteindre aux limites du carnage, à partir d’un détail qui fissure le vernis des bonnes manières en société.
Un soleil noir recouvre le ballet de cette comédie humaine. Yasmina Reza s’insinue dans les méandres des couples. Elle observe, décrit et, marionnettiste subtile, emmêle les fils. Dans cette polyphonie de solitudes, les êtres, perdus par incompréhension, sont enfermés dans des soliloques qui s’entrelacent.
Sous la romancière perce l’auteur de théâtre, experte dans l’art d’agencer tableaux et situations, dialogues et répliques. «Les femmes sont séduites par des hommes effroyables, parce que les hommes effroyables se présentent masqués comme au bal.»
Yasmina Reza dissèque une forme aiguë de malaise contemporain qui se cristallise dans l’espace étroit des amours corrodés par l’acide lucidité. De sa plume, légère et grinçante, tombent des aphorismes cruels et désabusés : «On ne peut pas comprendre un couple, même quand on en fait partie.»
À l’automne de la vie, certains vœux déchirants révèlent la simplicité des aspirations et l’étendue de la tristesse : «Pourrais-tu, je m’apprête à lui dire, mettre sur mon chemin quelqu’un de gai, avec qui je pourrais rire et qui aimerait marcher ? Tu connais sûrement quelqu’un qui mettrait son écharpe les pans bien à plat, croisés à l’intérieur d’un manteau à l’ancienne, qui me tiendrait d’un bras solide et m’emmènerait sans nous perdre dans la neige et dans la forêt.»
CRITIQUE - L'auteur de théâtre mondialement célèbre a écrit , un roman en forme de monologues. Dix-huit personnages tourmentés livrent leurs états d'âme sans détour. Un condensé d'hystérie et de désespoir.
, auteur d', la comédie mondialement célèbre, est moins connue pour ses romans, c'est pourquoi est attendu au tournant. Yasmina Reza compte bien sûr au nombre de ses exploits bravaches celui d'avoir romancé la campagne de 2007 de dans .
Le titre évoque les Huit Béatitudes en saint Matthieu, mais la sentence littérale est de Borges! Les cœurs purs et les cœurs doux de saint Matthieu ainsi que les miséricordieux et les artisans de la paix vont souvent manquer à l'appel! Mais les persécutés se bousculent comme d'habitude chez Reza, toujours bienvenus au casse-pipe du mariage, de l'adultère ou de l'amitié! Dix-huit personnages, autant de monologues séparés mais où circulent les mêmes protagonistes à couteaux tirés.
Qui persécute qui dans ces couples qui s'étripent au supermarché, au lit, partout? Jeunes ou vieux époux, c'est le même topo belliqueux. Un théâtre romanesque qui concocte des crescendos de colère stérile. Certes, les Hutner, un couple fusionnel de doux miraculeux, ont un vrai problème avec leur fils qui se prend pour , s'habille comme elle. Cette famille est bien sûr la cible de tous les sarcasmes.
Les héros solitaires ne sont pas mieux lotis, tel ce cancérologue homo, maso, nomade, en mal d'authentique tristesse amoureuse et de consolation. L'angoisse d'abandon mine les plus dragueurs. Même les plus libertins finissent par écoper. Difficile de trouver son bonheur, nous avons tant d'aptitude aux affres. S'ennuyer, subir, s'affronter, se tromper, blesser, déchaîner son sadisme: que d'occupations quotidiennes, inlassables dont Yasmina Reza organise les parades dans des décors quelconques mais pour des personnages branchés: avocats, hommes d'affaires, hauts fonctionnaires, journalistes.
Certains sont plus pittoresques que les autres. J'ai un faible pour ce joueur de cartes battu qui bouffe son roi de trèfle à cause de sa femme qui a mal donné. Cette pataugeoire intime tourne plus ou moins à la dérision sans tomber dans le tragique féroce. Et si le décès d'un patriarche réunit tous les personnages, c'est un dénouement naturel. On trouve quand même le moyen de s'engueuler au moment de la distribution des cendres.
Dans cette société composée de sceptiques et d'athées, nul ne se fait d'illusion métaphysique. «Même la vie au bout d'un moment, c'est une valeur idiote.» Yasmina Reza orchestre avec beaucoup d'agilité ce papillotement de clichés anthropologiques. On aimerait parfois qu'une passion, qu'une vraie folie, qu'une déflagration plus radicale transcendent ce vaudeville existentiel. Yasmina Reza, c'est en bigoudis.
The New York Times
HAPPY ARE THE HAPPY
By Yasmina Reza
Translated by John Cullen
148 pp. Other Press.
Like a handful of the 18 people who populate her latest novel, “Happy Are the Happy,” Yasmina Reza is formidably accomplished. A prolific novelist and playwright — two of her works for the stage, “Art” and “God of Carnage,” won Tony Awards for best play — as well as a screenwriter and actress, she haunts the halls of power in her native France. “Happy Are the Happy” is another coup, a quick and delicate book that’s as funny as it is humane. Each of its short chapters, titled with the name of the character speaking, is told in the first person and concerns, for the most part, other characters in the book soon to introduce themselves if they haven’t already. Everyone gets a word in, and the style is feathery as gossip. Characters chime with one another in ways they never realize, a conviviality that is bittersweet. Their voices are self-aware, a little jaundiced, vulnerable, sometimes plaintive, and entirely authentic. Accomplishment, Reza suggests, is no hedge against yearning or regret. Status, wealth, celebrity, sex appeal and good health are unevenly distributed and underappreciated, until they are in decline. Life isn’t sparkly, it’s a slog: “People, practically oldsters, lurching around Paris, bearing their lives.” Perhaps chasing the impractical is simply a way to stay in motion.
Reza is attuned to intensity and banality in equal measure — how they refuse to converge at a tolerable midpoint, how infrequently people agree on which is which. Damien Barnèche fervently declares the need for “a law that would protect you from being bothered by the leaflet when trying to open a box of medication,” an eccentric complaint. Robert Toscano, a short-fused journalist on deadline, is having an argument in a grocery store with his wife, Odile. The bones of their contention, slow lines and sugary snacks, splinter into tangential rants. “My mother recently found a metal nut in a chunk of Morbier,” Robert mentions for the second time. “My mother said to the cheesemonger, I’m not the type of woman who makes a fuss, but for the sake of your longevity as a respected dealer in cheese, I must inform you that I found a bolt in a piece of your Morbier.” Quelle horreur. Like Robert, “the guy didn’t give a damn.”
“Happy Are the Happy” is full of philanderers with lazy wandering eyes and the lonely women who put up with them. Rémi Grobe, who is having an affair with Odile, can’t abandon himself to a stolen evening in a town far from Paris because he’s already anticipating the pang of their leave-taking. He starts texting other paramours from the dinner table. Reza captures the way boredom and restlessness creep into the broken rules meant to spice things up. No wonder Chantal Audouin, mistress to a government minister, announces, “Couples disgust me.”
The happiest couple, Lionel and Pascaline Hutner, call each other “my own,” a tic mocked behind their back by their friends, who don’t quite know that Jacob, their son, has been committed for a type of psychosis best left unnamed so as not to spoil its precise tragicomedy. When we hear Pascaline use the pet name as she and her husband leave the hospital, Jacob still inside, it is startling for its plangency — whom else does she have? “Wait for me, my own,” she calls, seeing “how very small his head looked and how thin his hair was in the light of the streetlamp.”
Jeannette Blot, mournfully married to Odile’s father, Ernest, a former titan of finance, says: “When you have a man in your life, you worry about idiotic things, the condition of your lipstick, the shape of your bra. . . . That fills up the time. It’s fun.” Not for her, at least not anymore. Hating her husband gives her something to think about, and occasionally to do — we hear from another character that she threw a cup of coffee at Ernest as he left the house one morning.
But Reza slyly imbues her reaction to his obituary (“Not a word about his wife,” she says sourly) with unfinished business, the complexity of real grief that leaves an angry widow fighting with a ghost. “Even if you demolish me,” Nicolas Sarkozy supposedly told Reza before the publication of “Dawn Evening or Night,” in which she trailed (and skewered) the politician on the campaign trail, “you will elevate me”: a ventriloquism that encapsulates her method and her gift.
Thursday 19 June 2014
The works for which Yasmina Reza is best known are her tightly structured plays, 'Art' and God of Carnage, and her new novel follows them in deploying a very specific form.
It begins with a laugh-out-loud rendering of a lethal domestic row between journalist Robert Toscano and his lawyer wife, Odile, over the purchase of cheese in a supermarket. In its deathly ridiculousness, the description, told from the perspective of the husband, confirms Reza as a sharply observant wit.
Yet just as she professed herself surprised when English-speaking audiences saw 'Art' as a comedy, the mood remains more melancholic than humorous as over a further 20 chapters and 210 pages, 18 characters get a chapter each – with three granted a second say – to recount a vignette from their lives.
Cumulatively they reveal secret passions, a myriad disappointments and a propensity for infidelity that will do nothing to alter the perception – right or wrong – that the French are a nation of philanderers. It is easy to imagine the film adaptation which, in visual terms, will render the complicated intertwining of families and plot much easier to follow, as bit players in one life emerge as crucial to the lives of others. To the reader, the key advice to be offered is to pay attention. Closely. Few names are mentioned only to disappear and Reza evidently believes that there is a pleasure to be had for the reader in filling in the crossword puzzle of connections. Information about Robert's father-in-law that seems incidental on page eight proves crucial by the finale and the web of characters include the film star's chauffeur's mother and her ex, the psychologist who is treating the deluded son of the apparent smug-marrieds. All get their chapter.
Most readers, bar those blessed with perfect powers of concentration and an excellent memory, will miss some of the ties at first reading. But Reza evidently expects that. As the frosty relations – the "wordless war" – emerge between Robert and Odile, the wife is reading a book in bed where she is repeatedly forced to recap who is who, turning back to check. The parallel must be deliberate. And if that makes it sound hard work, well, it is true to say Reza is a rather particular delight. Her cool detachment, reinforced by the voice-per-chapter form, limits bonding with her characters who, with a few exceptions, are hard to warm to.
Yet, somewhat surprisingly, the strictures of the structure do allow some emotions to flow. The Hutners appear to have the perfect life but it proves anything but. At the end, the widow's reaction to the sudden end of her loveless marriage is genuinely moving and believable. The title speaks of happiness but it is the sadnesses that prevail. Paola visits the marital home of her lover Luc, surveys the decor and immediately concludes he will never leave his wife. It is hard not to agree with Jeannette Blot that "women are attracted to appalling men". "Happy are the happy" is the second half of a quote by Jorge Luis Borges with which the novel begins and reads, more fully: "Happy are the loved ones and the lovers and those who can do without love."
So the happinesses are small; the medical secretary's memory of a cigarette shared with the son of a patient; the lover biting his tongue when the woman he realises he genuinely cares for demonstrates a painful lack of self-knowledge; the husband who throws away his newspaper of racing tips to agree to a museum visit with the wife he has publicly shamed. Most significantly, perhaps, at the end, the pleasure of two friends fishing. Reza is the mistress of subtle detail.
Sunday 17 August 2014
An exploration of everyday unhappiness, Yasmina Reza's new novel comes at its subject from all angles through crackling dialogue and excellent characters
"Happy are the loved and the lovers and those who can do without love. Happy are the happy" – Jorge Luis Borges's words form the epigraph to playwright Yasmina Reza's wonderfully witty novel, translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone, which most excels when it explores the roots of unhappiness.
Each chapter is told from a different character's point of view. "Listen to how you're talking to me! Do you have any idea of how you're talking to me?" protests Robert Toscano to his partner Odile as they begin quarrelling in the supermarket over what type of cheese to buy. From such moments unfolds a lifetime of frustration.
Reza, as you'd expect, creates moments of intense drama, exhibiting the tensions and conflicts crackling through lives. The Toscanos compare themselves to their friends the Hutners, who seemingly have the perfect life. And yet the Hutners are pretending that their son is on an international internship when in fact he's in a mental institution, believing himself to be Céline Dion. The author skilfully peels away the veneer of life to reveal the secrets seething within.
Happy Are the Happy is published by Harvill Secker
January 23, 2015
“I never plan anything, whether I attempt a play or a novel. I just go á l’aventure,”
down to tea before her book lunch at the Modern, in New York’s Museum of Modern
Art. Her new novel, Happy
are the Happy (Other Press), translated by John
with a Paris couple, Odile and Robert Toscano, whose verbal jousting escalates
into a near-brawl at a supermarket cheese counter after Robert forgets the
Gruyère. “Who likes this Morbier crap?” Odile snaps, shortly before he pins her
to the display case.
The scene, bordering on farce, feels classically Reza, who is charming and conspiratorial in a lithe navy pantsuit, not at all the conversational adversary some of the press have made her out to be. The blazingly successful playwright has a keen sense of the trappings of middle-class pretension—the white canvas onto which three friends project their insecurities in Art; or the tulips and coffee table books in The God of Carnage (transposed to newly gentrified Brooklyn by Reza and Roman Polanski for a film adaptation), carefully arranged to conceal the neuroses seeping out underneath. Her work is unmistakably French and yet curiously universal in its high-low appeal: We might not vandalize a painting or pitch a wedge of cheese down a shop aisle, but we certainly recognize the impulse.
If her books—including a novel, Adam Haberberg, and a memorable skewering of Nicolas Sarkozy, Dawn, Dusk, or Night—have met a much quieter reception in this country, her new novel may mark a sea change, in part due to the risky intimacy of its subject: love. In a series of monologues, a web of relationships surrounding Odile and Robert is illuminated, and the satiric bite of the opening scene gives way to piercing observation: A couple who seem to have an ideal marriage, we find, are hiding the secret of their son’s mental illness; one lonely mistress, visiting her married lover’s home for the first time, understands from the furnishings that he’ll never leave his wife. Bookended by Odile and Robert’s story, which moves from their children’s bedroom to the bridge from which they scatter the ashes of Odile’s father, these delicate, odd-cornered miniatures of human isolation and connection take on a cumulative power.
Reza, who lives in Paris and has two grown children (a daughter, Alta, a criminal prosecutor; and a son, Nathan, a songwriter) with her former partner, film director Didier Martiny, was midway through the writing of the novel when she thought of a line from Jorge Luis Borges: “Happy are the loved ones and the lovers and those who can live without love. Happy are the Happy.” She knew she’d found her title. “One theme of my book is the mistake we make in confusing happiness and love,” she explains. “Why should we necessarily associate the two? Both things exist, sometimes together, of course, but why is it that in our culture, they always come as a set? When you live, you realize that it’s not obvious at all. The way I read Borges’s line is: The ability to be happy is an inclination and is not necessarily related to circumstance.”
The author made her debut in her twenties with her 1987 play, Conversations After a Burial (she was compared to Chekhov, whom she hadn’t yet read), and she claims that she knows immediately if a new idea will become a play or a novel if she can visualize the set. She attributes the novel’s episodic structure in part to her fascination with television crime series, in particular The Wire—“a masterpiece.” Rhythm is key: Her sentences deploy with quick-fire propulsion, and indeed she reads her work aloud in her head even when she’s writing in a café, or on a plane, as she did the evening before, on the flight from Paris. “Glenn Gould one day said that the best time for him to work was when the cleaning woman was around with the vacuum,” she says. “You cannot imagine how I understand that.” But the real discovery here is how the novel’s interiority showcases her aphoristic style. The novel is filled with zingers. In the supermarket, Robert thinks to himself: “Women will seize any opportunity to deflate you, they love reminding you what a disappointment you are.” In the novel’s most poignant scene, Odile’s mother, Jeannette, reflecting on her marriage, breaks down while trying on dresses in a boutique fitting room: “I mistook jealousy for love. I let forty-eight years pass.” Happy are the Happy is, by a mile, Reza’s most openly feminist work. Was that her intention?
“It’s true that the older I get, the more women seem fantastic to me,” Reza says. “In my early plays and writing, my main characters were often men, not because I was more interested in men but rather because I felt protected writing from behind the mask of a male identity. From this point of view you might say I have evolved.” One has the sense that, with this funny, humane novel, Reza has emerged from behind that mask with the confidence of a writer at the top of her game. “Women often have a broader spectrum than men,” she goes on. “With a woman, within the same conversation you may talk about Spinoza and the latest lipstick with the same humor and seriousness. Which for me is a kind of perfect intelligence.”
Mar 3, 2015
The author Yasmina Reza says that Borges taught her fiction, like joy, is borne of mysterious, instinctual processes achieved in an unconscious state.
The final line of an enigmatic Jorge Luis Borges poem became the title for Yasmina Reza's latest book, Happy Are the Happy. For Reza, Borges’ poem suggests that happiness, which people tend to talk about as achievable and context-dependent, is dispensed more mysteriously than we like to think. In our conversation for this series, we discussed the ways contentment transcends our understanding—and how works of literature, too, are more than what their authors understand them to be.
Happy Are the Happy features 18 different narrators, each of whom gets to command the reader's attention for at least one chapter. Because the characters know one another intimately—as friends, lovers, spouses—each successive voice complicates our understanding of the other characters, and raises new questions of its own.
Reza’s books—novels, plays, and an unorthodox book-length profile of Nicolas Sarkozy—have been translated into more than 30 languages. Her celebrated work for the stage includes two Tony “Best Play” winners, “Art” and God of Carnage. Reza wrote the screenplay for Carnage, the Roman Polanski-directed film adaptation of her 2006 original.
She lives in Paris and spoke to me in New York City.
Yasmina Reza: Late in the process of finishing my new book, Happy Are the Happy, I started looking for a title. I didn’t have one at that point, and I wasn’t sure what it would be. I only knew I didn’t want something that had to do with love or couples—two obvious themes of the book. I didn’t want something that alluded to the content so directly.
I was on a plane when the French phrase heureux les heureux, happy are the happy, came to mind. It seemed beautiful, and it occurred to me it might work as a title. But I couldn’t remember where I’d heard first it. I knew it was from Borges—that’s all. I wasn’t sure where the line originally appeared.
So when I went home, I took all my Borges off the shelf. I went through, looking for the phrase. It found it by sheer luck. It’s from the last line of a poem, “Fragments of an Apocryphal Gospel,” which ends this way:
Happy are those who are beloved, and those who love, and those who are without love.
Happy are the happy.
It was exactly, precisely the subject of the book. Immediately I decided to take it as a title.
In English, “happy are the happy” is not as fantastic as it is in French (heureux les heureux), or in the original Spanish (feliz los felices). In English we have to add the “are” because, without a verb, the sentence doesn’t make grammatical sense. I prefer the Spanish sense “happy the happy,” which is the same in French. Except French is the best formulation, I think, because heureux also means lucky: Lucky are the happy. French is the only language that carries this additional connotation.
In any case, I love the way Borges ends the poem with this self-reflexive “happy are the happy.” The condition of being happy, in other words, can only be obtained by those who are happy. This is so paradoxical, so enigmatic, so Borges. You can turn that idea over and over in your mind.
Part of what Borges is saying, I think, is that happiness has nothing to do with external forces. Happiness is a disposition you have inside of you. It’s not the outside world—it’s you.
The sentiment is echoed in Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary: “It’s not the circumstances but what our soul is made of that makes us happy.”
In Happy Are the Happy, I enjoyed exploring my characters’ subjective perceptions about other people’s emotions. A struggling couple, for instance, looks with jealousy and annoyance on another pair who constantly display affection and seem to be the picture of conjugal bliss. Though I didn’t initially intend to write the book this way, the novel slowly reveals that the happy-seeming couple is, in fact, in great distress.
In some ways, it was challenging for me to write a book with so many different narrators. You must see your characters as other people see them, and then also explore how they feel inside. Yet this came naturally, too, in a way; this mingling of so many different voices. My background is in the theater. I’m a playwright. And when writing for the stage, you give every character their own voice to speak with. A play is a collection of first-person voices. There was something about this novel that felt close to the dramatic form, as I wrote from the point of view of both men and women, people of many different ages.
I tend to write with “Je,” with “I,” with the first person. It’s the voice that comes to me immediately. I love how inner it is, how intimate. The third person seems much less natural. For me, there is something strange about it. For example: “One day, Judith opened the door. She was very tired.” Who’s speaking? I want to know right away about the person who is telling us about this Judith.
So many novels largely narrated in third person actually are told to us by a character. Wuthering Heights, which I consider a masterpiece, is my favorite example of this technique: the story by the old nanny, who introduces herself. We may forget it at times, but the book is written by her—not Emily Bronte. This means all the details are based on the nanny’s perceptions; her point of view serves as a filter for the information we receive. You see this technique used by many writers—including Stefan Zweig, for instance, or by Edith Wharton in Ethan Frome.
The speaker—explicit or assumed—profoundly affects the sentence-level telling of a story. If a character looks at a painting and tells us what he sees, we know he is really seeing himself—he sees what only he can see. In the first person, description is so profoundly subjective that it’s no longer description. But when a third-person, omniscient narrator selects details, it feels too much like the uninvolved writer writing.
When description is supposedly “objective” it’s watching someone build the set on the stage. So then the question is, who designed the set?
And yet, all these decisions are totally instinctive. I think that writing fiction is not an intellectual process. It’s as mysterious as painting, as drawing a brush across the canvas to see what happens. I suppose art is to distort the world and restructure the world. But why do we do that? Why do people write and paint? Why is life not enough? It’s a true mystery. We don’t know.
And we can never know. I don’t know what I’m writing about when I write. I’m sure no one knows what they write. The meta-discourse that every writer is obliged to provide—to the press, or to whoever asks—is bullshit. It’s artificial. It’s something imposed upon the process later.
An artist can’t speak about the art. A work exists in a temporary state—the minute it is produced, it falls away from us and becomes distant. We write in a specific moment, and the production is between us and the paper. The next day, it is no longer ours. It’s gone.
I have material proof of this. After my first plays were published, a few years later another publisher asked to republish the books. It was a much better publisher, and the books would be more beautiful. And since I knew there were things I wished I could change about the previous plays, I was glad—I would have a chance to fix what I considered to be mistakes. Very quickly, I realized this was impossible. The person who wrote the books was no longer the same. If I changed anything, I would have to rewrite the entire work.
Art is not something we can know intellectually. What we think we are writing is usually not what we are really writing. We have an instinct about what is good for us, in and writing and in life, but it is unspoken and mysterious. We try to pay attention to that impulse, and move towards it when we can.
Jan. 23, 2015
who are beloved,” goes the “apocryphal gospel” of Jorge Luis Borges, which provides the epigraph to Yasmina Reza’s spirited novel, “and those who love and those who can do without love. Happy are the happy.” The characters who speak in turn in the short chapters of “Happy Are the Happy” are in most cases loved—by a spouse, a lover, a parent—but are also largely seeking love elsewhere. Few could do without love, and only one is certifiably happy: Jacob Hutner, a youth of 19 who thinks he’s Céline Dion and is being treated in a clinic, where he signs autographs in the singer’s name.
The form of “Happy Are the Happy” reflects that of “La Ronde,” the 1897 play by Arthur Schnitzler set in Vienna, in which various couples act out complex erotic entanglements. Schnitzler’s set pieces were dialogues, whereas Ms. Reza offers 18 Parisians the chance to express their discontents solo. Each is acquainted with at least one other speaker in the “round”; some are, or have been, romantically linked with others; those who are not suggest that they would like to be.
Virginie Déruelle, for example, a 25-year-old medical secretary at a radiotherapy clinic, tells her elderly aunt during a visit that she is infatuated with Vincent Zawada, whose mother is a patient there:
On the days when the name Zawada, their name, is written in the appointment book, I’m happy, I apply my makeup with special care. Do you want a glass of orange juice? my aunt asks. —No, thanks. His name is Vincent Zawada. A lovely name, don’t you think? Oh yes, says my aunt. —I’m in heaven at the moment, they show up every week because she’s having a course of radiation therapy.
We recall that, a few chapters before, Vincent himself spoke, while sitting with his mother in the clinic’s waiting room. Did he mention Virginie? Yes, but indifferently. In fact, it was his mother who raised the subject. “I’m on the best of terms with the receptionist, she always puts me at the top of the list, I call her Virginie. My mother lowers her voice somewhat and adds, she adores me, I say to her, be a sweetheart and give me the first appointment, my dear Virginie. She’s delighted by that, that personal touch. Vincent, my love, shouldn’t we bring her some chocolates next time?” Vincent, alas, couldn’t care less, but flicking forward again to Virginie’s chapter, we read: “One day [his mother] gives me some chocolates and says, Vincent chose them.” From another speaker, Paola, we learn that Virginie is having an affair with Robert Toscano, husband of Paola’s friend Odile, an affair “arranged” by the dubious Luc Condamine. Robert and Odile have a turbulent marriage, a cover not for a lasting love but an even deeper discontent. “Who can wander up and down these fluorescent rows, past this plethora of packaging,” pleads Robert from the supermarket, in the book’s opening chapter, “without yielding to discouragement? And to know that you’ll be back here, in all seasons of the year, whether you want to or not, hauling the same shopping cart, under the command of a woman who grows more rigid every day.”
So the tale continues, with the reader following in snakes-and-ladders fashion, backtracking occasionally to recall who is unhappily involved with whom. If from time to time you fear you’ve lost the plot, it’s because there isn’t one. We never find out if Virginie succeeds in disengaging herself from Robert or becoming attached to Vincent. Ms. Reza is content to let each character have his or her say before spinning the wheel again. The many pleasures consist in incidentals.
Not every desire in “Happy Are the Happy” is frolicsome. “Raoul has never actually me,” says Hélène Barnèche of her husband, a chronic gambler. “Igor Lorrain wanted to tie me to him. . . . He used to say, you belong to me. I’d say, no I don’t.” But Hélène’s private thoughts disclose an instinct close to Igor’s. “A woman wants to be dominated. A woman wants to be enslaved. You can’t explain this to everyone.” After “thirty years of tranquility,” away from him, she encounters Igor on the bus. At first they don’t recognize each other—“I tried to restore the man sitting across from me on the bus. An old worn-out beau”—but she follows him on to the street when he commands her to, and they head for his apartment. The reader recalls that Igor Lorrain is the “psychiatric physician” treating Jacob-Céline in the hospital. Jacob’s mother recounts how the doctor told her that when Jacob “goes down to the lobby of the clinic to sign autographs, he first wraps several scarves around his neck so he won’t catch cold. He has his world tour to think about, the doctor jokingly explains (I’m not crazy about that doctor).”
“Happy Are the Happy” has had the unusual distinction of appearing in two different English translations within the space of a few months: the present one, by John Cullen, was preceded last summer, in England, by Sarah Ardizzone’s version. Each has its virtues and faults, but Mr. Cullen’s tale of unhappy Parisians strikes me as unnecessarily Americanized, with “stop bugging me” where Ms. Ardizzone has “leave me alone,” and insertions such as “buddy” when a father sends his son back to bed (nonexistent in the original). Where Ms. Ardizzone has a speaker criticize a “bloody awful club,” Mr. Cullen opts for something far stronger—stronger, too, than the French merits (“un club foutu”). His smart, New York-ish tone often seems off-key in Paris.
To read “Happy Are the Happy” is to feel happier after closing the book than one was before opening it. Ms. Reza, the author of many novels and plays, including the highly successful “Art” and “God of Carnage,” writes in an assured, economical manner. She can lead her lifelike, not always likable, characters from the need for enslavement to the desire for freedom in a few deft strokes.
—Mr. Campbell’s books include a collection of essays, “Syncopations.” He is an editor at the Times Literary Supplement.
Jul 19th 2014
By Yasmina Reza. Translated by Sarah Ardizzone.
YASMINA REZA has set herself a challenge in her latest novel, and she rises to it beautifully. “Happy are the Happy”, vivaciously translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone, charts the conjugal, parental and romantic woes of 18 interconnected characters. Each chapter is a monologue delivered by one of them. The cast includes Robert, a journalist who is unhappily married to Odile; Odile’s father Ernest, who is unhappily married to Jeannette; and Ernest’s sister Marguerite, who is unhappily single. There are also the Hutners. They appear to be happy, but are in fact hiding the secret of their deranged son. The structure could have given the book the staccato feeling of short stories. But in Ms Reza’s hands it has a cumulative power that amplifies her themes of isolation and mutual misunderstanding.
The chapters make satisfying miniatures, hovering between dark pathos and anarchic comedy. The book opens with Robert describing a vicious argument he had with Odile when he bought Morbier cheese rather than Gruyère, which ended with him pinning her to the supermarket’s Plexiglas cheese counter. It shows Ms Reza’s gift for farcical escalation, familiar to fans of her hugely successful plays, “Art” and “God of Carnage”. It also shows her dramatist’s ear for the quick-fire absurdities of a rowing couple, hanging their marital strife on the groceries. “Who eats Morbier at home?” Odile cries. “Who likes bloody Morbier?!”
But the book’s power lies in the way the monologues enrich one another. Ernest’s ashes are scattered in a river near his childhood home, in a scene that the book has been building towards. His wife has already said she would like them to be buried together, “to erase forever the snubs of our conjugal life,” Ernest says, caustically. The reader has seen the effect those snubs have had, when she breaks down in a shop’s changing room, forlorn and forgotten about. When she transports his ashes in a cheap and gaudy sports bag it seems as though she is inflicting the final indignity on a marriage that has been slowly unfolded. In spite of its fragmentary form, Ms Reza’s novel is more than the sum of its parts.
Every now and then, you find a book that's thinly plotted and has a slightly confusing, almost infuriating structure — but it's impossible to put down. The French writer Yasmina Reza has achieved exactly that with , a collection of twenty short, interconnected stories that crackle with emotion and playfulness.
Reza packs a lot into a very slim volume — just 145 pages. There's the vast array of characters who appear and disappear, sometimes fleetingly, sometimes in full — a teacher, a journalist, a film star, a chauffeur, a government official, retirees, and a couple of businessmen, to name just a few. Then there's the range of subjects — the complications of marriage, the fumbling at the start of a relationship, the joy and pain of parenthood, the intense longing of desire, the insanity and sting of infidelity, the agony of ageing and the finality of death. These are stories of men and women who are also parents and children, brothers and sisters, friends and acquaintances.
Reza surprises you constantly with characters who seem marvelous, until you actually meet them. One couple fervently believes another couple — friends of theirs — are in love; jealous of that imagined love, they're blind to the strain their friends' marriage is under; a cancer doctor is simply wonderful, till we discover he is burdened by the very real baggage he's still carrying from a difficult childhood.
It would be fair to say that despite the title – inspired by a poem by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges – there's not a lot of happiness in the book. Mostly there's pain and confusion; the moments of happiness are small and almost fleeting, short-lived.
Reza is a terrific observer of the rhythms of people and relationships. Her writing is amusing and insightful. I picture this as a much-longer book that she ruthlessly cut to its barest essentials; we learn just enough about each character to bring them alive and no more. The dialogue, for the most part, is delightful, as you'd expect from a novelist and playwright who's won two Tony Awards. And in the hands of John Cullen, who translated the book from the French, it appears to have lost none of its vitality.
The very short interlinking stories — in some cases no more than three or four pages, sometimes even shorter — might leave the reader disoriented. It's a structure that places a special burden on the writer not to lose the reader. Reza sometimes meets the challenge, but often fails. If you're the scrupulous reader who needs to understand and remember each connection in every story, will be frustrating. But the overall picture it paints is superb enough that after a while its flaws stop bothering you. At least, they stopped bothering me.
Also, if you're looking to understand more about France, you likely won't. The people that inhabit this book live in their own bubble. Politics and the events of the wider world barely interrupt their lives. Most of the book is set in Paris, but it could be anywhere, really. Some of the stories wander into cliché territory: Surely not all the French are having affairs? But even when a story feels like a cliché, Reza finds her way out of it. Yes, some of the women are in love with married men, but there's also the man, normally used to moving from one affair to another, who suddenly finds himself facing the "catastrophe of emotion" as he struggles with his behavior.
With , Reza has pulled off something both unexpected and magical in a very small book that packs a real punch.
Fragmentos de un evangelio apócrifo (Jorge Luis Borges)
3. Desdichado el pobre en espíritu, porque bajo la tierra será lo que ahora es en la tierra.
4. Desdichado el que llora, porque ya tiene el hábito miserable del llanto.
5. Dichosos los que saben que el sufrimiento no es una corona de gloria.
6. No basta ser el último para ser alguna vez el primero.
7. Feliz el que no insiste en tener razón, porque nadie la tiene o todos la tienen.
8. Feliz el que perdona a los otros y el que se perdona a si mismo.
9. Bienaventurados los mansos, porque no condescienden a la discordia.
10. Bienaventurados los que no tienen hambre de justicia, porque saben que nuestra suerte, adversa o piadosa, es obra del azar, que es inescrutable
11. Bienaventurados los misericordiosos, porque su dicha esta en el ejercicio de la misericordia y no en la esperanza de un premio.
12. Bienaventurados los de limpio corazón, porque ven a Dios.
13. Bienaventurados los que padecen persecución por causa de la justicia, porque les importa más la justicia que su destino humano.
14. Nadie es la sal de la tierra, nadie, en algún momento de su vida, no lo es.
15. Que la luz de una lámpara se encienda, aunque ningún hombre la vea. Dios la verá.
16. No hay mandamiento que no pueda ser infringido, y también los que digo y los que los profetas dijeron.
17. El que matare por la causa de la justicia, o por la causa que el cree justa, no tiene culpa.
18. Los actos de los hombres no merecen ni el fuego ni los cielos.
19. No odies a tu enemigo, porque si lo haces, eres de algún modo su esclavo. Tu odio nunca será mejor que tu paz.
20. Si te ofendiere tu mano derecha, perdónala; eres tu cuerpo y eres tu alma y es arduo, o imposible, fijar la frontera que los divide.
24. No exageres el culto de la verdad; no hay hombre que al cabo de un día, no haya mentido con razón muchas veces.
25. No jures, porque todo juramento es un énfasis.
26. Resiste al mal, pero sin asombro y sin ira. A quien te hiriere en la mejilla derecha, puedes volverle la otra, siempre que no te mueva el temor.
27. Yo no hablo de venganzas ni de perdones; el olvido es la única venganza y el único perdón.
28. Hacer el bien a tu enemigo puede ser obra de justicia y no es arduo; amarlo, tarea de ángeles y no de hombres.
29. Hacer el bien a tu enemigo es el mejor modo de complacer tu vanidad.
30. No acumules oro en la tierra, porque el oro es padre del ocio, y este, de la tristeza y del tedio.
31. Piensa que los otros son justos o lo serán, y si no es así, no es tuyo el error.
32. Dios es mas generoso que los hombres y los medirá con otra medida.
33. Da lo santo a los perros, echa tus perlas a los puercos; lo que importa es dar.
34. Busca por el agrado de buscar, no por el de encontrar
39. La puerta es la que elige, no el hombre.
40. No juzgues al árbol por sus frutos ni al hombre por sus obras; pueden ser peores o mejores.
41. Nada se edifica sobre la piedra, todo sobre la arena, pero nuestro deber es edificar como si fuera piedra la arena
47. Feliz el pobre sin amargura o el rico sin soberbia.
48. Felices los valientes, los que aceptan con animo parejo la derrota o las palmas.
49. Felices los que guardan en la memoria palabras de Virgilio o de Cristo, porque éstas darán luz a sus días.
50. Felices los amados y los amantes y los que pueden prescindir del amor.
51. Felices los felices.