Reading: J.M.G Le Clézio

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio was born into a family originating from Brittany, France, Great Britain, and Maurice Island.  Born in 1940, he published his first novel Le Procès-verbal at the age of 23 for which he received the Renaudot award.  In 1980, he published Desert, the saga of a young woman who was a descendant of the Tuareg.  It’s considered his best work.  Le Clézio has also written essays about several nomadic civilizations with which he shared experiences (Panamanian Indians, Moroccan Berbers).  Author of about thirty works, he is considered to be a major author who is studied in school textbooks.  His books express the beauty of communication among people.

He describes his ideal writing method:

“Here’s what you have to do: You have to leave for the countryside, as an amateur painter would do, with a big piece of paper and a pen.  Choose a desert setting, in a valley embedded between the mountains.  Sit on a rock and take a good, long look around.  Then, once you have really looked around, take your piece of paper and describe the words that you have seen.”

It’s a pleasure to travel the world in the footsteps of Le Clézio.  He leads us into the heart of the countryside, into the sensuality of colours and scents.  Through his eyes, we are touched by a sort of elegance called “communication”.  “I never looked for anything but that in writing…to communicate with others,” he says.

His profound understanding of the world’s peoples and languages does not depart from the French language. 

“For me, as an islander, as someone who’s at the edge of the sea watching the freighters pass, who’s hanging around the ports, like a man who walks along a boulevard who is neither from the neighbourhood nor the city, but is from all the neighbourhoods and all the cities, the French language is my only country, the only place where I live.”

The nomadic life, voluntary or not, is not synonymous with detaching from one’s roots.  Le Clézio understands that one holds his roots within.

The Gold Seeker

This novel was published in 1985.  Le Clézio draws inspiration from the life of his paternal grandfather on Maurice Island in the 19th century. He integrates within it a big dream of a treasure hunt, which takes shape as a test of manhood, a sort of Odyssey. 

It all begins in Alexis’ childhood.  He’s a child whose father is in great financial difficulty, whose mother is sick, whose older sister, Laure, whom he loves dearly, leads a depressing life. Their distress suddenly worsens following a hurricane.  The house is submerged in water.  Then, the father dies, leaving Alexis with a nonsensical plan as his only inheritance: a treasure map of a famous corsair.  So, Alexis leaves “to end the dream, so that life can begin.”

At the beginning of the novel, it’s paradise, a life in the wild cradled by the sound of the waves.  The writing is superb.

“As far back as I can remember I could hear sound of the ocean.  Intermingling with the wind through the needles of the filaos trees, a wind which didn’t stop, even when you were far from the shore, and you walked towards the cane fields.  This sound cradled my childhood.  I hear it now, deep inside of me, and I take it wherever I go.  The slow, unremitting sound of the waves in the distance, which break against the coral reef and have as their final resting place the sands of Black River.  Not a day went by that I didn’t go to the sea, not a night went by that I wouldn’t awake, my back wet with sweat, sitting in my camp bed, pushing aside the mosquito net, trying to make out the ocean, feeling anxious and filled with a desire which I didn’t understand.  I think of her like a real person, and in the darkness, all of my senses are awakened to hear more clearly what’s happening, to receive it better.  Huge waves pouncing on the reefs, collapsing in the lagoon, a sound which makes the earth and air vibrate like a boiler.  I hear it, it moves, it breathes.”

Led by the sensuality which unites him to the elements, Alexis is at one with nature.  Like Ulysses, he takes a long voyage filled with encounters, sometimes wonderful, sometimes hideous, which contribute in revealing to him the strength and the purity of his heart.

Alexis obeys his father’s strict and protective authority in a country colonized by whites, where racism is commonplace.  Despite it all, he makes friends with a black boy, Denis, who’s a little older than he. His parents’ restrictions don’t keep him from leaving the house early to follow his friend Denis all day long, while his mother, cultivated, intelligent, and gentle, is too ill to teach him. 

“Denis’ lessons are the most beautiful.  He teaches me about the sky, the sea, the caverns at the foot of the mountains, the uncultivated fields where we run together in the summer between the black pyramids of the Creole walls.  Sometimes we leave at dawn while the mountain tops are still covered with mist, and while the sea’s low tide reveals its reefs from afar.  We cross through the aloe fields, along the narrow, quiet paths.  Denis walks in front.  I see his tall silhouette, thin and flexible, which moves forward as if he were dancing.”

Later on, Alexis meets Ouma, his companion during a dry period in his life.  She teaches him how to fish, to build a fire, to love, and to leave without turning back.

“As supple and quick as an animal, she slips between the bushes, she jumps from rock to rock at the base of the valley.  Standing next to the old tamarind tree, I see her again for a moment, scaling the side of the hill like a young wild goat.  She doesn’t turn back, doesn’t stop.  She walks towards the mountain, towards Lubin mountain. She disappears in the shadow which covers the western slopes. I hear my heart beating, and my thoughts move slowly.  A more terrifying solitude comes back to English Bay.  Seated near my camp, facing west, I see the shadows coming closer.  And thus, the days are driving me even closer to my dream. What I am searching for appears to me more each day with a force that fills me with happiness.  From sunrise until dark, I walk through the valley, looking for points of reference, for clues.  The dazzling sun which comes before the winter rains, the cries of sea birds, the gusts of wind from the northwest create in me a sort of intoxication.”

But in the intertwining of man and nature, man wins in harmony and loses in adversity.  There are too many difficulties, miseries, wars, savageries in Alexis’ path.  Nature has the last word which man welcomes.  He’s as powerless on the first page as on the last.

“It’s night time now.  I hear deep within the vivid sound of the sea coming.”

It’s with these words that The Gold Seeker closes.

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