Jean-Claude Mourlevat

Portrait Jean-Claude Mourlevat
© Hartwig Klappert

Jean-Claude Mourlevat was born in 1952 in the Auvergne and studied in Strasbourg, Toulouse, Stuttgart, Bonn and Paris. Initially, he worked as a teacher in France and Germany, at the same time as training in drama.  He performed over 1200 times with his Solo-Programs »Anatole« (1987) and »Guedoule« (1990).  In the following years he dedicated himself to theatre, particularly as an actor, a clown and a mime artist.  Mourlevat abandoned his school profession in 1990 in order to stage the dramas of Brecht, Cocteau and Shakespeare.  In 1997 he began to write for children and adolescents and published his first book »Le Balafre« (1998; Engl: The Facial Scar).  Since then, he has published short stories, narratives and novels, which have been received enthusiastically by critics and readers.

Mourlevat’s texts address the intelligence of the heart and the soul. His stories circle around leavetaking, departure and being on the road: »To die for something to be reborn for something else.  To say goodbye to those people, that disappear in the dark, and already to identify the silhouette of others who have given notice of their coming, and whom one will equally leave behind, one day.  Do we not feel such things most intensely in childhood and youth?«  With suspense, humour and a sense of the poetic, Mourlevat tells of children in the most unusual of circumstances and life situations.  Furthermore, he tells of the adventures of scurrilous animal figures as in »La ballade de Cornebique« (2003; Engl: The Ballad of Cornebique) in which a billy-goat plays the banjo and sings the blues. Courageous, fresh and dynamic, his characters set out on a journey into the land of imagination, where they must pass fairytale-like tests. However, Mourlevat never remains entirely in the colourful and imaginary world: the reality of daily life, loneliness, alienation, melancholy, violence and the painful aspects of life, similarly characterise the foundations of his stories.

Based on Perrault’s »Tom Thumb«, Mourlevat tells in »L’enfant Océan« (1999; Engl: »The Pull of the Ocean«, 2006) a modern fairy tale about seven brothers, who leave their parent’s house one night and flee to the sea in order to escape a terrible danger. Led by the youngest brother Yann, the brothers lose themselves in an increasingly surreal world.  The novel is made up of multiple voices, from the perspective of a social worker, who wants to help Yann, or a truck driver, who gives the siblings a ride on the way.  The work was awarded with the Prix Sorcières (2000).  In Mourlevat’s magical novel »La rivière à l’envers. Part I: Tomek« (2000; Engl: The River which Flows Backwards. Part I: Tomek), the thirteen year-old Tomek makes his way on the adventurous journey, in search of the water of the River Qjar, which supposedly makes one immortal. As in many of his works one finds in this story references to children’s book classics as well as to his own stories.

For Mourlevat translating literature is like »taking vacation from the own writing«. Thus he has translated diverse children’s and young people’s books from German; the latest of his translations being Michael Ende’s »Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer« (Engl: »Jim Button and Luke the Engine-Driver« and »Jim Knopf und die Wilde 13« (Engl: »Jim Button and the Wild 13«. He lives near Saint-Etienne with his wife and children.

© international literature festival berlin