Jean Rouaud

Portrait Jean Rouaud
© Hartwig Klappert

Jean Rouaud was born in Campbon, at the Loire estuary, in 1952 and grew up in a lower middle-class merchant’s family. After finishing his literature studies in Nantes he moved to Paris in the eighties, and worked among other things as a fireman, journalist, publisher’s representative and co-proprietor of a kiosk. In 1990 he published the bestseller »Les Champs d’honneur« (Eng. »Fields of Glory«, 1992), for which he was awarded the Prix Goncourt. The autobiographical family novel describes life in the French provinces at the outbreak of World War I. The work signals the brilliant prelude to a five-volume cycle, which mirrors twentieth-century France in the fate of three generations of the author’s family. All books in the cycle have been translated into German, and three of them into English.

In his reworking of the regional narrative, Rouaud parallels the mindset of writers such as Pierre Michon, Patrick Drevet and Pierre Bergounioux. The fond irony with which he observes his relatives also represents a denial of the Paris-fixated »parricidal« literature of post-68 by the Existentialists, with whom he had at first sympathized. »I wanted to atone for this disavowal. That is one reason for writing this book.« Rouaud thus repeatedly circles the network of relationships between memory, history and identity. He offered his father, who died young, a memorial with the book »Des hommes illustres« (1993; Eng. »Of Illustrious Men«, 1994). His next novel, which appeared in 1996, was entitled »Le Monde à peu près« (Eng. »The World, More or Less«, 1998) and dealt with the new Establishment and discourse in the France of 1968, narrated from the perspective of his alter ego, an extremely myopic and aloof young student and hobby footballer. In »Pour vos cadeaux« (1998; t: For your presents), he offers a lovingly whimsical portrait of his mother. »Sur la scène comme au ciel« (1999; t: On stage as in heaven) marks the close of the autobiographical project in an homage to both his parents which at the same time reflects the reception of the previous volumes. Rouaud’s present tense prose, which alters to personify each individual character, excited critics with its attention to detail. This style is especially clear in his essays. In »La Désincarnation« (2001; t: The disincarnation), the father’s idiosyncratic habit of knocking on old dishes in search for cracks becomes the source for poetic meditation. His thoughts on the relationship between fiction, authorship and reality, critical of post-structuralism, are pursued in the volume »L’Invention de l’auteur« (2004; t: The invention of the author).

Alongside his literary career, Rouaud is also active as a chansonnier and playwright. He received the Grand Prix Littéraire de Saint-Emilion Pomerol-Fronsac for his most recent novel, »L’imitation du bonheur« (2006; t: The imitation of happiness). The story of a young woman in 1770s Paris skillfully merges the techniques of the Nouveau Roman (cinematic writing, flashbacks, multiple perspectives) with traditional narrative. Rouaud lives in Montpellier.

© international literature festival berlin