the memoirs of a not-so-tidy feminist – L’Express

the memoirs of a not so tidy feminist – LExpress

No Big Kiss who holds with Titiou Lecoq. In 1982, when she was 2 years old, she was enrolled in the Maison Verte, a sort of alternative crèche opened by Françoise Dolto, in the 15th arrondissement of Paris. Dolto’s son, the imposing singer Carlos, sometimes comes by to make jokes with the toddlers. Not an excellent memory for Titiou Lecoq: “He terrified me… I didn’t want him to come near me. I was crying, I was screaming!”

Away from the chubby bearded man, she plunged very early into literature. First love at first sight, the Countess of Ségur: “It was thanks to her that, at 8 or 9 years old, I understood that there were authors behind the books. And I liked the Manichean side of her stories. There is good and bad, what is allowed and what is forbidden – when we are children, we don’t want to be told about gray areas. I also found satisfaction in the scenes of physical violence. It’s still quite gory, the Countess of Ségur! Sophie was whipped from the age of 4. A form of S&M comes through, and that attracted me…”

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Her mother’s library is overflowing with books from the 1960s and 1970s that she later read, such as The Little Children of the Century, by Christiane Rochefort. Another founding shock, in 1994 (the year of the release of Fuck me, by Virginie Despentes). Titiou Lecoq, then a teenager, skipped sports and came home: “We have to put ourselves in context: there was no Internet yet. And when we turned on the TV, we came across Motus. To combat boredom, there was only reading. I took Memoirs of a young girl row, and there it was… Beauvoir obsessed me. I dreamed of her. Despite all the love I have for him, his novels have aged poorly: Beautiful Images, it is not going well at all ; and even The Mandarins, his Goncourt is dated. On the other hand, all his autobiographies are extraordinary, as well as his correspondence. And I read all the books she spoke highly of, including Valery Larbaud and The Novel of National Energy, by Maurice Barrès. It gave me a slightly strange culture!”

“Alice Coffin card!”

Spontaneously, we cannot imagine Mona Chollet quoting Barrès in 2024. But Titiou Lecoq is atypical and surprising. When asked if the avant-garde of the late 1990s was important to her when she was a student, she dampens our enthusiasm: “I read Elementary Particles the year it was published, in 1998 – I was 18 years old. I was horrified: his hatred of women was unbearable to me. I could read The Songs of Maldoror, de Lautréamont, but not Houellebecq, terribly misogynistic. I rediscovered him afterwards, I understood that he was funny and I loved it The Map and the Territory, but I still find it astonishing that our genre is described in such an atrocious way by the writer considered to be the best of our time…”

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For a long time, among her contemporaries, she preferred the Americans (Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides or David Foster Wallace and his book The function of the broom). In 2006, King Kong Theory, by Virginie Despentes, changes the situation: “I was 26 years old, and it had been enormous. I consider this essay to be a modern classic. Despentes points out things in particular about female relationships – these women who devalue each other , which ultimately serves men.” Female relationships, let’s talk about it! Apparently not touching it, we subtly try to make him say horrors about some of his colleagues. Not fooled, Titiou Lecoq raises his right hand, laughing: “I won’t say anything, Alice Coffin card!” Quesaco? She explains to us: “It’s an expression in our little community… I apply Alice Coffin’s rule, which is to avoid publicly speaking badly about another woman. I have no enemies. I belong to a chain of women who are bigger than me, that seems more important to me than the dissensions we can have. Why focus on disagreements? I start from the principle that each generation has things to teach me. The week Next, I’m having lunch with Michelle Perrot. And in moments of despondency, I remember a lesson from Ernestine Ronai: she told me that I was lucky to live in the era of #MeToo, that, for her part, she had waited for such a movement for thirty years. I avoid complaining.”

“Balzac is not the Virginie Despentes of the July Monarchy!”

This nuanced speech undoubtedly explains why, in our era of ideological divisions, Titiou Lecoq manages to speak to people from all sides. Since the success of his first novel, Codfish (sold 100,000 copies in 2011), it reaches a wide audience. With his last attempt, The Couple and the money, she had even managed to achieve almost unanimous approval. She is a woman of her time but with roots, who seeks to raise hares rather than give lessons. Her house in Montreuil, in Seine-Saint-Denis, where she receives us, is in her image. On his coffee table, we notice both Glucose Goddess, by Jessie Inchauspé (the manual with which she cooks), and a stack of books on Claude Monet (she diligently prepares a weekend in Giverny with her partner and their two sons). Titiou Lecoq is not a weather vane, his readings continue to oscillate between the 19th century (his favorite century) and the 21st (with its American tropism). Last year, she devoured Splinters, by Bret Easton Ellis. She is now preparing to tackle a big piece: Story of my life, by George Sand.

In 2019, she published Honoré and me. Can we make Balzac, one of his masters, a feminist novelist in his own way? “Let’s not exaggerate anything: Balzac is not the Virginie Despentes of the July Monarchy! But he invented lots of things. He highlights the characters of relatively old women, sometimes old maids – with him, we leave the eternal theme of young girls. His heroines are not necessarily noble, not necessarily Parisian. He brings into existence people who had no say in the matter, which still seems relevant to me. Well, it’s not just that love in his female characters. Money is the primary narrative driving force of his intrigues – Cousin Bette, in this respect, it is fabulous. In A golden era, love is not a subject for my narrator, and that is very thoughtful on my part.”

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In A golden era, it is about domestic violence and a surprise inheritance which launches the narrator on a treasure hunt as well as an existential quest. The novel is rhythmic, lively and sometimes fascinating (thanks in particular to the character of the falsely cantankerous grandmother), but, let’s tell the truth, those who stuck with Julien Gracq will roll their eyes. Our reader of Balzac, Barrès and Beauvoir claims her pop style: “I love Mallarmé, but, clearly, I don’t agree with her that the work must be obscure and difficult. Mallarmé was not in competition with Netflix! There is too much entertainment today, and people are exhausted at the end of the day. I have to make what I write as lively as possible. How do I hold my readers? I accept the fact that to catch them I slip in punchlines, sometimes too much – I had removed a lot of jokes in The tall Forgotten. And I noticed one thing: for the sake of captatio benevolentiae, my books are light at the beginning, then get darker as the pages go by…” With all due respect to the declinists, literature has a future: thanks to Titiou Lecoq, it can resist Netflix, Motus, and even to Big Kiss.

A golden era, by Titiou Lecoq. The Iconoclast, 400 p., €21.90.