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SubStance 35.3 (2006) 64-82

Gérard Gavarry's Hops
Warren Motte
University of Colorado

Once in a great while a novel comes along that pleases and astonishes not only by virtue of the story it tells, but also by virtue of its form, and the new possibilities that it suggests for the genre itself. Gérard Gavarry's Hop là! un deux trois (2001) is just such a book, one of the richest and most innovative novels to appear in France in recent years. Set in the suburbs of Paris, it puts on stage figures seen only rarely in French fiction: supermarket employees, long-distance truck drivers, fatigued commuters, and young, supremely disaffected banlieusards. Clearly, one of the things that Gavarry is after in his project is to persuade his readers that the banlieue and its inhabitants deserve more attention than they have been accorded in fiction. And in that sense Hop là! is a deeply committed "social text," invoking what François Maspero (speaking from the perspective of an "intra-muros" Parisian) called "ce monde qu'on a sous les yeux et qu'on ne voit pas: ce monde des frontières, qui, à chacun de nous, fait un peu peur" (18).1

The tale that Gavarry tells is a fairly simple (if violent) one, focusing upon an adolescent named Ti-Jus Deux-Rivières who rapes and murders his mother's supervisor, Madame Fenerolo; and the narrative archetype that Gavarry appeals to is the biblical account of Judith's seduction and decapitation of Holofernes. What complicates his tale, however, is the fact that Gavarry tells it three times over, in three separate parts of his novel. Those parts, entitled respectively "Le cocotier," "Le cargo," and "Le Centaure," present Gavarry's story in three different modes, or tones, with three sets of images and three vocabularies of key terms. The first relies on tropical images, as if the banlieue itself had suddenly been transplanted to a more conventionally exotic shore. Gavarry's characters speak to each other using words borrowed from the lexicon of the coconut industry, in a jargon that, in the first instance at least, appears to be impenetrable. The second part transforms the banlieue into a seascape; here, the characters' discourse is awash in arcane nautical terms. The final part invokes the mythology surrounding centaurs, and, like those figures, its lexicon is a hybrid creation, where modern French and ancient Greek vex each other in intriguing ways. [End Page 64]

Two years after the publication of Hop là!, in honor of the twentieth birthday of their publishing house, the Editions POL brought out another book by Gérard Gavarry, bundled it with Hop là!, and sold it for the price of a single volume. In that book, entitled Façon d'un roman, ou Comment d'après le Livre de Judith j'ai inventé une histoire de banlieue, et à l'aide du cocotier, du cargo, du Centaure, écrit trois fois Hop là! (2003), Gavarry speaks about the principles that guided him in writing his novel, and sheds significant light on some of its more obscure corners. Several considerations might be noted here. For one, POL's editorial gesture is clearly an unusual one, but it is not uncharacteristic of that publisher. Since his days at Hachette in the 1970s and the early 1980s—and most certainly since founding his independent publishing house in 1983—Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens has been known for his editorial boldness, for his faith in innovative, experimentalist writing, and for his loyalty to "his" authors.2 In the material accompanying the books, he speaks about his concern that Hop là! had not initially received the kind of attention it deserved, and his hope that Façon d'un roman might help to remedy that situation. From Gavarry's perspective, the gesture is likewise remarkable. Writers have upon occasion published commentaries on their own works: in the area of experimental fiction, one thinks, for example, of Raymond Roussel's Comment j'ai écrit certains de mes livres, Georges Perec's "Quatre...


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