It struck me this week after finishing Le Grand Meaulnes, how similar the book is to another great novel I read three years ago when I first arrived in Lyon. The Great Gatsby.
I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic six times over that winter before finally trekking down to a bookshop one Saturday afternoon to unearth more of his books. I liked his writing, his style, his precision and wanted to read more.
Unfortunately – if you remember from Blogley 25 – they only had The Great Gatsby in stock. Twenty-one copies to be precise, plus, rather oddly, an A-level Key Notes Study Guide, but nothing else by the great writer. I eventually found a copy of Tender is the Night in a second hand bargain bin at a market in Villeurbanne a few weeks later.
I can’t do this with Alain Fournier. Scour the city for more of his books. Because there aren’t any. Le Grand Meaulnes is his only novel. He was killed on the Meuse in 1914 two months after the start of the war. A year after the book’s publication.
Fournier’s masterpiece tells the story of Augustin Meaulnes who after running away from his boarding school, encounters a mysterious country house and a beautiful woman within it. After his return a few days later he tells about his adventures to his best friend François (the narrator of the book) and his promise to return there one day to find her.
The lost château in Fournier’s novel is the green light at the end of Daisy’s jetty in The Great Gatsby. Both are symbols of hope for the two main characters in each novel. From now on anything is possible. Despite it being plainly clear to both men that nothing will ever be the same again.
‘…once a man has taken a step in Paradise, how can he afterwards get used to living like everyone else…’
– Le Grand Meaulnes
I found this passage poignant for lots of reasons.
After spending a year writing my own novel, swimming in the river, cycling to the shops for groceries, taking cold showers in the garden, making bread, eating wild mushrooms, breathing in the fresh air at the farm in Queaux, I also knew – just like Gatsby and Meaulnes – that nothing would be the same again. Simply moving back to the city, thinking everything would be as before, was an impossible hope.
Not that I’m complaining I hasten to add. I feel great. Reinvigorated. But that isn’t the point. Even though I’m here in Bordeaux, my mind is at the farm.
Getting up on cold winter mornings, walking through the fields, making coffee, settling down to work on my novel in that cold back room that I christened The Lighthouse, for reasons I can’t remember now, is where I am.
That’s where I want to be. Perhaps not literally, as on that exact farmhouse in Poitou-Charentes, but as a way of life, a place to unravel my thoughts, a place to live.
Augustin Meaulnes aim was to return to the château. My aim is to return to The Lighthouse.