Friday, June 27, 2008

Interview: Author Agnes Desarthe on Chez Moi...

Myriam, the main character, in Agnes Desarthe's charming new book Chez Moi, (Penguin) describes herself as "The Biggest Fucker-Upper in the World." Through the course of the novel, Myriam manages to pull herself together by opening a 25 seat bistro and forging some unlikely but nurturing friendships with her collaborators. Ms. Desarthe's book is a tribute to the healing and transformative power of food and drink. Ms. Desarthe was nice enough to correspond with MLAF via email from her home in France about her book and her interesting life...

MLAF: I noticed that you used particular titles of books in the context of the story (like Thomas' Under the Milkwood)-Did these titles have a particular significance to you or are they simply there to make a point in the story?

AD" All of the books quoted have a special significance for me. They are all works that I've loved and which stand, according to me, as litterary milestones. They also, for some of them, have a link with the story I'm telling (especially Lewis Caroll, Rilke, Goethe... actually all of them, when I come to think of it!)"

MLAF: Myriam (the lead character) is a very complicated character who has lived a full but hard life-Yet, somehow she remains a figure of glamour in the eye of the reader? How did you manage to pull that off?

AD: "I'm very happy and touched that you should get this impression. I guess that her sensuality is the quality that saves her from despair and shabbiness. She's always ready for an aesthetic/sensual emotion. There is also a certain generosity in her, and a particular kind of naïveness which contributes to keep her young... I think."

MLAF: Did any of your previous writing efforts affect the way you created this book?

AD: "To me, evry book is a step on the way towards the next one, although I never know what's ahead. But the way I created this book has also been affected by my efforts as a translator. I owe a lot to Cynthia Ozick and Virginia Woolf, whose novels I was working on when I started writing Chez moi."

MLAF: In what ways are food and drink important in your everyday life?
(I know this seems an obvious question, so please forgive)

AD: "My kitchen is like a loboratory. I work there, I think about food, but also about words. One of the reasons I've started writing Chez moi was because I realized I was spending more time at my stove than at my writing table. I daydream a lot about cooking. It's a very creative activity and one which allows me to be certain I'm going to please people around me (a very important and deep anchored craving in my life)."

MLAF: What is the most memorable meal you have ever had?

AD: "It was in 2003. We were broke. I was depressed. We decided to go a very good restaurant in Honfleur ( Normandy ). It was heavenly. I went back one other time (I had earned a little money with one book or another) but the chef had changed it was just ordinary. I can't remember what I had to eat. My memory of the dinner itself is very dim. I'm almost certain that the great feeling had to do with spending when broke. Generally I favor home-style cooking and I've never been to a starred restaurant.

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I (Mark) have written for The Christian Science Monitor, Clear Magazine, Picture Magazine, Film Score Monthly, Dan's Papers, Rue Morgue, In Flight USA and a lot more publications that I can't remember.... My wife Lynn was a model with the Ford Agency and her photography has been featured in most of the publications I have written for...


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