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Maylis de Kerangal

Mend the Living, the story of a heart transplant

By Manon Variol

On a warm and beautiful evening in London, people were waiting in front of the Institut Français, in South Kensington. They looked excited with a book in their hand. They were going to meet one of their favourite novelists. Maylis de Kerangal came to sign their copies and present Mend the Living, which has just been published in the UK. I met Maylis minutes before the meeting. 

Maylis de Kerangal is not any old French novelist. She has received many prestigious prizes, one of them being the Prix Médicis, which honours French writers who are not famous yet. She was rewarded for Birth of a Bridge, a novel about a Californian city building a bridge to extend beyond the river. A philosophical story about globalisation.

Maylis smiled timidly when I mentioned the award. She told me in a quiet voice that she was particularly moved to receive this prize, as George Perec and Elie Wiesel did before her. “The Prix Médicis rewards books for their style, the way the writer uses language, and not for dealing with a subject that could bring people together” she said. “And I love the fact that they read my book this way.

Maylis de Kerangal and Jonathan Coe presented their books to the audience
Maylis de Kerangal and Jonathan Coe presented their books to the audience

But she did not come to London to speak about awards. She was invited to meet the British writer Jonathan Coe. Both novelists read extracts from their respective books Mend the Living and Number 11, two completely different stories which deal with the same modern world. The first one, which is longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, follows the process of a heart transplant. The second deals with reality shows.

Jonathan Coe highlighted that we do not even realise what we are watching until someone writes about it. “I wanted the readers to have stronger emotions than they feel watching TV” he said. The way he depicts the situation in Number 11 made us laugh, but at the same time, we all felt appalled by what we saw. Maylis de Kerangal confessed that she would like to write humorous scenes as easily as Jonathan Coe. “He looks at the world in his own way and talks about it with humour and melancholy. But he does not hate this era, he just thinks: “okay, that's the way it is.

When asked how she found inspiration for Mend the LivingMaylis said that she had been surprised many times by organ transport vehicles, running at full speed. “This process seemed really enigmatic to me”, she explained. “It is extremely rich, on both a technical and a philosophical level.” The inspiration came after further research on heart transplants. She added that this is “an action novel. Something is being accomplished throughout the book”: a boy’s heart is being grafted into another person. “Words have a dual nature” Maylis told us. “They bring knowledge and poetry. And you rarely see scientific words in a novel, they jump out at you.” Jonathan Coe particularly liked the way she uses this complex vocabulary: “she uses a language to which novelists usually do not have access. That makes her book different.”

Mend the Living is being adapted into a film by Katel Quillévéré, with a great casting: Anne Dorval, Emmanuelle Seigner and Tahar Rahim. Dominique Cabrera is recording her version of Corniche Kennedy, a famous book of Maylis, with  Lola Creton, Aïssa Maïga et Moussa Maaskri. Both films should be released within the next six months. Maylis de Kerangal has read both scripts, but she did not get involved in the directing: “I think it is interesting to see how they adapt from the books. A film is good when it is not literally transposed from the novel.” The writer is looking forward to seeing who will play the parts: "As you read a book, you imagine the faces of the characters. It will be wonderful to discover who the directors chose to be Thomas, Simon and Suzanne."

Maylis humbly thanked the people who came after receiving warm applause. After meeting one of their favourite novelists and hearing her talk about her books, the members of the audience left the library of the Institut Français, all excited, with a signed copy of her book in their hand.


17/07/2016 - g_daf said :

I would have loved to attend!! How to find out about these events? Thanks / merci, Daphné


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