Les Fleurs sauvages by Célia Houdart
Since the publication of Les Merveilles du Monde (POL, 2007), her debut novel, Célia Houdart has consistently enchanted us with short, breezy fiction. Underneath deceptively simple appearances, most of her novels have questioned the interconnectedness of fine arts, music and writing. Igor, the main protagonist of Les Merveilles du Monde, was a photographer. In Journée particulière (POL, 2022) Houdart was investigating a chance encounter between Richard Avedon and French photographer Alain Fonteray. In Carrare (POL, 2011), humans and stones seemed to be exchanging defining features. in Gil, a gifted young pianist becomes an exceptional opera singer….
Les Fleurs sauvages, Houdart’s latest novel, might be another attempt at capturing the formative years of a visual artist. We follow the young Milva as she travels back and forth between two villages — La Chaux-de-Fonds (Swiss Jura), where her father owns a foundry, and Mane (Alps of Haute Provence), where her mother works as a taxi driver and lives with Milva’s (half-)brother, Theo, and his girlfriend, Kyoko. Milva draws everything that moves her, from the spectacular nature that surrounds her, to the scenes of the Japanese movies that fascinate her at the theater.
In an interview with the online review Diacritik, Houdart confided her fascination with images: “I like when my texts take in all kinds of images and sensations. Not as a catch-all though, and more like a fine butterfly net. [My intent is] to capture, to size the infinitesimal, the immaterial or the ephemeral.”*
And here, descriptions of landscapes and flowers constitute a large share of what moves the narrative forward, and its intensity grows from a tension between nature’s inherent beauty and its dangers. This dichotomy echoes the mood swings of Theo, who switches from being charming and playful to being threatening in a matter of minutes, and who will be responsible for the darker turn that the novel will take.
However, the omnipresence of natural elements (air, sky and flowers, and their counterparts in the tunnel in which Theo hides — darkness, mushrooms) gives Les Fleurs sauvages its profound originality. It is as much a novel about the birth of an artist as it is about the dynamics within a family, or as it is about our connection to nature. Houdart treats each aspect of her fiction with the same importance, she explores each narrative line with the same degree of engagement, the same precision in her writing. And the result is nothing short of mesmerizing.
Les Fleurs sauvages, a novel by Célia Houdart, POL
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Célia Houdart Les Fleurs sauvages – éditions P.O.L – où Célia Houdart tente de dire de quoi et comment est composé son nouveau livre “Les Fleurs sauvages”, et où il est question notamment d’une sœur et d’un demi-frère, de la Chaux-de-Fonds et de Manosque, du dessin et du trafic d’armes, d’une plaque d’égout et de pommes de pin, du Bikini Test et de la Libye, du poison qui se cache dans les fleurs, de l’ombre et de la lumière, à l’occasion de la parution de “Les Fleurs sauvages” en janvier 2024 aux éditions P.O.L, à Paris le 11 décembre 2023.