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Sophie Daull

Picture of French winner Sophie Daull

Sophie Daull is an actress and writer born in Eastern France in 1965.            

It was her studies in music at the National Conservatory of Strasbourg that encouraged her early on to pursue her artistic practices. Since then, her experiences have become ever-more enveloped in the worlds of letters, sounds and movement.

She has danced with Odile Duboc, Georges Appaix and Jean Gaudin

On the stage she has worked with Brigitte Jaques-Wajeman, Carole Thibaut, Jacques Lassalle, Hubert Colas, Alain Ollivier, Stéphane Braunschweig Alain Barsacq et Agathe Alexis — recently with Elisabeth Chailloux et Roland Auzet

She is the author of Camille, mon Evolée (2015) — which won the prize for best first novel from Lire magazine —  La Suture (2016) and Au Grand Lavoir (2018), published by Editions Philippe Rey. The first two of these are available as part of the series Livre de Poche (pocket editions). 

She appears regularly on France Culture.

The practice of her own arts is never distinct from her educational and pedagogical pursuits — indeed she is regularly involved in teaching students of a wide variety of backgrounds. As part of a writers’ residency grant from the region of Ile de France, she recently spent 10 months coordinating a writing workshop for the inmates of Melun Detention Centre, 40kms south-east of Paris.

Winning Book

Au Grand Lavoir

A novelist participates in a television show on the occasion of the publication of her debut book. She does not suspect that at the same time her image on the screen upsets an employee of the Parks and landscape service of the city of Nogent-le-Rotrou. Having served for a crime committed thirty years ago, he is now leading a low-key life, but is unexpectedly confronted with his past, his actions and his fault. Actually, the novelist is the daughter of his victim. And, in five days, she will promote her book in the local bookshop. A countdown unfolds for this lonely man, in an atmosphere both banal and oppressive, as he waits for a face-to-face he dreads but from which he cannot escape. In this narrative where each character is in search of an emotional recovery, Sophie Daull intervenes to claim fidelity she dedicates to the missing, the flowers and the sub-prefectures. A novel brilliantly built on the ambiguities of the wish for forgiveness.

Au Grand Lavoir Cover

Publishing House

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Éditions Philippe Rey

Excerpt

Jeudi soir

L’autre soir, j’étais flapi. J’aime pas les jours de feuilles mortes. Ça casse les reins. La souffleuse en sac à dos pendant des heures, c’est vraiment la punition. Le bazar est aussi lourd et mal conçu que le paquetage de vingt-cinq kilos des mecs de 14-18. Je sais pas pourquoi ils nous avaient changé le programme : on devait être de bulbes, ils nous ont collés de feuilles mortes, cantonnés sur la route de Chartres, à faire d’énormes tas de feuilles contre les troncs des platanes, entre la bifurcation d’Alençon et l’hypermarché, là où le trafic est le pire. Pour ceux qui connaissent Nogent, c’est tout dire.

J’étais passé à Ma vie en bio m’acheter un plat tout fait – quinoa à la crème de cerfeuil –, avec le projet comme tous les soirs de me caler bien tranquille devant la télé.

Depuis un moment, je vais plus boire un coup avec Gilbert après le boulot, il se met minable, et moi ça me gêne. Des fois il sait même plus où il a garé la fourgonnette.

Et puis de toute façon, au Relais de la Poste, ils ont pas de jus de tomate, et Gilbert, ça l’emmerde que je picole pas. Ça l’emmerde que je picole pas, ça l’emmerde que je sois végétarien, ça l’emmerde que je parle pas foot. Comment je pourrais lui dire à Gilbert que c’est en taule que j’ai attrapé le dégoût de la viande ? À cause d’un mec que j’ai rencontré làbas, qui était aussi raffiné que lui est banal, qui disait que ne pas manger carné était la marque d’un esprit supérieur, qui faisait du taï-chi et du yoga, qui savait cuisiner le manioc et la feuille de bétel, l’oeuf de cent ans et la kacha, qui dormait

dans des pyjamas en soie la tête au nord, à cause du feng shui ? On a été libérés ensemble. Lui avec un non-lieu, moi pour bonne conduite. Et puis on a vécu huit ans ensemble, comme mari et femme. Alexandre, il s’appelait. Le grand Alexandre n’est plus, et Gilbert est mon petit chef.

J’étais donc dans mon canapé, avec la barquette en carton sur les genoux, réchauffée grâce à mon ami le micro-ondes, pendant que mon autre amie la télé me livrait sa cargaison d’images. Je zappais sur les trucs qui hypnotisent facilement, les émissions pleines d’experts qui commentent pendant des heures l’actualité – politique, culturelle, économique.

Et puis soudain, j’ai lâché la fourchette, je me suis étranglé.

À l’écran il y avait une femme au visage pointu qui parlait plein cadre.

Putain cette nana je la connais j’en suis sûr.

J’ai monté le son et j’ai mieux regardé. La voix aussi je la connais. J’écoute. La femme a écrit un bouquin, c’est pour ça qu’elle est l’invitée de cette émission littéraire. Le bouquin, c’est pour sa fille qui est morte à seize ans. Elle parle de trucs pénibles, du deuil, de la perte, des fantômes et tout ça. Ses mains sont mobiles, ses gestes me sont désagréablement familiers. Et puis tout à coup je comprends, je recolle les morceaux.

Mais qu’est-ce qu’elle vient foutre dans ma télé cette gonzesse ?

Celle qui parle à la télé, c’est la fille de la femme que j’ai massacrée il y a trente ans. Non seulement ça fait un choc, mais en plus ça rajeunit pas.

Treize ans que je suis sorti de centrale, six ans qu’Alexandre est mort, cinq que je suis planqué ici, et je crois bien que ça fait au moins deux décennies que j’ai pas vraiment repensé à toute cette histoire, sauf pour le bluff avec les psys et les

assistantes sociales du suivi médico-judiciaire.

Je suis resté comme ça la gueule béante devant l’écran, la zapette pendouillant entre mes cuisses, complètement paralysé. L’odeur de feuilles pourries incrustée dans mon jogging remontait sous mes narines, mélangée à celle, aigre, du cerfeuil refroidissant. Il y avait une sorte de court-circuit dans mes neurones, une décharge temporelle qui rembobinait les années dans un foutoir assourdissant.

Je me suis souvenu d’un truc qu’Alexandre m’avait raconté – j’avais mal écouté parce que je décrochais toujours quand il étalait sa culture. Une histoire de mouches grecques, où un type, qui a tué sa mère-la-reine pour venger son père-le-roi, mettant ainsi un terme à une longue histoire de famille déjà bien sanglante et compliquée, se retrouve harcelé par des bestioles qui s’accrochent dans ses cheveux, dans ses habits, dans ses pensées, jusque dans ses rêves. Elles lui bourdonnent à longueur de journée des scies assommantes sur le remords, la faute, le pardon impossible, etc. Des furies au nom compliqué, quelque chose avec des i partout.

En allant me coucher, ça faisait bbbzzz dans ma tête…

 

 

 

Le type qui a tué ma mère de quarante et un coups d’Opinel, après l’avoir violée une nuit de janvier avec un manche de pelle à neige, a été condamné à l’emprisonnement à perpétuité. Dans la mesure où il ne possédait aucune des caractéristiques du récidiviste, que les experts en assises l’avaient jugé « réadaptable », sans compter que son parcours pénitentiaire était irréprochable, il a été libéré après avoir purgé les dix-huit ans incompressibles.

On trouve facilement, dans les archives judiciaires ou de la presse, les détails du crime, du procès, et même de son séjour en prison au cours de ses premières années d’incarcération, puisqu’il a fait l’objet d’un long documentaire télévisuel, où il apparaît particulièrement photogénique.

A star is born.

La femme de coeur que je suis, humaniste et progressiste, ne peut qu’applaudir à l’exemplarité de cette expérience de reconstruction : la cellule comme cabine d’ascenseur social, la vie derrière les barreaux comme stage d’épanouissement personnel, mené à bien avec succès.

Moi aussi j’ai pris perpète. Dans un cloaque de chagrin croupi, d’amnésie forcée, de refoulement vaseux, qui a fini par s’assécher, discrètement nauséabond. Mais après trente ans passés dans ce génial sarcophage, la croûte gratte, la plaie reparle. Quelque chose suinte qu’il faut nettoyer à grandes eaux.

Alors j’irai au grand lavoir là-bas, où la mémoire se récure contre le granit rugueux, où la langue se rince au torrent qui mousse comme un savon d’encre, où la fiction fait Javel. Je regarderai l’eau crasseuse s’écouler dans une grande synovie de mots et je laisserai sécher les éclaboussures au soleil de leur consolation. Grande lessive.

Un personnage s’impose. Quand je me penche au-dessus des derniers reflets, c’est lui que je vois. Star un jour, star toujours.

Le type qui a tué ma mère sera donc jardinier municipal à Nogent-le-Rotrou.

 

 

Vendredi matin

J’ai pas dormi de la nuit.

 

(EN) 

Thursday evening

I was fagged out the other evening. I hate dead leaf days. They ruin your back. Wearing that blower machine on your back all day is pure punishment. The bloody thing’s as heavy and bulky as the 25 kilo kits blokes carried in World War I. Don’t know why they changed our programme: we were meant to be on bulbs, they put us on dead leaves, stuck out there on the Chartres road, stacking huge leaf piles against the plane trees between the turnoff to Alençon and the superstore, where traffic gets dire. For people who know Nogent, that says it all.

I stopped by Planet Organic to pick up a ready-cooked meal– chervil and pomegranate cream quinoa – planning on eating in front of the telly, as usual.

Lately, I’ve stopped going to the pub with Gilbert after work, he gets wasted and I don’t like it. Sometimes he even forgets where he parked the van.

And anyway they haven’t got tomato juice at the local, and Gilbert is pissed about me not drinking. Pissed about me not drinking, pissed about me being vegetarian, pissed that I know fuck all about football. How can I tell Gilbert I went off meat when I was in the slammer? Because of a bloke I met there, a bloke as refined as Gilbert is coarse, who told me that not eating meat was the mark of a superior mind, who did tai-chi and yoga, who knew how to cook cassava and betel leaves, century eggs and kasha, who slept in silk pyjamas with his head facing north because of Fengshui? We got out together. His case was dismissed, I was released for good conduct. And we lived together for eight years, like man and wife. Alexandre was his name. Alexandre the Great is no more, and now Little Boss Gilbert is my company.

So there I was on the sofa with the little carton on my lap, heated up thanks to my pal the Microwave, while my other pal the Telly delivered its load of images. I zapped around stuff that hypnotizes you real easy, programmes full of experts discussing the news for hours– politics, culture, economics.

And suddenly I dropped my fork and choked.

On the telly, there was a woman with a pointy face talking full screen.

Fuck fuck I know that bird I know I do .

I turned up the sound and looked harder. That voice, I know the voice too. I listen. The woman wrote a book, that’s why she’s been invited on this book program. The book, it’s for her daughter who died at sixteen. She’s talking about painful stuff, grief, loss, ghosts and all that. Her hands move around a lot, her gestures are unpleasantly familiar. Suddenly I get it, I put all the pieces together.

But what the fuck is that bird doing in my telly ?

That face talking on the telly is the daughter of the woman I murdered thirty years ago. A real shock, right, and it sure doesn’t make you any younger.

Thirteen years since I got out of prison, six years since Alexander died, I’ve been holed up here for five years, I reckon it’s been at least two decades since I really thought about that business, apart from bluffing shrinks and social workers on the judicial monitoring team.

I sat there gobsmacked, gaping at the screen, remote dangling between my legs, completely petrified. The rotten leaf stench incrusted in my track bottoms rose to my nostrils, blending with the bitter smell of tepid chervil. There was a kind of short circuit in my neurones, an electrical time shock rewinding the years in a deafening chaos.

I remember this thing Alexandre told me – I wasn’t paying attention cause I always switched off when he started flaunting his knowledge. A story about Greek flies, where this guy, who murdered his mum-the-Queen to avenge his dad-the-King, putting an end to a long family history of bloodshed and complications, found himself pursued by beasties flying into his hair, into his clothes, into his thoughts, even into his dreams. All day long they buzzed old saws into his ears, about remorse, fault, impossible pardon, etc. Furies, they were, with a complicated name, a word with lots of i’s in it.

When I went to bed, the bbbzzzing started inside my brain…

 

 

 

The man who killed my mother with forty-one knife blows, after raping her with a snow shovel handle one January night, was sentenced to life. In view of the fact that he had nothing of a repeat offender’s profile, and that court authorities esteemed him worthy of “rehabilitation”, without mentioning his irreproachable prison record, he was released after serving the mandatory eighteen years.

Details of the crime, the court case, even of his first years in prison, can easily be found in legal archives or press articles, given that he featured in a long television documentary, in which he comes across as particularly photogenic.

A star is born.

Being a generous, humanitarian and progressive woman, I can only applaud this exemplary experience of reconstruction: the prison cell as a social ladder, life behind bars as a personal development course, carried out with success.

I was sentenced to life inside too. Inside a cesspool of stagnant grief, compulsory amnesia and muddied repression, which eventually dried out with a subtly sickening smell. But after thirty years within this ingenious sarcophagus, the crust starts itching, the wound begins to speak. Something starts oozing and must be thoroughly washed clean.

So I’ll make my way to the wash house, ...where memory is scrubbed against rough granite, where the tongue is rinsed by a river lathering like inky soap, where fiction acts as bleach. I’ll watch grimy water seep away in a synovial torrent of words and dry out the splatter in the warm sun of consolation. Washing day.

A character is essential. When I lean down to watch the last reflections, he’s the one I see. Star for a day, star forever.

The bloke who killed my mother will be a city gardener in Nogent-le-Rotrou.

 

 

Friday morning

I didn’t sleep all night.

Faces wiped out of my memory years ago resurfaced and danced behind my eyes: the woman I killed, the girl on the telly – green eyes, red chignon, pointed chin –, big fat J.P., my mother, my lawyer, the motorway petrol pump attendant who saw the blood on my clothes, the guys from the telly, the girl on the telly again but as the kid she was in high school where I hung around on the make, the shit-faced mugs of all the louts I got sloshed with that night.

Still, I must have dropped off for a bit because I also saw my mother cooing I love you big boy in my ears while the screws fucked her.

Yeah, that could only be a nightmare. Filthy night.

The next day, I had to meet Gilbert at 8 o’clock in front of the Town Hall. He was smoking while he waited, leaning against the van. It also pisses him off that I don’t smoke but he shows respect: never lights up a fag inside the car when he knows he’s driving me to work. After my night of horror, it was felt so good to see him I wanted to kiss his steak-and-kidney guzzling gob and burrow into his belly. I must have looked fuck awful but he didn’t mention it.

Truth is, I say nasty things about him but I do like Gilbert. He’s an okay geezer and he truly loves flowers. You should see him unloading crates of pansies or daffodils, full of devotion, walking backwards with his chin low over quivering petals to shield them from the wind; hear him sweet-talking the asters, clematis or larkspur flowers while he eases them onto bamboo stakes.

But that morning – my first morning with those ancient Greek beasties hissing in my ears – flowers weren’t on the agenda. We were supposed to dig up the roundabout on the Le Mans road. Which meant spending the whole day out in the wind, slogging away like idiots in the middle of nowhere. Which also meant no hope of Francine’s Daily Special, that kind of job means you’re at it all day long, and you have to eat on site. I happen to be a real fan of Francine’s Friday couscous, she serves it to me without meat, and it’s dead cheap.

We had to swing by the Super U for petrol, which provided Gilbert with yet another opportunity to moan. What with our department’s cutbacks, the municipality has stopped making advances to cover expenses. So Gilbert’s got to use his personal debit card for even the smallest of purchases, and remember to ask for a receipt each time, and they take six months to reimburse him. That goes for petrol, but also for gardening gloves, pruning shears, all the indispensable stuff for the job. Gilbert’s fed up to the teeth. He thought being Head of Department would make it easier, and it’s just the opposite. Next thing you know we’ll be paying fertilizer and mowers out of our own pockets – and why not automatic sprinklers while we’re at it?

I stay quiet about all that, pleased to have landed this job, thank you Mrs. Post-Sentence-Supervision-Resettlement-Services.

 

Translated from French by Patty Hannock.