There is not much more comforting, literally speaking, than the arrival of a new book by Pierre Lemaitre.
So, even if Le grand monde, the first volume of his new trilogy The Glorious Years, had slightly disappointed us two years ago, we came back to him this year because even the less good Lemaitre know how to entertain us intelligently. And with the hope that he is in better spirits than the last time – hope which fortunately has not been disappointed.
In his previous trilogy, The Children of Disaster, the first part of which was Goodbye Up There won him the Goncourt in 2013, Pierre Lemaitre took pleasure in surprising us by bringing to the fore, from one volume to another, secondary characters. This is not the case with this one, which is devoted to the “Glorious Thirties”, i.e. the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, Silence and Anger takes place in 1952, only four years after the end of the Grand Monde, and brings back the three living children of the Pelletier family, François, Jean and Hélène, as well as their parents, Louis and Adèle, who still live in Beirut.
A little disappointing for those who would have wanted to change the universe, but the trick is ultimately interesting, among other things because it allows us to further deepen these characters of which we only knew the outlines. And we will only have confirmation when the last volume is published, but the whole thing is starting to look like a great family saga. But a saga with Pierre Lemaitre sauce, finely tuned and which skilfully mixes small and large History, less political and more social, and which is more interested in details and anonymous people than in the greats of this world.
The Pelletier children are therefore, once again, both witnesses and actors in a world that is changing at breakneck speed. And their adventures show the progress of progress in all that is monstrous, fascinating and inevitable.
It is Hélène above all that we follow: the young woman, who has become a photojournalist, will cover practically live the agony of a village, in the process of being flooded after the erection of a hydroelectric dam.
The announced death of Chevrigny, with all that entails in terms of tensions and bickering, the solidarity movement and the buried secrets that are unearthed, as well as the story of Hélène – which ends well! – this is the heart of this book, which also talks about feminine hygiene and abortion, big box stores and unionization, domestic violence and sexual harassment, boxing and love… and which features a host of secondary characters who are the richness of Lemaitre’s books, whether it’s a policeman who hunts for abortionists, an endearing idiot from the village or an uncompromising engineer with a hidden purpose.
Faced with this rich and thrilling central story, all the others, next to it, seem a little less interesting. It is the price to pay, but it is not so serious, because the result is also a less scattered book, which brings us back to the best Lemaitre. And even if his tone is less earthy, his gaze is no less penetrating, and the author breathes into it a certain sweetness that we did not know him.
Pierre Lemaitre thus leads us to a surprising happy ending, bittersweet certainly, but still comforting… despite the ellipsis which let us glimpse an explosive final episode.
“At the end of difficult episodes, everyone had to hope that time would take care of erasing their traces. Having seen how the past could suddenly come to the surface, Louis and Adèle were the only ones who didn’t believe in it very much. “With this kind of set-up, we are already looking forward to the sequel.