Could you tell us about how you discovered Emma Bovary? Did you read the book as a teenager and return to it again recently, or have you read Flaubert's oeuvre regularly over the years? What is the background to your relationship with this text?
My first somewhat disappointing advances were made at the age of 14 or 15. Goodness knows why teachers feel the need to inflict such a text on students at that age - its 'beautiful style' is not a good enough excuse! So, for me, Flaubert was initially synonymous with school dictation, academic discourse, basically I'm afraid to say he seemed a big bore. Later, when I had the chance to re-read his texts, I gradually discovered the sheer scale of his talent, but I still preferred Balzac, Stendhal and Proust for a long time. In fact, to this very day I consider Flaubert's masterpiece to be L'Education Sentimentale and not Madame Bovary.
How did the idea for this book come to you, the idea of a “counter-investigation” into Emma's death? Did something in the original plot strike you as implausible or improbable?
As was the case for many French novelists of his time, Flaubert attached a greater importance to his characters and their context (which he described with such skill), than to the plot or what we would now call 'scenario' of his oeuvre. As a result, I seized upon the slight discrepancies and contradictions in his book, and unashamedly used all its impressive and irreproachable aspects to effectively 'tweak' the plot, notably by changing Emma's supposed suicide into a murder that becomes increasingly plausible. The ultimate irony in my book is that the murderer is eventually identified by two policemen investigating Emma's death thanks to all the clues unknowingly provided by Flaubert himself, who in his own novel used these same elements to point to her suicide.
How did you concretely go about working on your book in order to remain faithful to the original characters and plot whilst proposing a new variation on them? Did you keep notes on each of the characters? What preparatory work did you do so that the police investigation stayed true to the original work in every minor detail?
I hadn't read Flaubert's book for a long time when I wrote my own. Having said that, I still had the setting and characters in my head, so it was as though I was digging deep into the recesses of my mind to find forgotten memories.
Which character do you most sympathize with in the novel?
A true 'realist', Flaubert did not display any particular sympathies towards any specific characters in his books. My own sympathies lie with the two policemen leading the investigation, who are my own invention and do not even appear in the original novel.
You refute the possibility that Emma was weak enough to commit suicide. Do you think that Emma's character has aged over the years and needed to be updated to fit with modern times?
No. Why would there be any need to 'update' an immortal character? It was the plot that needed to be freshened up.
At the end of your book, we see Homais' daughter suffocating in Yonville-l'Abbaye, an Emma Bovary in the making. Are you planning to write the story of this young, 'second' Emma, who would succeed in escaping the dull routine of life in the provinces with a husband like Charles? Would you like to write a new variation based on Flaubert's famous novel?
No. When I have finished writing a book, my first thoughts turn to how my next book will differ from it. This is apparent in the four novels I have written. Les Comptoirs du sud is a dream-like tale that looks back to an event that is almost contemporary to us - the war in Algeria - and transposes it into an imaginary world. En haut à gauche du paradis tells of the somewhat ambiguous circumstances surrounding the making of Marcel Carné's famous film, Les Enfants du Paradis, filmed in 1942-43 while France was under German occupation. Les Amants de Tonnégrande is written in a style reminiscent of the 'Enlightened' 18th Century, and takes place in a plantation that actually belonged to my family in French Guiana just before the 1942-43 Revolution. As for Emma Bovary...
Flaubert has been the inspiration behind a number of contemporary authors, like Julian Barnes. Did you research such works and tributes before creating your own?
No, and believe me, I regret it. Having lived for many years in Anglo-Saxon countries, I observed that - in a certain way and for certain reasons that I never explored in any great detail - Flaubert, like Proust, fascinated a large number of English people. Perhaps we should make the most of this penchant...!