Culture

“Such a quiet young man”, a good friend in all respects

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Such a quiet young man

by Yves Viollier

The Presses de la Cité, 264 p., €20

He is a writer with a thousand lives. From his daily life, encounters and history, Yves Viollier pulls out all the stops and weaves stories of which he is the very witness, when he is not one of the protagonists. In this new novel, it is the real meeting of a friend that is at the heart of the plot. A friend so quiet that nothing allowed to imagine that he could have been a troubled character during the Second World War.

No question of dropping Roger when he loses his wife. He is therefore welcomed in this Vendée village whose narrator is the mayor. And the brave man, affable and warm, does not take long to put all the inhabitants in his pocket. At his funeral, the dark side of the individual emerges: Roger worked with the Gestapo, to the point of causing the arrest and death of Resistance fighters: ” It’s the war. Time has lightning accelerations in times of war. At eighteen, one is old enough to be killed and to kill. »

Begins, for the narrator, his wife and his daughters, the reconstitution of the past of this friend so quiet, in appearance. Everything is there, in the departmental archives, keeping the traces of Roger’s trial at the Liberation. And a picture too: “He looks happy, he looks at the camera in front with this mischievous smile which also seduced us. Is that a traitor figure? Did he get on his bike that day after the photo to deliver names to the Gestapo? » The feeling of being cheated, the painful realization of a betrayed friendship… Why didn’t he say anything? Was he able to take advantage of our welcome?

Can friendship be lost?

Concealing the guilty past, Roger took care of his donkey, went shopping, led an ordinary life. He was like a member of the family: “His advantage was to be from nowhere. Inheritances are sometimes heavy to bear in a village. We know everything about you, your parents, the stories, the past, the crossings, the successes, the failures. He wasn’t wearing anything. He arrived with his suitcase. (…) We took it as it was. »

Could we forgive him, even if he did not confide? How did he live with such a heavy secret? “His smile was that of a man sleeping the sleep of the just. But what do we know of those who share our life? », asks Yves Viollier again. In this true, well-crafted novel, the back and forth pose the question of destiny and the weight of the past. How can we measure a life? Starting from this lived friendship, the novelist brings to life the pivotal times and raises a question of conscience: can friendship be lost?

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