L’attention à l’autre de Sigrid Nunez

The American writer turns out to each of her books a more wonderful and sensitive author. As already “the friend”, in 2019, “What is your torment?”, Taken evidenced. Literary portrait.

by Raphaëlle Leyris

English has an expression, “late bloomer” (literally: “late flowering”), to designate artists whose talent is not revealed in the youth bonus. Sigrid Nunez is one of them: born in New York in 1951, she has always written but has not published her first text, A Feather on the Breath of God (“A feather on the breath of God”, not translated ), that in 1995. She obtained the wide recognition she deserved – as French readers of novels know for Rouenna (Flammarion, 2002) or our eyes must welcome the dawn (rue Fromentin, 2014), as that of the story Sempre Susan (13 e note, 2012) – with his eighth book, L’Ami (Stock, 2019), rewarded by the National Book Award in 2018. A wonderful demonstration of intelligence, humor, depth and sensitivity around mourning symbolized by a bulky dog.

What is your torment in ?, A friend suffering from terminal cancer asks the narrator to accompany her in her last weeks. No less lively and poignant than the friend, he offers a kind of suite, worked by close themes, demonstrating the same quiet originality in the story and the construction. The opportunity for a transatlantic conversation with the affable New York, short gray hair and wide red glasses, on his tropisms, his journey and his writing methods.


What immediately strikes for reading what your torment is? is the narrative freedom that is deployed there. Everything seems to be both flexible and obvious, the stories are linked, digressions are naturally integrated. Sigrid Nunez practices a writing that could be described as open, without pre -established plan or intrigue stopped in advance. One sentence brings another. At the origin of what is your torment ?, There was this one, appeared during a walk in the forest: “I went to listen to a man who gave a conference.” This incipit led a host of questions: Who is this “I”? And the speaker? What will he talk about? Where will the chat take place? When answering this last question, the author thought that she could take place in a city other than that where the narrator is usually lived. But then, what would have brought it? “She could have gone to see a hospitalized friend.” Thus the author she is advancing “very, very slowly”.

“I cannot proceed other than that like that, a sentence after the other, coming back constantly. I know that some authors need to write a whole first draft where they unroll their story to the end and Then come back to the whole. Me, I would find demoralizing to accumulate too many bad prose pages … “As she progresses, she takes note the ideas that can come to her for the future, but try not to freeze anything , to keep the possibility of changing at any time, to integrate a reflection on such recent reading …

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