by Ian McEwan, translated from English by France Camus-Pichon,
Gallimard, 656 p., 26 €
A brilliant writer haunts the pages of Leçons. Towards the end of her life, Alissa Eberhardt wrote a novel in which her ex-husband Roland Baines is described in a false light. Deeply hurt, he blames him for it. She counters: “I’m borrowing. I’m plundering my own life. I glean everywhere, I change what I find, I transform according to my needs (…) Everything that has and has not happened to me, everything I know, everyone I have met: all that It belongs and I have the right to mix it with whatever I can invent. »
Addressing his loved ones as much as his readers, Ian McEwan proclaims his freedom here. To be or not to be Roland, antihero with whom he shares so many things, or Alissa, another of his doubles, whatever! His novel finds its truth elsewhere. In characters embodied with finesse and realism who become close to us over the course of a book that takes its time, while the author of On Chesil Beach (2007), The Child’s Interest (2014) or A Machine like me (2019) favored short formats. And by the interweaving of history in this story of which Roland forms the heart.
Ian McEwan mixes dense autobiographical and historical material in this choral novel, undoubtedly the most ambitious, certainly the most personal. Built in a fluid back and forth between past and present, it develops from the Second World War to recent confinements. Major events experienced by the writer born in 1948 are included there: British occupation in Libya, Cuban missile crisis, Thatcher government, fall of the Berlin Wall – Roland will share the euphoria there, as McEwan did done then.
The expectation of happiness
Lessons begins in the radioactive clouds of Chernobyl in 1986 when Roland, abandoned by Alissa, sees the resurface of a childhood trauma caused by his tyrannical and abusive piano teacher, the memory of which haunts him. “The hell you locked yourself in was an interesting concept. Everyone made one, at least once in their life. Some existences were nothing else. »
Disarmed by the cruelty of people and the harshness of the world, the young man will raise his son alone, understand his parents and those close to him better, but often too late, will always wait for something else. “He was pursued by the idea that elsewhere there was greater freedom, an emancipated life almost within his reach. » Will he learn life lessons? We don’t learn, we live, that’s all, we do the best we can, the 75-year-old author tells us with his sharp lucidity.
In this broad novel where the contours of each character are slowly drawn before the whole picture is revealed in hindsight, Roland Baines embodies a fragile hope: “He waited for existence to open like a curtain, for a hand reaches out to help him cross the threshold of a rediscovered paradise. »
Pure moments of happiness, of joy, will sometimes fill this man dreaming of another life. “When finally a version of this life presented itself, nothing was required of him, no stratagem, no effort. The goddess of happiness made a gesture with her hand, the door of the monastery opened wide (…) This is how it all began. »