Let’s be honest: very few people have read the entire cycle Thirsty of Marie-Claire Blais, who left us exactly one year ago today. There are also many who have never opened one of her books, so the whole cycle, you can imagine.
Thirstythese are 10 demanding novels, almost without points, published between 1995 and 2018 as the development of long sentences in a breath, with which we can identify Ashes or the capture (2020) and Augustine or the Enlightenmentthe writer’s latest novel published this fall.
I was saying, then, that few people have read this masterpiece in its entirety, which is sometimes compared, in ambition, with the looking for lost time of Proust. Twice ? It’s even weirder. More than 10 times? I didn’t believe it until I spoke to Pierre-Éric Villeneuve, who put together the craziest project I’ve ever seen (or heard of) about Marie-Claire Blais. I met some admirers of the writer, but like him? Never.
“The time to read is my only life,” drops this former professor who taught the work of Virginia Woolf at De Montfort University in England. He also considers Blais the most Wooffian of our writers and our greatest literary genius.
Villeneuve claims to have been a recluse for years and never owned a smartphone; maybe that’s the trick to becoming a great reader.
The cycle Thirsty it was more than love at first sight for him. It became his Compostela literary route. With each announcement of a new title in the series, he prepared for this release by going back to the first sentence of the first book and rereading all the titles to accommodate the newest in search of that endless sentence…” One day I told myself I was going to read the Thirsty in a loop until I die, every night. »
He expected her to live to be 100 years old. But it was the death of Marie-Claire Blais that brought him out of her seclusion, he said, and he decided that she would Thirsty the others. From November 30 to December 16, for 17 consecutive days, at a rate of 6 hours and 175 pages a day, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., he will read aloud the Thirsty (the 12 books) at the Lieu, a center for contemporary art, in Quebec.
Pierre-Éric Villeneuve’s voice will also be projected off-site, through a loudspeaker, in Lower Quebec City, which he loves because he believes Blais’s deep roots lie in Limoilou. “It’s totally free, it’s a gift, I really give it, for six hours. Maybe people will say, “Hey, we’re sick of listening to you!”, it could happen. »
But that’s certainly not what will shut him up. “I chose a life of seclusion and reading in an invisible radicalism”, he confesses. Only Blais managed to make me break my bid for invisibility… The fervor will have had the advantage over the beginning. »
I couldn’t stop laughing while talking to Pierre-Éric Villeneuve, because it can’t be such a thing. In this world where we Commute more on a machine than what is read on a piece of paper, a groupies of Marie-Claire Blais so fervent is a miracle. It is as if Pierre-Éric Villeneuve had given himself a mission. Besides, if he were ripped rich, he says, he would have bought 8 million copies. of Augustine or the illumination (“A splendor! A marvel!”) to send to all the people of the province. “I want all of Quebec to live up to Marie-Claire Blais!” »
In any case, it populates every hour of Pierre-Éric Villeneuve. To prepare for this public reading, he claims to have reread the cycle five times…since May! And he notices that he sometimes cries during certain passages that move him especially.
I asked writer Bertrand Laverdure, who is in charge of Pierre-Éric Villeneuve’s press relations, what he thinks of this man and his project. “I know that you will convert several people to Blais during these two weeks,” he replied. He is the best Blais proselyte in the world. Everyone wants to be a great writer, but who wants to be a great reader? »
Excellent question. People like Pierre-Éric Villeneuve are needed for great works to really exist, for them to live. Marie-Claire Blais could not have dreamed of a more beautiful tribute or a bigger fan. “I am the most privileged person on earth to do this! says this extraordinary reader, who has literally decided to become one with the work.
Thirst – great phrases for eternityby Pierre-Eric Villeneuve. From November 30 to December 16, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Lieu, contemporary art center, at 345, rue du Pont, in Quebec City. Open to the public.