A punchy novel recounting thirty years of French history, between the 1970s and 2000s, Human nature by Serge Joncour speaks of a country witnessing the end of peasant and agricultural life. Through the life of Alexandre, a breeder reclusive on his farm, he describes the relentless race towards globalization, the divorce between humans and their environment, the epidemics and struggles that have marked these decades and, all in all, humanity in peril.
Serge Joncour, gifted novelist, very lucid, began this learning novel in 1999, during a torrential storm that flooded France and gave the last days of the year an appearance of the end of the world.
Alexandre, alone in the dark night, isolated himself on his farm in the Lot department. He wonders if the end of the world is coming … but is preparing to experience another: that of peasant and agricultural life in France.
From the pen of Serge Joncour, Alexandre lives 30 years of history, struggles, political life and serial catastrophes. “I wanted to review, analyze and focus my gaze on this distance between man and nature, this sort of loss of contact”, he said in an interview, from his house in Lot, in 600 km from Paris.
He remembers the transition to the year 2000: two huge windstorms hit his region. Everyone found themselves in the dark, candlelight, no phone, no electricity, no TV. “It was the complete opposite of what we had imagined. “
These catastrophic events marked the transition to the new millennium. “I wanted to focus on this shift from one world to another which, ultimately, is always the same, except that it seems that it is not getting better and better. “
Serge Joncour says he loaned Alexandre a lot of his “stuff”. He shares with him his apprehension about the total accessibility of the world, his fear of telephone poles contaminated with arsenic, his worry about a butterfly from Asia which attacks the boxwood and reduces it to the state of a skeleton.
“Sometimes the ancients said things; it was said that they were a little crazy and that they refused progress. But in the end, they weren’t wrong. This panic that the ancients communicated to me, I took it on my own. “
Serge Joncour was not that surprised by the pandemic. “It’s easy to say it after the fact, but there is a lack of vigilance on the part of all of us,” he says. He gives the example of boxwood, victim of an insect from elsewhere.
“My distraught look at globalization is linked to this fear of universal and rapid contamination. It existed before, but we had time to turn around. There, with this incessant population movement and the planes crossing the sky constantly, I sometimes have the feeling that it was inevitable. I wanted to start from a virus that kills all boxwood and all oaks … Finally, in 2020, that’s not what happened, it’s a human virus, but there is a kind of logic in all these events. “
He points out that his character of Alexander, on his isolated farm, was ultimately in a situation everyone dreamed of being during confinement: in the countryside. “This freedom and this retreat is what has become enviable and the movement is not about to stop. I see lots of people looking for homes in remote corners of France. ”
♦ Serge Joncour is the author of 12 books, including The National Writer (Prix des Deux Magots 2015), Lean on me (Interallié 2016 prize) and Dog wolf (Landerneau Prize 2018).
♦ Human nature is in contention on the first Renaudot and Femina 2020 price lists.
“ Once past Caussade the traffic was heavy on the national 20, every ten kilometers there was construction. Alexandre had never noticed that there were so many construction sites on the outskirts of Caussade, and then Montauban, all these peripheral areas became endless successions of hypermarkets, sports or DIY stores, garden centers and large furnishing surfaces, and to regulate the traffic born of all these parking lots and these new roads, a roundabout was built every five hundred meters … The urban landscape changed dramatically. “