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Interview: Franck Bouysse for BORN OF NO WOMAN

Updated: Dec 13, 2021

Born of No Woman was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, translated from French by Lara Vergnaud. More info here

About the book / Editor's note

Nineteenth-century rural France.

Before he is called to bless the body of a woman at the nearby asylum, Father Gabriel receives a strange, troubling confession: hidden under the woman’s dress he will find the notebooks in which she confided the abuses she suffered and the twisted motivations behind them.

And so Rose’s terrible story comes to light. [...]

A girl whose only escape is to capture her life – in all its devastation and hope – in the pages of her diary…

Interview with Franch Bouysse

Institut français: While reading this Gothic novel, we feel a peculiar sense of poetry. For which reason have you decided to use this type of writing for a Gothic genre?
Franck Bouysse: I didn’t use this style consciously. I started writing, and this style came naturally to me. Every character has their voice. I just needed to listen to what they wanted to tell me and try to transcribe their words without betraying them, wherever they would take me. The poetry in this novel comes from the rhythm of the sentence, of its very own music.

Institut français: Rose asks many ingenuous questions to her entourage. Yet, these questions highlight current issues: women’s condition, social inequalities, religion, etc. Did you set the plot in the past to talk freely about these issues?  Franck Bouysse: I did not intend to deliver a feminist message by writing this book, and I simply wanted to express the deep-rooted revolt I felt through Rose's words. The same goes for the social and religious dimensions. Also, I bring these issues up because they come up within the story's narration that must be considered first and foremost as a work of fiction.

Institut français: In Born of No Woman, many times, we felt like this novel was referring to other Gothic novels notably Jane Eyre  (the manor, the priest, Charles' wife), Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde  (the doctor and the hubris of a scientific man). Did you want to pay tribute to this genre and follow in its footsteps?
Franck Bouysse: It is pretty strange because I have never been a reader of this literature, except Dracula. My first memorable readings were the works of Jules Verne, Stevenson, Dickens, Conan Doyle, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Homer, many serialists who made me want to turn the pages. I have kept this taste for surprising myself while writing, keeping the tension I need to avoid getting bored. I believe it is possible to have some of the same haunts as other authors without reading a line of their books.

Institut français: Rose endures so much suffering that you describe simply almost discreetly or with humility. Are those unsaid sufferings and the imaginary world in which Rose seeks refuge a way to convey the horror with the absence of detailed descriptions?
Franck Bouysse: I have always preferred suggestion to showing what’s happening. From the power of suggestion comes the most intense emotions. I am fascinated how one’s body can endure that much suffering with the help of the mind, how we can take refuge in unsuspected hidden places in our mind to survive the unspeakable. Writing, or art in general, can be one of the ways of conveying the story while keeping a sufficient distance to let the reader have the freedom to paint the images, even the most terrible.

Institut français: The ending is quite surprising, this development adds a surrealistic side to the story. In a way, can we make a parallel with the fairy tales?  Franck Bouysse: The readers told me about this tale aspect of the story. I wasn’t aware while I was writing the novel. Imagination is, in a way, the art of rebuilding its memory. Let’s say that I have possibly rebuilt mine, visiting unknowingly some tales my grandmother would read to me, like Le Petit Poucet. Childhood is this fertile ground that the novelist explores with adult words. They have to pay minute attention to the dream aspect that the novel can deliver. Otherwise, they might offer a mirror of reality, forgetting the own truth of the story.
© Pierre Demarty

Institut français: Finally, the novel is mainly about Rose's story. Yet, the title in French, is masculine "Né d'aucune femme", letting us thinking that the story will focus on a male character, notably this child encountered at the beginning of the novel. Throughout the reading, the "word" is important in the novel ("word" mot being masculine in French). At the end, to what or to who does the title refer? 
Franck Bouysse: I am referring to Shakespeare (Macbeth). This title evokes how a human being can feel when he considers that he has no identity - one of the worst curses - and how he can build himself up or let himself be destroyed. Therefore, this book is about identity and the power of words and, beyond that, the power of writing.

About the author

Franck Bouysse is a French author. His novels Grossir le ciel in 2014, Plateau in 2016 and Glaise in 2017 have met with wide success and won a vast array of literary awards. Previously a teacher of biology and horticulture, Bouysse lives in the south-west of France.

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