The words of France’s latest literature star, Olivier Bourdeaut sing out like the title of his first book, Waiting for Bojangles. Ángela Forero-Aponte is there to hear from the man himself.
We are caressed by the melancholic tones of Nina Simone singing ‘Mr. Bojangles’ in the background as we wait to hear from one of France’s newest literature revelations, Olivier Bourdeaut. The author bio portion of his first successful novel Waiting for Bojangles shows a picture of a rather dour-looking writer.
Olivier Bourdeaut manages to swing the mood of readers from laughing to blubbing and back in a matter of milliseconds, just like the song which inspired his book. Bourdeaut can play the game of being stern, then come up with a joke when the audience least expects it.
We had the precious opportunity to share an evening with him at L’Antisalle bookshop thanks to his visit to FILBo 2017. During his visit to FILBo 2017 the author discussed the inspiration leading to his success.
Bourdeaut referred to his success with humility. The author has sold over 260,000 copies of his books worldwide. “We all write to be read, not so much to attain success, but to be read […] not to have your picture taken”, he jokes a second later saying “nothing against you guys, just against professional photographers.”
Bourdeaut partly attributes his career trajectory to not having a TV set at home, which made him an ardent reader in his youth, something he thanks his parents for. As a writer he says there are two important elements – “being a little bit of a megalomaniac, that is knowing people will be interested in what you have to write…but also be humble when presenting your work to others.”
His book, based on Simone’s ‘Mr. Bojangles’, accompanies his descriptions in the novel – which seem to dance to the rhythm of the song, in one of his readers’ words. “I live with music, and I write with music,” said Bourdeaut. “I choose the music to play around the type of scene I want to write. For example, in the book I’ve just finished writing I listened to Pink Floyd. Music is like a crutch to me, it holds me.
It’s all about the music he explains, “I listened to ‘Mr. Bojangles’ for the first time two weeks before starting with my novel, and I realised it provided the mood I wanted to imprint to it. I could not understand the lyrics as I, unfortunately, don’t understand English…I was concerned the lyrics wouldn’t match the story, but after google-translating the lyrics I realised they did since, just like the text, the song has these ups and downs”
In that earnest tone Olivier Bourdeaut said Waiting for Bojangles is not autobiographical, but novels are bound to have autobiographical reflections of the author.
“The only texts that don’t include them are manuals for microwave. I’m sure all writers include these biographical pieces.”
The novel revolves around the topic of insanity, la folie, with characters like the mother who cooks meals at indecipherable hours, or the crane the family keeps as a pet. The book has a Quixotic quality, in which the reader can’t tell reality from fiction, or insanity.
Bourdeaut stresses this was intentional as he wanted to give the novel instability – a floating sensation. Readers are left to decide whether to consider a certain scene fiction or reality, or a combination of both. “We are all crazy somehow. I don’t consider myself an expert in the matter of insanity, and this is merely my opinion, but we all have strong defences in preventing others from discovering the extent of our craziness, and I’ve come to realise, after all the interviews I’ve given so far that dreamy people always have a foot set on reason, and another one on insanity.”
He continues, “That’s precisely what happens with the father and the mother in my novel, but when the mother decides to put both feet in insanity, the father has to be sane to keep the balance, and finally, I think one makes oneself insane in the eyes of others.”
Bringing it back to his own experience, he says, “I can make a parallel with my life, too; people thought I was being crazily stubborn to write a third novel after the rejection to my first two, then my book was finally published, and I was not so much a crazy stubborn anymore, people thought I had it coming too easy…well, that’s life!”
F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of Olivier Bordeaut’s favourite authors, and Bordeaut was inspired by Fitzgerald’s life in creating the couple in Waiting for Bojangles. “I love Fitzgerald’s talent, and his life, which we could call a life of splendor and decadence. Fitzgerald wrote his first novel, The Side of Paradise, had success in the early 1920s, married Zelda, kept on writing, and then in 1929 comes the Great Depression.
He goos on, “People did not want to know about luxurious villages, champagne bubbles, or rich girls anymore so, although Fitzgerald’s writing quality is in the rise, people don’t want to read his stories anymore. His wife starts to immerse herself in this insanity as the stock market rates go down, and I thought that the dreamy mother of the novel needed an event that would make her tip, and so here comes the tax collector, which makes the mother come back to reality.”
Olivier Bourdeaut finished the evening by letting us delve into the deepest corners of his writer’s soul. He thinks he produces very optimistic writing but confesses he got a lump in his throat and his eyes watered whenever he wrote sad scenes. He realised that, just like his readers he would need to escape from the melancholic. He said he would resolve this with a twist of humour, and when he wrote a humorous scene, the lump would leave his throat. He said he feels lucky – having a dialogue with the readers and understanding what readers would need at every point in the story.