Ex-wife bites back in French literary spat

Published: 04:07 PM, 2 Oct, 2020
Ex-wife bites back in French literary spat
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The ex-wife of one of France's most celebrated writers has accused of him lying in his new hit memoir and of breaking a contract not to write about her.

Emmanuel Carrere's searing "Yoga", which recounts how he was treated for depression with electric shock therapy in 2017, has shot to the top of the bestseller lists.

It is also tipped to win the Prix Goncourt, the country's top literary award. But his former wife Helene Devynck said it is a "false" autobiography which "bent the truth to make him look good, and is unrecognisable to what my family and I went through at his side."

And in an unprecedented twist, the journalist said Carrere had broken a legal agreement with her not to "write about me in his work without my consent".

The revelation of the non-disclosure pact has left the literary establishment agog in a country where novelists regularly mine their private lives for material.

'Fiction and lies'

In a devastating "right to reply" to the book published in the French edition of Vanity Fair magazine, Devynck accused her ex-husband of "wiping away the line between fiction and lies".

She said Carrere did not, as he claims in the book, spend two months with migrants on the Greek island of Leros -- the home of a former psychiatric hospital and jail for political prisoners during the country's dictatorship -- but only "a few days".

In "Yoga", the writer gets back on his feet there after his hospitalisation in Paris, but in reality he went there before his mental collapse, she said.

"The episode is presented as him coming out of the depression, his return to life. But the opposite was the truth," she claimed. "Yoga" was to have been published in June but was delayed until August, and reportedly cut and rewritten after objections from Devynck.

"Emmanuel is obliged by contract to obtain my consent to use me in his work," she wrote in the magazine. "I did not agree to the text as it appeared. Even if I didn't send bailiffs, the author and his publisher knew all about my objections and my determination that the contract would be upheld," Devynck added.

Ugly family feud

"Unfortunately, despite my contract, my lawyers and months of conflict, I still figure in the first editions of the work," she said.

Carrere, a leading exponent of "autofiction", where writers fictionalise their own lives, declined to comment to AFP.

He and Devynck separated while he was writing the book.

Devynck said that just because "I said 'Yes' previously [to him], it does not mean I cannot say 'No'.

"Do I have to be the object of my former husband's fantastical writing until my death?"

Carrere himself seems to address the thorny issue in the book. "In writing on others you get close, or you can get close, to torture -- because the writer has all the power and the person he is writing about is at his mercy."

This is not the first time that French "autofiction" has sparked controversy. Last year the writer Yann Moix was at the centre of an ugly family feud over his book "Orleans", in which he claimed he was horribly mistreated by his brother as a child.

However, both his father and his brother later claimed it was he who was the real bully. The novelist and veteran television news anchor Patrick Poivre d'Arvor was also forced to pay 33,000 euros ($39,000) to his former partner for breaching her privacy and using her love letters in his 2011 tale, "Fragments of a Lost Woman" ("Fragments d'une femme perdue").

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