Literary Tourist in France
Le Perche is known for the Percheron horse
and, at least in my world, the literary agent. We were looking for Pierre Astier’s house, and knew that it was located next to a cemetery in Moutiers-au-Perche, 80 kms east of Le Mans (two hours’ train ride south of Paris). Countryside villages don’t come much prettier than this, with its charming tile-roofed cottages
and blazing red, potted flowers
(Franco-American director Sophie Barthes agrees, she shot parts of her film Madame Bovary here).
We’d found an old church, with it’s extruding drainpipe-tongued gargoyles,
and yes, there was a cemetery attached to it. Two choices: up the hill toward a forest (where Emma kills herself), or around the side of the church. We chose the road more travelled, and found the house down a ways, first thing on the right.
I was here to interview Pierre and his partner Laure about their literary & film agency for my Biblio File podcast. They invited me into the garden and poured me an espresso. The terrain was a bit wild. The two of them had spent the previous afternoon together trying to tame it. While doing so Pierre had been bitten by a tick. He had to go to the hospital (not wise to play around with these things), but was kind enough to engage in conversation with me for about 20 minutes before leaving Laure
to fend off the rest of my questions. You can listen here to our discussion:
Among other things we talked about french publishers’ resistance to literary agents, the differences between pitching book publishers and film producers; translation, author/agent relations and Andrew Wylie.
After the interview, Caroline and I headed for Mortagne-au-Perche where we had lunch, here
Sitting beside us was a man with a Quebec accent. We soon learned (biblio-coincidence alert) that he,
Louis Duhamel, had spent his entire working life as a librarian at the Ottawa Public Library, and that his father had been Queen’s Printer under prime minister John Diefenbaker, appointed in the late 50s, and unceremoniously dismissed from this supposed (according to Louis) lifetime position, by Pierre Trudeau.
Louis was touring the region researching his ancestors. Many from here are known to have emigrated to Quebec in the 17th century. And another thing: Louis’s father collected The Pleiade, a uniform series of world classics put out by Gallimard, starting in the 1930s. As it happened, several weeks later I was in Bordeaux where I visited the oldest independent bookstore in France, Mollat, and they just happened to have what looked like a full run of the series for sale:
but I’m getting ahead of myself.