“To make people laugh is to make them forget. » If we listen to Victor Hugo, there is reason to consider Charline Vanhoenacker as one hell of a dispenser of oblivion. But isn’t it oblivion, the amnesias of politicians or their contradictions that feed his verve? In her work on radio or television, she is keen to reconcile journalistic rigor and humor, to put the mood in the news with “a foam sword in the hand to tickle the toes of the mighty”, how amused she is. A salutary reminder of the virtues of humor found in the book With the valves, citizens! A short essay in political humor (Denoel, 160 p., €16). A way of documenting with irony the writing of laughter.
After a season 1 recorded in 2021Charline Vanhoenacker is the guest of season 2 of the podcast “Keskili” from world of books made in partnership with the Le Mans book fair “Let’s read! ». At the microphone of journalist Judith Chetrit, she confides in her taste for reading and literature.
What are you looking for while reading?
I seek an alternative reading of the world of oneself and others. I seek to escape, I seek to understand. I often find that writers are extremely sensitive beings who start writing, no doubt, when they have accumulated a form of experience that feeds me. By reading, I also feed on their vision of the world and of themselves.
Your first reading memory?
The first book I had in my hand was Letters from my mill, by Alphonse Daudet. I remember it as a revelation. My parents had left me for the weekend with my grandparents, which happened very rarely. I am an only child, so I was there alone, I was a little afraid of being bored but I found myself with Letters from my mill. I can still see myself in the armchair with my grandparents, the same armchair that there is still today with my grandmother, who is now 100 and a half years old, in the same house. I see myself as a kid, I’m very small, I read this book, I don’t let go and the weekend goes by at full speed. I even kept the memory of the images that scrolled through my head while I read. I see a little rabbit scurrying off with his little white ass and his pompom. He goes off into the scrubland with his back to Alphonse Daudet’s mill. It was there, I think, that I discovered reading as an accelerator of the present time, a diving board towards another temporality and into fiction. It’s as if I had entered the book, that I had plunged into it.
Reading Alphonse Daudet was a click to read more on your side?
After that, I don’t have any precise memories but I think it necessarily led me to read other things. My parents are professors of literature, they have a large library where the classics are even duplicated. They have a large collection of old paperbacks, with hyper-colored, hyper-worked covers. I have often drawn books from it and I still do. And then there was a period in my life where I kind of gave up on books. Afterwards, I came back to them, because I studied literature at university. And I left them, and then I came back to them… Books and me, it’s a great story of back and forth. But for a few years, I think that’s it: I can’t live without it.
Do you like giving books away?
I like. I offer many a book of Mario Vargas Llosa whose name is Paradise – A little further, which I absolutely adored. This is the story of Flora Tristan, the first feminist and workerist. She was Paul Gauguin’s grandmother. From one chapter to another, we pass from this woman to Gauguin, and it is quite disturbing to read the two portraits in parallel when we know what was the relationship of the painter to women, and even to very young women. This book came into my hands by an absolutely fabulous coincidence, and that’s what I find magical in the books that we pass on to each other: years ago, Benjamin Riquet, the director of our program on France Inter, was went to Thailand and had run out of books. He was staying in a guest house where there was this abandoned book. He found it fabulous and then he recommended it to me.
Is there a book you would like to be the heroine of?
A Martine does radio or one Yes yes does radio ? It is in any case a difficult question because today, there are more heroines in novels. But it’s true that all women have this problem of identifying with women who are role models.
Do you prefer books that make you laugh, or books that make you cry?
I don’t think I’ve ever cried in front of a book. It’s as if I managed to keep some distance from the story. Laugh, it’s happened to me before though. The last time was with a book by Adeline Dieudonné, Kerosene. It’s sold as a novel, but it’s actually a short story series. There is one, in particular, where she talks about a couple who have just met. The young woman goes for the first time to her in-laws for dinner, they are gynecologists and force her to first pass a gynecological examination! I really burst out laughing. But that’s not necessarily what I’m looking for in books, neither crying nor being moved. It seems to me two extremes towards which I do not necessarily want to go.
Is Pierre Desproges one of the proofreaders you would like to have for your columns?
I think he would be fierce, and I would find myself useless if he read me again! And then the time passed between his way of writing and comedians today. There’s a gaping hole between him and us, and it wouldn’t make sense to compare the humor we practice now to his. Today, in political laughter, there is so much personification, and society is so fragmented, there are so many chapels, people who are precisely targeted… Desproges, like Coluche, was addressing an elite in general: it was the people or the citizen versus the elite.
Political laughter has lost some of its universalism?
Universalism can be found elsewhere. Today we are attacking the patriarchy in a global way. There is both a feminism and a universalism. We are attacking the power of money in a global way. It is still there, but political power, humor is a mirror of society. So if politics loses a form of universalism, its mirror, which is humor in particular, loses it too. It’s normal.
Universalism in reading, are you looking for it?
I’m not absolutely looking for it, but when it surfaces, it makes us realize that we belong to the human community and that’s always very pleasant. This is something that I find for example in the writings of Claire Marin, which are rather philosophical essays. She posted a year ago To be in her place, where she explains that we are often either displaced if we are a refugee, or we have suffered a break in our professional life or in our private life, etc., or else we have to live with a disappearance, and then we have to find ourselves another spot. It is a universalism, and To be in her place is one of the books that help to live, like all those who remind you that what you are going through. You are far from being the only one experiencing it. And this is where we come back to writers, novelists, to the sensitive experience that reminds us of the fragility of man in the world and that we are all in the same boat.
A writer you wish you had read before you die?
I still haven’t read Proust, but my response cannot be summed up by a single author! It is immense and vertiginous, as a question. It’s horizontal in the context of a Book Fair where just seeing the number of authors who sign and the number of books that are available, there immediately, we are dizzy. And if now we take a vertical direction, if we move back towards the past, we can go as far as Aristophanes!
A recent book you would like to read?
I’m dying to read The Mage of the Kremlin, by Giuliano da Empoli. As I present a radio program where I receive a lot of authors, my year is generally punctuated by their books and I am very lucky because I recently received Alain Mabanckou, whom I adore. And Sonia Devillers for The Exported. This is her family history, a story in which she reveals what some historians knew, of course, but the general public did not: Jews were exchanged for pigs in Romania. There is a passage at the very beginning of the book where, in a single paragraph, she summarizes the whole life of her grandparents, that of her parents and hers. It shows how much history and politics change our lives through generations. Words can sum it all up, and I discovered that Sonia Devillers, who is my office neighbor at France Inter, is a writer!
In the books you read, is belonging to a nation, identity, a common thread?
I do not believe. It may be because I am Belgian, but identity is not something that works for me. I know it’s a French obsession. And I understand that it can be an obsession for a lot of people, for a lot of writers. I imagine that The Exported resonates with many people who have left Algeria, for example. What fascinates me in Sonia Devillers’ book is the way in which the intimate, the inner fault of which she speaks, and the comparison with the iron curtain mingle. That is to say the intimate, the micro, what we have in ourselves on the one hand, and the macro, the world, the resonance with the world on the other. With Claire Marin, it is also a question of politics and intimacy: how does the world around us shape us? I don’t always feel like I’m looking for things in a book. I like to let myself be surprised, but if I had to look for something in it, it would be this link between the intimate and the political.
Do you remember being disappointed by a book, or by a writer?
It happens to me in other fields, but I always manage to invite authors whose books we liked – with Juliette Arnaud or Clara Dupont-Monod who do the literary chronicles. And I have the impression that in literature, there is something that lies less, it is less the empire of the fake. Among the great authors who have caused me disappointment, I remember Nabokov. I said to myself here is a major author, many around me are fascinated by Lolita. But no, I can’t. And it’s a great disappointment to think that there’s a book waiting for us, a masterpiece that everyone is talking about, so when we open it, we’re bound to spend hours and hours of huge loves. And then struggle to get into it, finish it and say “meh”.
What held you back?
It’s something I can’t identify. Why can’t we get into a novel? Sometimes, you know: the characters didn’t take you by the hand, they didn’t take you into their story. lolita, it’s not because of the writer, since everyone is fascinated by this book and it’s a masterpiece that spans the ages. Maybe I read it too young, at a time when I was not receptive to this story.
“Keskili” is a podcast from World, produced in partnership with the Le Mans Book Fair “Make Read! and moderated by journalist Judith Chetrit. Editorial follow-up: Joséfa Lopez. Recording and production: Eyeshot. Transcript: Caroline Andrieu. Graphic identity: Mélina Zerbib, Yves Rospert. Partnership: Sonia Jouneau, Victoire Bounine.