‘Reconciling Opposites’ – Serge Joncour on Lean on Me
“A novel is a long journey; you have to constantly reassure yourself, mix boldness and diligence, push on through your doubts.”
Serge Joncour, critically acclaimed author of Strong Words Magazine Book of the Year 2020 Wild Dog, discusses the themes of isolation and the natural world in his upcoming novel Lean on Me (March 2022) and shares the writers he has recently discovered.
- Lean on Me deals with themes of loneliness, both in being physically alone and the loneliness felt when surrounded by people who you can’t trust. What drew you to the idea of writing about the different forms that loneliness can take?
It seems to me that there are multiple forms of loneliness; from the loneliness you feel when you are physically alone, to the loneliness you feel when surrounded by others. The heroine of Lean on Me is a very active woman, a businesswoman; she has a husband and children and yet she feels she cannot talk to them or really confide in them. But there is also the loneliness of the singleton, who lives in Paris, a big city which he is just getting to know. Then there is the loneliness of his elderly neighbour, who no-one comes to visit anymore. These three characters break through their loneliness, in a way, simply by beginning to talk to one another.
- Ludovic and Aurore have very different approaches to their neighbours. Aurore, a city woman, has little to no interaction with them, whereas Ludovic, hailing from the country, is more interested in getting to know his neighbours. Do you think city life has caused us to become more insular as people?
I love the scene where Aurore, who lives by staircase A, goes to staircase B for the first time, which is right beside it, in the same building. It’s as if she is discovering another world. In Paris, you rarely get to know your neighbours, and you don’t show up at other people’s houses without letting them know beforehand. In the country, it’s more common to go to someone’s house without having to warn them you’re coming. In the city, everyone is overprotective of their territory, their apartment, and they don’t often let other people in. It’s like that because of the lack of space; in the city, everything is all divided up.
- Aurore and Ludovic, though seemingly two people with nothing in common, come to realise that they can provide for one another that which they are missing in their own lives. Do you think it’s true that opposites attract?
Yes, there is a reciprocal attraction, but before that, it is founded on a basis of listening. Aurore and Ludovic are very different, but that’s not why they are attracted to one another. It’s because each of them finds in the other a listener; they feel understood for once. Then, when the other person is so different from yourself, it becomes an adventure, an exoticism to get close to them, to fall in love with them. From the point of view of the novel, it’s interesting to bring two people together who are complete opposites but who are linked with the help of two birds in a tree… reconciling opposites, something in that speaks to me. My life is made up of that.
“It seems to me that there are multiple forms of loneliness; from the loneliness you feel when you are physically alone, to the loneliness you feel when surrounded by others.”
- In Wild Dog, we see human characters intruding on the natural world when they attempt to holiday in a remote house in the French Lot. In Lean on Me the flock of crows are instead animals invading human territory when they take over the apartment block. What is it about these clashes between the human and animal worlds that fascinates you so much?
This is the fundamental question: our relationship with the animal world. This relationship has been distorted for a long time because humans think we are independent from the animal world, simply because we forget that we are animals too. We are mammals, just like bats, so much so that we carry the same viruses. There is constant interaction between animals and humans, and in these two novels, it’s no coincidence that it’s the animals that decide the fate of my characters. The animals are characters too – if not principal ones, decisive ones at least!
- What would you say is your biggest career achievement to date?
Oh, I don’t know about that. But there are certain scenes here and there in my novels which left me such strong memories of writing them. Writing them was almost as strong a feeling as living them.
- Did you write when you were young? What is your earliest memory of writing?
I started writing when I was very young, yes, stories and poems. But succeeding in writing a novel took me some time. A novel is a long journey; you have to constantly reassure yourself, mix boldness and diligence, push on through your doubts. To do all of that you have to have acquired some confidence in yourself. And living through things like that, those kinds of personal experiences, helps to feed your characters.
- What do you hope readers will take away from your novels?
At least the title!
- Have you discovered any new writers recently whose work you have enjoyed?
Les maisons vides by Laurine Thizy, Le roman de Jim by Pierric Bailly. Also Basile Panurgias, Elisa Shua Dusapin – and so many others!
Lean on Me is out in March and can be preordered HERE for early delivery
Interview conducted and translated by Megan Jones
Posted on 18/02/2022 by Isabelle Flynn in