At 93, Antonine Maillet wanted to decide between her heritage by writing my will, a work that pays homage to all the characters who recounted her native Acadia and made her a monument of Acadian literature. We met her at her home in Montreal.
Posted at 6:00 a.m.
She welcomes us with a smile on her face, her eyes sparkling. “Enter with your left foot and make a wish,” she tells us as we step through the front door frame. An old Acadian belief that she revives with obvious pleasure each time she receives someone for the first time.
She may not be very tall, as she likes to recall, the writer exudes an irresistible magnetism. In her cozy living room, the traffic of the city center like a distant background noise, she faces, from her armchair, a magnificent grand piano. “I love the piano. The whole family played it, but the others were better than me. Me, I told stories, ”she recalls, a slight tremolo in her voice.
Even today, Antonine Maillet never tires of telling stories. And we never tire of listening to him recount the destiny of this Acadia that still inhabits it with as much intensity, despite his last 50 years in Montreal. “I’m more Acadian than I’ve ever been. All my books are about Acadia,” she says.
A tribute to its characters
In my will, Antonine Maillet gets down to dividing up her property, she who has no “legitimate offspring”. To whom will she bequeath her inheritance? The answer imposes itself. “The writer’s mission is the same as that of a mother who brings children into the world. Me, I gave birth to a few hundred children: my characters. I owe them everything. And they are stronger than me. »
This is how she converses with them in her book, in a French laced with Acadian. There’s Jeanne de Valois, Mariaagélas, Pierre Bleu, Don l’Orignal… “All those people who had influenced me and obliged me, in a way, to keep Acadia,” she says. Pélagie-la-Charrette, above all, the one that won her the Goncourt in 1979, and to whom she bequeaths a people who have progressed. “I gave it to him as a gift, in my will, of this country that she did not know. We have a university now; she would be amazed to know that. »
But the first to whom she owes everything is La Sagouine.
I became a well-known writer with La Sagouine. It was she who made me known. And I’m so proud of [ce livre] because that is what is the unique work, in a sense. Anyone could write Pelagie. But not this one. You had to have experienced it, seen it, known its language.
“If La Sagouine was important, it’s because she said things. It’s not me who’s important, it’s her. I recreated from things I had heard. These things, she had heard them while associating with these people “from below the hunt”, in her hometown of Bouctouche, New Brunswick, when she lived “halfway” between the man the Canada’s richest — oil giant Kenneth Colin Irving — and Canada’s poorest woman — La Sagouine.
“The others looked down on them, but I didn’t like people looking down on them because at school, there were people from the bottom of the hunt. There was one called Katchou. The most interesting in the class was her. She answered the mistress all crooked, just to make her laugh. And I found it amusing that it was a girl from downstairs answering. »
” But The Sagouine, she said, I’m sure I couldn’t have written it in Acadia. I was too close. I needed perspective, but above all I needed to feel free. Because writing it was a big risk: “One of two things: either we laughed, or we revealed ourselves. The rest is history.
At the end of July, she will be in Bouctouche to deliver a speech on the occasion of the 30e anniversary of the Pays de la Sagouine — the village that pays tribute to its famous heroine. “The big deal,” she murmurs, rejoicing in advance to be able to speak, she who never prepares her speeches and will seize this moment to promote Acadie.
Even today, the writer continues to take risks in writing. “I am 93 years old; If I can’t take risks at that age, at what age will I take risks? she asks, amused. “A writer has rules. But the main rule is freedom within the rules. Risking what others haven’t done. To venture. And if the writer isn’t free and adventurous, he won’t do anything new. »
Outraged my will, we expect, for next fall or winter, a tale where his characters of Radi, Nounours and Scapin tackle the giant Ovid-19. And since she can’t do without writing, she has meanwhile started a third book — floating thoughts — written in free verse. Singing, rhythmic and rhyming prose, excerpts of which she proudly reads to us.
I let my thoughts float. When I finish a chapter, the last word of the chapter gives me inspiration for the next one. Time, words, the Francophonie… It ends in Acadia. I have fun like that.
And without this arm in plaster, for six weeks – the law, moreover – she would never have allowed herself this forced break in writing.
“Writing for me is so fundamental. When I had my arm broken, I said to myself: what am I doing? So I rest… a little, because my mind continues to be agitated. But maybe it will give me new inspiration, ”says Antonine Maillet.