Jean-Marie Gourio (b. 1956, Nérac, Lot-et-Garonne) is a novelist, humourist and screenwriter. His work was first published by the satirical magazine Hara-Kiri, where his column Brèves de comptoir – consisting of humorous quotes and anecdotes overheard in Parisian bars – won a wide following. Collections of Brèves de comptoir were published in book form every year for more than a decade, and the material was adapted for the stage several times, winning the Académie française’s Prix du Jeune Theâtre in 2000.
Gourio’s first novel, Autopsie d’un nain, appeared in 1987, followed by Tue-Tête (1989), La Carte des vins (1991), and Les Coccinelles de l’Etna (1994). But critical acclaim came later, with Chut! (1998). This poignant love story about a young librarian and a soldier on leave won multiple prizes, and was described in Le Nouvel Observateur as “a marvellous novel written in ink and blood”. The following year saw L’Eau des fleurs, in which the main character, Louise, a café owner, attempts to console her widowed mother by putting a mobile phone in her father’s coffin, so she can text him. It was followed by Apnée (2005) and Alice dans les livres (2006), both of which were widely praised.
Gourio’s writing is sharp and perceptive. In his observations on life he often delights in a kind of world-weary, laconic detachment, verging on cynicism. But he also produces highly original poetic images whose effect is frequently surreal.
Featured Reading Group Title:
Un café sur la lune
In his ninth novel, Un café sur la lune (2010), Gourio returns to his beloved theme of the comptoir – indeed, the author has admitted to recruiting the novel’s characters directly from bars.
It is the year 2095 and humans have colonised the Moon in huge numbers. June of that year sees the opening of the first café on what Gourio refers to as the “twin planet”. At its inauguration the customers raise an emotional toast to an ethereally beautiful Earth, which they can see suspended in space. So, as in Brèves de comptoir, here is the world seen from a bar stool – but now in its most literal sense.
Un café sur la lune could be read as a sort of satire on colonialism (Gourio has described the book as a Wild West adventure story and “a colony of human feelings on the Moon”). Like terrestrial colonies, the Moon has attracted a vast range of characters including fugitives, chancers, gangsters and political extremists. And humans – some of them environmental refugees from a degraded Earth – have lost no time in ruthlessly exploiting the satellite’s natural resources and degrading it in turn. People are digging for precious stones and there are tunnels everywhere: Gourio has called this world “an ant-hill full of lunatics”.
In a quick-fire narrative that brings together some fifty characters, Gourio manages to be both tongue-in-cheek and tender, combining the absurd, the grotesque and the violent with the startlingly beautiful.
- This title features as part of our Spring 2013 French reading group.
- Download Simon Jones’ sample translation