Jean Rolin


Traveller, acclaimed writer and grand reporteur, Jean Rolin (b. 1949) is one of France’s best-known writers, with a long backlist establishing his distinctive ‘Rolinian’ territory: ‘psychogeography,’ real-life journeying and self-mapping; a fictionalised blend of memoir and classic travel writing; ruthless but deeply compassionate dissections of people’s schemes, personal and public destinies, ambitions and dreams.

Many of his books from the 1980s and early 1990s have been republished in recent years, and his writing has been compared to W.G. Sebald, Paul Theroux, and Bruce Chatwin… He writes with wry wit and tremendous empathy, but is also often laugh-out-loud funny.

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L’organisation is Rolin’s fictionalised account of his involvement in a sect-like, revolutionary Maoist organisation intent on radicalising French factory workers post-1968, and the long shadow cast across his later life, including a spell underground with the IRA. The class struggle re-cast as the often hilarious attempt of a group of young Parisian bourgeois radical intellectuals to ‘proletarise’ themselves for the cause…

Louise Rogers

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I started translating a passage as agreed, from the middle of the book where the protagonists go to Ireland at the beginning of the troubles (in 1971), the  internment law etc. I did 3 pages then stopped. I don’t think English readers will take very much to a French writer writing about the subject using it as a semi-comical political backdrop to the trials and tribulations of his characters.
Also, although I absolutely loved L’Explosion de la durite, I never finished reading L’Organisation,  I stopped, strange as it may sound, three quarters of the way. I enjoyed it till I was just suddenly sick with the irony of the tone. I have no doubt it’s a great book. It’s funny, it’s smart, extremely well-written. But it’s got this Flaubertian cool irony and venom.

However, I think L’Organisation may work for an English audience. It’s really savagely funny in places too and unforgiving about the history of the far-left in the seventies, and encompasses other countries than France.

Cécile Menon


  1. Reading beyond the IRA section of L’organisation repays! (And Rolin’s radical French view of Belfast in the 70s is excellent, too). Just as the book’s arch, ironic tone starts to pall, Rolin deftly tips the balance, moving to the next, much darker phase in his fictionalised memoir: the same needs and inclinations that got the author involved in radical underground organisations as a young man (and the same language and tone describing them) are now applied to his descent into a disturbing underworld of drug dealers and addicts, and thence to Lisbon, Africa and ex-Yugoslavia (a superb set-piece account of the break-up of a peace camp), through the 1980s and 1990s – things get nasty, but the intelligence and humour remain. His final self-portrait as a damaged soul seeking redemption and re-hab in the aftermath of all this is full of pathos and self-deprecating humour, and very moving.

    • Cécile Menon says:

      I did read beyond the IRA section and i agree with you Louise, that things getting nasty in the novel do not preclude to the intelligence and the humour of the writing. I think that the aggravating course the narrator’s life is taking through his travels and drifting felt a tad outre to me and I couldn’t (wouldn’t?) empathise though I could admire the virtuosity and was aware of the gruelling quality of the experiences recounted. I guess it simply was too strong a stuff for me when I read it a couple of years ago: the spiraling down wandering being too close to home!!! ;)


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