‘All Men Do Not Inhabit This World in the Same Way’: The world could be inhabited with dignity

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Taking a look on the literary offer from the beginning of the year 2021, I noticed a book that won the 2019 Goncourt Prize, one of the most prestigious and influential literary prizes. The Goncourt Prize has been awarded annually since 1903, and among the award-winning writers there are Marcel Proust, Jean Fayard, Simone de Beauvoir, Georges Duhamel, Antonine Maillet. Thus, despite the fact that the short presentation of the novel did not arouse my interest, I decided (and my intuition did not deceive me this time) to buy Jean-Paul Dubois’s book: ‘Tous les hommes n’habitent pas le monde de la même façon’.

About the author

Jean-Paul Dubois is a French journalist and writer born in Toulouse, in 1950. He has written several novels and travel articles and he is a reporter for Le Nouvel Observateur. After obtaining, in 1996, the France Télévisions Novel Prize, and in 2004 the Femina Prize, he manages to obtain the coveted Goncourt, in 2019, with his latest novel, ‘All Men Do Not Inhabit This World in the Same Way’, published in Romania by Litera Publishing House in 2020.

About the book

 ‘All Men Do Not Inhabit This World in the Same Way’ is a sad book. A book in which the characters seem to step on predestined paths, with an inexplicable resignation. This is the feeling that haunted me throughout the book: resignation. And this feeling was not alleviated not even by the single violent gesture of rebellion of the main character, Paul Christian Frédéric Hansen, a gesture that will send him behind bars in Montreal, at the age of 53.

The rhythm of writing is a slow one, with a constant flow, which makes, in a way, inexplicable the fact that the novel captivates you from the first lines. That must be the writer’s talent.

The story of the book is the story of Paul’s family, seen and told in the first person, by Paul himself, from a cold prison cell, generally keeping an objective tone but with beautiful subjective slips, extremely touching. Paul was born in Toulouse, having a beautiful and charismatic young Frenchwoman as a mother and a Danish pastor who lacks these qualities, as a father. The couple is perceived as being contrasting even by their son who also notices that the incompatibility is deepened by the antagonistic professions of the two spouses: she manages a cinema inherited from her parents, where all the trendy movies will be screened and where Marxist political propaganda will be made, while he is an extremely tolerant and discreet pastor concerned exclusively with writing sermons for his parishioners.

Paul will inherit from his father, Johanes, the sense of duty that will define him throughout his entire life. In fact, he will have a closer relationship with his father than with his mother (whose love the young man feels deprived of), a relationship based on an interesting mixture of respect, compassion and love. The pastor’s struggle for his faith in God and his resignation when losing this faith is cynically described. And the epiphany of the futility of his pastoral profession without faith, will push him to a profane living, leading to an extremely expensive price to pay.

Paul, the serious, discreet, cloistered and sensible guy is best described by his profession – he does everything that needs to be done in the L’Excelsior building. He is the doorman, the confessor, the gardener, the psychologist, the technician, the plumber, the electrician, the handyman, the chemist, the mechanic – ‘a respectable guardian of that little temple’ from which he has almost all the keys and knows all its secrets.

We find out that Paul is the very spirit of the building, his involvement not being limited to a good functioning in material meaning, he is also involved at a human level. His kindness, compassion and love for people will make us love him and empathize with him, even when it comes to the conflict that will lead to his imprisonment.

Paul’s perfectly organized and quiet life, with no exaltation at all, will become colorful and will gain perspective (literally and figuratively) with the appearance of Winona in his life – the Algonquin Indian girl who would become his wife in the acceptance of her aboriginal culture. Later, the little dog Nouk will complete the family, and Paul’s love for Nook and the special emotional connection the two of them will have, will emphasize once again the sensitivity that the man is capable of and the way in which an animal can alleviate deep human suffering.

I will refer briefly to some well-defined characters, just enough to arouse your interest:

  • Patrick Horton – Paul’s cellmate, a frightening motorcyclist imprisoned for crime, towards whom the reader will have contradictory feelings;
  • Kieran Read – Paul’s only friend, whose life is marked by the profession he practices – he assesses “the price” of dead people;
  • Gérard LeBlond – the one who passionately plays the church’s organ, described as an “infernal machine” whose musicality seems to surpass, from the perspective of the parishioners, the message of pastoral sermons.

The author will create comic situations and will often approach even dramatic events in a humorous note or with bitter ironies.

Jean-Paul Dubois captivated me with this emotional book about family ties, including the theme of connection to the ancestral land, about doubt and faith, compassion, death, duty, friendship, humanity, love. I liked the symbolism of the sand (later replaced by asbestos dust) that appears repeatedly and seems to have a life of its own, eroding, grinding and blurring the surrounding material world. And I wonder – apart from the date, the place of birth and, partially, the name – what other events / features / emotions does the author have in common with his character?

The original title of the book, translated word for word, is ‘All Men Do Not Inhabit This World in the Same Way’. You’ll surely admire the way Paul chooses to inhabit the world – with dignity. As for the meaning of the title under which the novel was published in Romanian, ‘Each man has his own story’, the author encoded it in a memorable sermon by Pastor Johanes and I leave you the pleasure to decipher it… sat comfortably in an armchair, with a glass of red wine. The book is … Lust For Flying.

  • To the author:

Mon cher Jean-Paul, merci pour la fin du livre! Je l’ai senti venir, entre les lignes, et je l’ai reçu avec beaucoup d’émotion!

(My dear Jean-Paul, thank you for the end of the book! I felt it coming, from between the lines, and I received it with a lot of emotion! – Google translation, French language)

Read more book reviews by Raluca Neagu here.

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