The saving laugh of Yasmina Reza

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She’s funny, Yasmina Reza. And this humor is so precious, so necessary today, that his new novel, Serge, takes on the appearance of an oxygen cylinder for leaden times. Since her beginnings as a playwright, which propelled her under the fires of international fame, Yasmina Reza has never stopped working on this laughter. She takes it very seriously, she makes fun of academics and socialites who look down on humor, as a sort of hobby for the simple. She knows very well that those people have understood nothing.

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So, with a confusing mastery, she uses humor as a cog, at the heart of her narrative mechanics, which lays bare what is not said, is not thought, is not seen. Laughter, for her, is both a powerful revealer and an all-terrain poetic agent. She uses it a bit like a magic wand, which could, all of a sudden, in the midst of the most mundane daily life, X-ray what makes everyone fragile, at best haggard, at worst helpless.

A boy without a story

Serge, so. This is a novel of course, but the art of dialogue that unfolds here is such that one leaves it with the clear impression of having seen, heard, touched the characters, who, while reading , are activated on our mental stage. The Serge of the title is the eldest of three siblings, all adults for a long time, in these years of the end of the fifties which make pitch between maturity and what comes next.

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Since childhood, Serge takes all the place, by his overflowing character, trickster on the edges, and his patter. Then comes John, the narrator: “I didn’t interest my father. I was the good boy with no history, who worked well, did just like his brother and had no personality. Unlike Serge who drove him mad with his white-faced opinions, his looks, his deceit, his arrogance. ” Then comes Nana, the parents’ darling daughter.

Family madness

What interests Yasmina Reza is precisely the nature of the links that unite the three Popper “children”, the way in which the place in the siblings determines attitudes and paths. She also watches for the energy that circulates in families, this “madness” made up of emotionality, indescribable love, roles, outbursts, boredom and discomfort. In concentric circles, she makes Jean say what constitutes the “texture” of this fraternity despite the years: these are their children’s games, fed on westerns, Serge as an indefatigable leader, Nana and Jean as docile seconds. glory and suffering before erotic temptation disturbs purity ”.

Mother’s death

So it is in the family theater, or the circus itself, so much the Popper family has a sense of drama and repartition, that the reader finds himself propelled from the first pages. With the inaugural cymbal stroke, the death of the mother. Jean is convinced of it: the arrival of the gigantic medical bed in the small nursery room precipitated the death. Yasmina Reza unfolds a foolproof situation comedy that revolves around an inexhaustible axis: the incompetence of humans in the face of emotions.

The paroxysm is reached at the funeral ceremony (a classic in the author of Conversations after a funeral) then to the café terrace, at the exit of the cemetery. That’s when Joséphine, Serge’s daughter launched the idea, in the tone of someone who would make his “To do list”: “This year, I decided to go to Osvitz” . “AOCHWITZ”, corrects Serge immediately, exasperated. “I can’t let my daughter say Osvitz!” Where did she learn that? ”

Travel to poland

One thing led to another, the girl’s project became an improbable family trip with Serge dragging his feet, Jean trying to hold the troop and Nana and Joséphine, applied to live the pilgrimage intensely. The trip to Poland will be the climax of the novel. The relationship to Judaism and especially to Israel is thus the other common thread of the book: what are the links here again to these other families which are religion, country, nation? And it is on this theme, oh so undermined, that the mastery of Yasmina Reza particularly impresses. It is undoubtedly thanks to the strength of her characters and the accuracy of their voices, that she manages to say, with total freedom of tone and without false note, the unease in the face of the cult of memory and its “business”. “.

Romance of silence

But wherever she takes her characters, the novelist first and foremost captures the gap between what is said and what is felt. The verbal flow that she puts in the mouths of her protagonists, and especially in that of Serge, a ball of anguish under her air of big mouth, is only an illusion. As a narrator-witness, Jean is the one who, paradoxically, “speaks” the least. He listens and restores, also caught up in emotions that go beyond him. If, in appearance, Serge is the novel of a family that talks a lot, it is in fact that of silence, this inner silence which Jean manages to translate the material at a few key moments. Suspended moments where the echo of intimate solitude resounds, facing the world, facing death. All the family hubbub cannot camouflage this silence. The laughter that Yasmina Reza gives birth to is just an elegant way to make it resonate in our ears.


Yasmina Reza, “Serge”, Flammarion, 234 pages

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