“L’île haute”, a story at the height of the sky and a child signed Valentine Goby – rts.ch
Straddling the Swiss border, “L’île haute” by Valentine Goby (Ed. Actes Sud) is a double change of scenery: it moves the reader to a mountain village during the Second World War, whose daily life comes to us through the eyes of a child.
From home, Vadim must forget everything. Arriving in Vallorcine in Haute-Savoie, he will change family, first name, and even lungs. The asthmatic child of “L’île haute”, the sixteenth novel by Valentine Goby (Ed. Actes Sud), is in danger if he stays in Batignolles, the popular district of Paris where he grew up between the workers’ workshop of her father and her mother’s skirts.
We are in 1942, the year in which his alpine exile takes place. Getting off the train that drops him off in Chamonix, Vadim will be renamed Vincent. The landscape in front of him is completely new to the boy’s eyes: like a blank page where the rest of his story will be written, the omnipresent snow covers the mountains he sees for the first time.
He sees, standing in the middle of a deep indentation and etched against the pale sky, a vaguely triangular, asymmetrical black and white shape, with a planed top askew (…) Vincent has seen engravings of mountains, in the textbooks schoolchildren, perhaps a few duotone photos of waterfalls or glaciers, they left no imprint in his memory, a paper landscape.
There is this Kandinsky painting seen in a neighbor’s book. But the design of that time does not resemble the Aiguilles Rouges massif facing it. How to name what we have never seen, touched, smelled, tasted? Valentine Goby, also author of an important work of children’s literature, stood at the height of a child to give readers the impression of discovering with Vincent all the sensations he is experiencing for the first time.
What has always interested me is the immediate relationship to events and to the world to return to this state of stupor which is also terror or wonder in the face of radical novelty.
The birth of the calf, the freshly trodden powder, the flattening of molehills, the hatching of butterflies, the hot brick as a hot water bottle, the smell of the chalet in winter, the first flower after the snow melts, the taste of frog’s eggs and the one from Olga’s mouth… Taken in “this age of ignorance and endless beginnings”, protected from war by altitude and forests, Vincent lives in “L’île haute “an accelerated training in contact with nature and the Vallorcins, these peasant-dancers anchored to steep slopes, whose tasks change with the seasons, but not the harshness of their lives.
Through them, Valentine Goby brings to life a formidable palette of secondary characters: Moinette, a “night owl disguised as a little girl”, Blanche, the mother from Gironde whom he spies on while washing, the silent but protective abbot or Martin, the blind boy who reads Alexandre Dumas in braille.
Extremely documented, “The High Island” is not only the rebirth of a puny child threatened by the darkness of his time. It is also the novel of a world, of a language and of gestures which have disappeared, buried under the sedimentary layers of time, and which the author brings back to life through the miraculous voices of the story.
Valentine Goby, “The high island”, Ed. Actes Sud, 268 pages
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