France is in crisis – a social, economic and political crisis. The terror attacks have particularly deprived the French of some of their renowned joie de vivre. Occasionally, however, it shines through like in Olivier Bourdeaut’s surprise bestseller Waiting for Bojangles (“En attendant Bojangles”).
Waiting for Bojangles – the title of this debut novel is naturally an allusion to Beckett, even if Olivier Bourdeaut’s humour is not absurd, but light-hearted and exhilarating like a musical comedy. Unlike in Godot, nobody must wait long in his narrative for Mr Bojangles, as Nina Simone’s song is always played when the narrator’s parents want to dance to it. And they want to dance every day. As their son reminiscences decades afterwards, their life comprises music, parties and holiday paradise. Dreams are simply better than everyday woes. Whether “writing stories without rhyme or reason”, changing one’s name daily, drinking garish cocktails or lying like a trooper – these parents justify any means to give reality “a kick in the butt”. Olivier Bourdeaut narrates the story in dancing verses, with ludicrous word creations and plenty of fantasy, a bit of Münchhausen, a bit of Molière and lots of Boris Vian… it was the recipe for a bestseller. Last winter, sales in France reached 80,000 copies in just a few weeks. “Why is everybody reading this novel?”, mused the critics in Figaro. Because it’s about love, about the wonderful, mad love of a crazy father and a crazy mother whose life begins so light-footed and would end so sadly, if it were not for the poetry. “A tale, sparkling as Champagne, in which death becomes a lie and laughing and crying alternate to the rhythm of a waltz”, comments Télérama. 35-year-old Olivier Bourdeaut hesitated for a long time before he wrote his first novel because “he always felt so small before his bookshelf”. But then he lost the job (that he hated) as a real estate agent and finally plucked up the courage to give his creativity free rein. Waiting for Bojangles, published by the small publisher Editions Finitude from Bordeaux, has been translated into multiple languages and awarded numerous prizes.
By Katja Petrovic
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright