The Hôtel de Massa is a handsome historical edifice in the 14th arrondissement, not far south of the Sorbonne, on the rue du Faubourg St. Jacques. It is the headquarters of the Société des Gens de Lettres, a sort of French Authors Guild, of which Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud was president from 2000 to 2002. He had told me to meet him there at a quarter to one, and he was late.
The receptionist rose from her desk and came to the lobby to tell me that his RER commuter train had been delayed. Later, striding briskly toward the restaurant, Châteaureynaud explained that someone had committed suicide by leaping onto the tracks. They were probably still cleaning the remains off now. If he hadn’t given up and changed trains, he might still be waiting. The thought of another year was apparently, for some, a terrible prospect.
Châteaureynaud sported a beige corduroy trilby and a winter beard. Well but not closely trimmed, it made his jaw look squarer than I’d remembered. The Contre-Allée, when we got there, was abuzz with business lunchers, but Châteaureynaud seemed a familiar face, and we were seated straightaway. He confided that the restaurant had survived changes of management without any loss of quality, and ordered the same thing for us both: half a dozen oysters each and a bracing Sancerre, followed by risotto with scallops.
The last time we’d met, in July, the author had been between projects. Now he was again, having just finished La vie nous regarde passer (Life Watches Us Go By), memoirs of the early part of his life. They were due out from Grasset in the spring. I appreciated the title, which seemed to me typically Castelreynaldian, encapsulating as it did his sense of the impersonality of fate, and the fatalistic wistfulness of some of his forlorn, bewildered protagonists. Châteaureynaud was already contemplating his next novel, though he hadn’t started writing yet. He was under contract, and the deadline was November.
“I’m at a sort of crossroads,” he mused. The first book-length critical study of his work had just come out last spring. It had made him aware of continuities, connections, favorite themes and situations throughout his work in a way he had never quite so consciously been. Perhaps they had even prompted the self-evaluation that had in turn led him to delve into his childhood. All he knew was that he couldn’t go back, couldn’t use his own past in the same way—couldn’t, in a sense, go home, at least not to home as he had last imagined it.
“I can’t revisit Eparvay, or Écorcheville,” he said, naming two towns where several of his stories and novels had been set. “They’re dead to me. I don’t know where I’m going next yet, but it’s going to have to be somewhere entirely new.”
It was a bracing place to be, with a year stretching out before us. I wished him luck.