“The Perfect Girl”, by Nathalie Azoulai, or the art of the double

Adele is dead. She hanged herself at 46. We would like to laugh: she is dead, Adèle … But her friend Rachel, who is nevertheless full of humor, does not have the courage to make jokes. Being a writer, she already knows that she will never “cry”, as they say, ever. However The perfect girl it is a first attempt to bury the beloved friend under the pages, and to resurrect her at the same time. Rachel dives into her memories to try to understand, and the pages one after the other thrown on this corpse swinging at the end of her rope hide it and celebrate it at the same time. Like Éluard’s “uninterrupted poetry” after Nusch’s death.

I met Nathalie Azoulai almost seven years ago, in Aix-en-Provence, in a Salon du Livre where she came to talk about Tito didn’t like Berenice, that he was going out and that that year earned him the Medici. We exchanged a few phrases that must have been intelligent – and that, on his part, they certainly were. Without knowing it, we emerged from the same matrix: the ENS de Saint-Cloud-Fontenay and the aggregation of Lettere. She managed to extricate herself from the teaching, which must make some people dream, I am encrusted with it, which must horrify some, each in her own way.

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Tito didn’t like Berenice tells about Racine’s life and, in counterpoint, the decline of a modern passion. I suspect that Nathalie Azoulai first thought of putting Racine in counterpoint to modern history, and that she realized, along the way, that there was more and better to say about the tragic Jansenist than the sentimental whims of a pale heroine.

He has since published several novels and a new translation of Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece: and Rachel is, in the novel, an Anglicist, and works on Woolf. It would take no more for an idiot graduate to suspect a hint of autofiction in this perfect girl. But it’s useless, no … Let’s talk about literature, not voyeurism.

“A head with two bodies”

So, Rachel / Adele. Sufficient rhyme in the ear – it sounds like a revisited Beatles song … She, in the singular: from two blond but so different women, Nathalie Azoulai makes a symbiotic being, half literary, half scientific, born from the coalescence of two backgrounds that each predestined to this vocation: “I was the heir to what made French culture shine for centuries”… The middle law is tough, but it’s the law. There is no shortage of references to Darwin: you are not born a mathematician (or novelist), you become one.

And the synthesis of these two brilliant intelligences is luminous: “Consider that we are the two daughters of the same family”Rachel said; “One will be a mathematician and the other a grammarian. Our parents will feel as if they have made a kind of perfect offspring that spans the entire spectrum of knowledge … “

Better : “We were no longer two distinct individuals, but a single substance in fusion, neither man nor woman, a human substance, a head with two bodies on a mission to search, alternate and find what beauty was”. Have we not known since the time of Pythagoras that Beauty is a geometric relationship?

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It is therefore like Montaigne and La Boétie: if the latter had survived tuberculosis in 1563, the former would have written the Evidence – who are themselves a gigantic tomb, in the literary sense of the word, for the missing friend and is still there? This novel that Rachel is writing, what is it but the Tomb of Adèle, who died perhaps from not winning the Fields Medal when she promised her father that she would own it? We always die more or less than our parents.

Why die?

But why die? “There comes an age when you can laugh at dinner and kill yourself in the morning.” Let’s remember Camus: “It is difficult to fix the precise moment, the subtle step in which the spirit bet for death …” It is towards this necessarily unanswered question that the book orients itself in its last part, where all the masks of irony fall and where only the emotion at the limit remains, the deepest part of being.

It is finally the smartest feminist novel since then the tangerines – without the author having to be called “author” or “teacher”. Nathalie Azoulai includes in her story an appeal to girls to dare to pursue a scientific career. Like Rachel, who she counted in the amphitheater “two hundred thirty-eight boys and me”. And who likes to be as feminine as possible in this world of big male heads … The perfect girl is a delightfully morbid novel, written with a profound lightness that is Azoulai’s signature style. You don’t have to lose it.

Nathalie Azoulai, The perfect girlPOL, 313 p., € 20
Nathalie Azoulai, Tito didn’t like BereniceFolio-Gallimard, 304 pages, 2017, € 8.20

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