English translation unavailable for .
English translation unavailable for .

The Movies

Your novels often read like movies. Do you think so as well?

Movies are one of my main sources of inspiration, so it’s quite natural that my novels are structured like certain films.

I am a part of the VCR generation: the generation who discovered many movies not in theaters but directly on the TV screen with the possibility of watching the same scene over and over again…in other words, with the possibility of “deconstructing” the movie to better understand its structure and techniques. I am sure that this had an influence on my writing: very visual, with a halting structure and tension that mounts throughout the story.

Another major source of inspiration for the last 15 years or so: high-quality TV series such as Six Feet UnderLostThe SopranosMI5The West WingMad MenThe Wire… This is currently where you can find the most innovative plot lines, the least formatted subjects and the most inspired authors.

Are you afraid of your stories being misconstrued when they are adapted to the big screen? What did you think of the movie made out of Afterwards?

Yes, it is a risk. It’s easy to think of any number of books that were butchered when they became movies, such as…no, there are too many to name!

Nonetheless, it is a huge privilege to have a movie made from one of your books. When producers push each other out of the way for the chance to adapt your work, it proves how solid your story is and how strong the characters are.

The movie version of Afterwards was visually magnificent and the casting was top notch: John Malkovitch, Romain Duris, Evangeline Lilly. However, I know that some readers found the pace of the film a bit slow and the tone much darker than in the book…

Do you already think about the movie adaptation while you’re writing?

No, not at all. My writing is often very visual, but my territory is the novel. My medium is words and sentences. Bringing that to the big screen is another form of expression.

Have you ever thought about writing a screenplay for a feature film or for TV?

I’ve been asked to do this many times but have always refused up to now. As Jean-Christophe Grangé says “In writing, anything is possible, but in film, you have limits.”

Plus, in France, contrary to the US, the role of the screenwriter is reduced to “author-director”. The budget dedicated to writing is only a tiny part of the total budget compared to over there. This explains why so many French films have botched and self-centered storylines.

Nevertheless, it’s possible I might do this one day. But only if I’m convinced that the story I’m writing is better suited for the screen than for a book. And on condition I find competent and ambitious people to work with.

The Success

You are one of the most-read novelists in France. How do you feel about this success?

I am pleased and proud because, even though writing is not a competition, this kind of success does in a certain way validate my work.

I’m most proud of the fact that I got to this place without having any contacts in the publishing world. When I was 23 and started sending my manuscripts by post to publishers, I didn’t know anyone, not even a journalist. I wasn’t even from Paris et no one had recommended me.

Considering your success, you are said to be a “popular” writer. Would you describe yourself as such?

What I personally find reassuring is that I've never strived to be a popular writer at any cost. So the enthusiasm for my novels gives me free reign and doesn't force me to make any concessions.

There is nothing more gratifying for me than seeing people read my books on the metro or on the bus. Popular literature such as Agatha Christie, Barjavel or Stephen King...- is what first gave me a taste for books. It is the work of storytellers, written solely for the pleasure of reading. I have no qualms about being a “popular” writer. On the contrary, I am very proud of it...

Every time I meet my readers at book signings, I’m surprised by their diversity: all ages and sexes, but mostly young adults and teens. I think that’s what surprised me the most: that I managed to touch a generation that has a reputation of preferring video games and comic books to reading books.

How would you explain your success?

I don't think I'm in the best position to explain my own success, but I rather agree with the publisher Bernard de Fallois when he saus "a writer's most important skill is to captivate an audience". I've always wanted to write stories where the reader isso engrossed in the book that they can’t put it down.

Suspense is crucial for me and I work hard to constantly innovate. I want my stories to be original. I want every page to scream to be turned, and the end of every chapter to make the reader want to read the next one.

I also want them to experience what my characters experience. I thus do a lot of work to construct characters with depth that are not one-dimensional and are not superheroes.

Finally, I always try to structure my novels so that they can be read on two levels: one for entertainment, where we escape into the suspense, atmosphere and pleasure of page-turning and another where I try to address deeper themes and provoke thought.

At the end of your novels, instead of thanking your loved ones, you thank your readers. Why do you choose to do that?

Because I owe everything to my readers. For the past four years, they have been with me through my novels, by my side, and by that of my characters. They have made my stories their own, and they have heard them resonate in their own lives. They write to me and come to my book signings in large numbers. I owe my success to them.

Such a “love story” deserves at least a few sincere thank yous at the end of a book. It’s the least I could do… And, as I have often said, there is nothing that makes me feel prouder than seeing my books read on the metro. Because it’s popular literature, that of storytellers, and of the simple pleasures of reading, that as a child, led to my love of reading.

The Books

Where can I find your first novel Skidamarink?

You can’t…other than on online auction sites for a price I don’t recommend you pay! I am very fond of my first novel. Like many novices, I submitted it by post and it was accepted for publication by Editions Anne Carrière. This was in 2000 and the plot was about four people who got pieces of the Mona Lisa in the mail along with information about a mysterious meeting in an Italian chapel.

The Mona Lisa makes you think of Da Vinci Code, but this was four years before it came out and the style was more like Arturo Perez-Reverte than Dan Brown!

At the time, it got good press and there are a lot of people who want to read it today. So, I recovered the rights to Skidamarink and might one day rewrite it with the skills I have today. I’d like to make this debut novel into the novel I imagined, though for now it’s more like a chrysalis.

What are your literary preferences?

In poetry, Aragon and Apollinaire.

I like books more than I like authors. Among the classics: Her Lover (Belle du Seigneur) by Albert Cohen, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera, The Horseman on the Roof by Jean Giono. In poetry, Aragon and Apollinaire.

Among the more modern writers: Human Stain by Philip Roth, and Bag of Bonesby Stephen King, whose capacity to create anguish within the mundane I admire, The Reader by Bernard Schlink, Mystic River by Deennis Lehane, An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears, Atonement by Ian McEwan, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

When it comes to French writers, I’m a fan of Jean-Christophe Grangé feverish drive of every page he writes and of Tonino Benacquista for the universality of his characters.

Why are so many of your stories set mostly in the United States?

I don’t have a particular fascination with the US. I live in France, and I love my country, but it is true that many of my stories are set in New York.

Setting my novels in the US allows me to put distance between me and my story. This distance gives me the freedom to separate myself from my daily life.

The setting of a novel is important, because by creating the decor, it contributes to the credibility of a story. New York is a place where we feel anything can happen : the most wonderful of all love stories as well as the most atrocious tragedy.

It is a city I know quite well, since I lived and worked there for several months when I was 19. I left without having a real plan, and once there, I found a job as ice cream vendor, and would work 70 to 80 hours a week! Despite those hard working conditions, I fell in love with Manhattan, and every time I go back, I feel the same fascination with it as that first time.

Also, since 9/11, New York has become a resilient city. This state of mind often resonates with what my characters are going through.

However, for the last few years, Paris has also played an important role in my novels. Much of Call from an Angel and 7 Years Later... take place there.

The lives of your characters sometimes take on a supernatural dimension. Why is that?

There is often a misunderstanding when it comes to my novels. First off, because many of them (Lost and FoundGirl on PaperCall from an Angel and 7 Years Later...) have no supernatural plot elements. The supernatural, mysterious and thrilling elements are all excuses used to tackle deeper subjects under the pretense of playfulness and lightheartedness.

Afterwards... addresses the themes of mourning and of the frailness of our existence; A mix-up in Heaven, the role of coincidence and destiny; Will You Be There? is about old age, remorse and regrets. Lost and Found addresses the subject of resilience, the psychological capacity to overcome adversity, to conquer ordeals, to come out the other side strengthened by those experiences. One DayPerhaps is about second chances, and opens up for the debate the subject of responsibility for our choices, the tricks of fate and the opportunity to change its course. Next is about true love and its excessiveness and how it can make is change completely and do unimaginable things. It is a novel about appearances within a relationship that asks, How well to I really know the person I am sharing my life with?

The paranormal is thus a dramatic tool I sometimes use as a parable to evoke what I feel most passionately about: feelings, the meaning given to life, absence and fear.

These thoughts came to me when I was 24 after a car accident that had a deep impact on me. Luckily, I wasn’t badly hurt, but my car was totally destroyed. I had never before seriously thought about death, and I suddenly realised, in a split second, that it could come without warning at any moment. And so I wanted to write a story about this experience – the desire to live provoked by an encounter with death – but I didn’t know how to proceed. I was afraid that the subject matter was a little too morbid. Poeple are somewhat reluctant to read books about death, but they are more than happy to read ones filled with mystery, magic and the supernatural. Then I remembered those American films from the forties, that playfully disguise crucial questions: Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Jacques Tourneur’s La Féline, Joseph Mankiewicz’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. More recently, Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire and M. Night Shyamalan’s The 6th Sense have also used these techniques to talk about mourning and human nature.

With Call from an Angel, 7 Years Later… and Central Park, you have left aside the paranormal dimension in favor of police investigation. Is this a definitive change?

It’s not really new for me. The structure and pace of my novels have always been reminiscent of thrillers, though the stories are more cross-genre.

Currently, my preferred genre is suspense because it allows for an enjoyable read and the flexibility to address (maybe even more than the supernatural) subjects that are dear to me: family, relationships, world changes, human debauchery…

I really love mixing genres. I think it’s what makes my writing unique: playing with pre-determined codes and tackling themes in new and different ways.

I also try to make sure my writing does not become automatic. I’d rather die than write the same book twice. He who knows how to innovate and manages to surprise himself can take pleasure in writing.

Emotion is very present in your stories. What is your perception of what love is?

Love is the subject matter of all my books, and to tell you the truth, I can’t imagine writing a novel without a love story in it! In life, love is one of the most interesting things, isn’t it? It is love, or the lack of it, after all, that guides most human behaviour. To quote Christian Bobin: “Love is always the cause of our suffering, even when we think we are not suffering at all.”

Your readers have grown accustomed to your spectacular endings. Is this your signature style?

Be careful: this is not at all a writing system! It just happens that until now many of my stories have ended with a dramatic crescendo. Americans speak of “twist endings” when qualifying films or novels whose ending is a complete surprise.

As a reader or viewer, I’ve always liked plot twists that, at the end of the story, change the meaning of the rest of the story. I still remember how surprised I was as a child when I got to the end of certain Agatha Christie movies (Ten Little IndiansThe Murder of Roger Ackroyd) or films such as Psycho (I mean, the mother, stuffed in her armchair, what a fabulous twist!), Citizen Kane (the infamous Rosebud in the last frame) or Diabolique. Clouzot actually put on the movie poster: “Don’t be diabolical! Don’t give away the ending to your friends.”

More recently, director M. Night Shyamalan made this type of ending his signature (The Sixth SenseUnbreakable) as did David Fincher (Fight ClubThe Game). For those who like this kind of ending, I would also recommend Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane.

Et après

January 2004

How did you first get into writing ?

I first fell in love with books when I was ten years old. Up until then, books had always bored me, but the year I turned ten, I read a string of novels that blew me away: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, Ten Little Niggers by Agatha Christie…

Throughout my teenage years, I wrote my own tales in the form of short stories. When I turned 18, I started my first novel, the story of a man, separated from his wife, who is a brilliant pianist, and with whom he is reunited weeks before her death. I actually used part of it in Et Après... , for the characters of Garrett Goodrich and his wife. It took me three years to finish it, but I never sent it to any publishers, conscious as I was of its debut-novel characteristic shortcomings.

But no matter : I knew myself capable of telling a story over three or four hundred pages. Next time, maybe I would get it right…

My first published novel, Skidamarink, came out three years ago. It was a thriller, based on the hypothesis of the Mona Lisa being stolen, on a rich backdrop of globalization.

You’re an economics teacher in a collège in the South of France. Why did you choose that profession? And how to you manage to divide your time between it, and writing?

When I graduated from university, I hesitated for a long time between the private sector and going into public education. I finally decided to become a teacher, especially since my chosen topic, namely economics, gives me the chance to teach an ever evolving subject which is very relevant today.

Being a teacher nowadays is all about working on interpersonal relations… Pupils come to class with their fears and expectations… There’s no routine, and you have to be prepared to face all manner of unexpected situations.

Putting to one side the much talked about difficulties that schools are currently experiencing, this is a profession that is nonetheless a collection of fulfilling moments.

In addition to this full time job, I try to write every day. Since days can’t be stretched out to last forever, I often stay up very late writing, even if, in general, I tend to be more productive in the morning.

This regularity in my work is absolutely essential, since even this so-called ‘inspiration’ requires putting in some effort. In fact, I don’t wait for ideas to come find me before starting to work, since more often than not, it’s through work that I find ideas.

Your novel is set in New York. Why did you decide to write an ‘American’ novel?

Location is important, since setting the scene contributes to the credibility of the story. Of course, ET APRES could be set anywhere: Paris, London, Tokyo… But when the first flashes of the story came to me, there was no doubt in mind that it was set in New York at Christmas.

It’s because New York is a place where anything can happen. It’s a city I know well, since I worked there for a few months when I turned 19 selling ice cream, and each time I go back, it fascinates me all over again.

The important thing, though, once the choice was made, was to be very specific in the description of the city, especially the atmosphere. And so my publisher sent me to Manhattan to get some ideas.

Finally, a large part of the novel was written in the months following the events of September 11th.

The attacks confronted a lot of people with their own mortality. Many left the city, others reunited with an old loved one, or had a baby. In any case, many asked themselves this question: if another attack were to happen, how would I like to live my final moments, and with who?

And that is the theme of the novel. But never fear, it’s not fatalistic or morbid. On the contrary, it’s an ode to life. Since death escapes us, we are the only actors of our own existence, and it’s up to us, and no one else, to make the most of our time on earth in order to make it a better place.

Nathan had a Near Death Experience. Is that something that you have personal experience of?

Not exactly, even though I was involved in a car accident, a few years ago, and it had a deep impact of me. Thankfully, I wasn’t seriously injured, even though the car was destroyed. I had never really thought about death, but suddenly I realized that all it takes is half a second for it to sneak up on you without warning.

I think that it was after that experience that I started to think about a story centered around the Near Death Experience. I did a lot of research, reading all the books on the subject that I could lay my hands on, such as Life after Life by Raymond Moody, and more recent ones like La traversée by Philippe Labro… Such experiences are not a new occurrence: Plato, in his Republic, tells the story of a soldier who has one out on the battlefield. What is interesting about accounts of NDEs is that after going through it, most ‘survivors’ have a newfound love for life and for others, as if one needed to have touched death to fully appreciate life!

 Also, some claim that, after emerging from their coma, they discovered certain gifts, from a developed artistic sense to cognitive powers, which is what inspired me as a novelist.

And since one book leads to another, I started to become interested in the accompanying of the dying, through the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (which inspired a large part of the Doctor Goodrich character) and Marie de Hennezel.

The paranormal manifests itself in the life of your character, Dr Goodrich, as he claims to predict people’s deaths. In your opinion, is his power a gift or a curse?

Both, I think. It’s a gift inasmuch as it was given to him so that he could help people. Goodrich comes into contact with people who are about to die in order to enable them to put their lives in order before they go, and to make peace with others and with themselves.

On the other hand, it’s also a curse, because psychologically, it is a very heavy burden to bear, one that he can never get rid of, and that is therefore only reserved for exceptional beings.

The love story that you created between Mallory and Nathan is uniquely powerful. Do you enjoy writing about our human emotions?

I can’t imagine writing a novel that doesn’t have a love story! Since it’s either love, or the lack of it, that guides much of human behaviour. To quote Christian Bobin: “We always suffer for love, even when we think we are not suffering at all”.

Having said that, I hate anything that is sickly sweet and vapid. ET APRES is in fact not a “romance novel”, per se.  It is the story of a man who, convinced that he has very little time left, tries to rebuild the bridges he has burned in the past.

We therefore see a whole plethora of emotions: romantic love between him and his former wife as he tries to win her back, fatherly love between him and his daughter, love between him and his mother, and finally, a story about friendship and growth with Doctor Goodrich who, in his own way, will become a mentor and initiator for something that you will discover only at the end of the book.

Since you bring it up, the end of your novel is very surprising…

Yes, we see a real reversal in the plot, a “twist” that gives the story a whole new meaning. Of course, all stories can’t be treated in this manner, but I have always been fascinated by movies or novels that manage to create a real element of surprise in the conclusion.

Everyone remembers the end of PsychoThe Sixth SenseThe Usual Suspects, or Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Who, in literature, inspires you and elicits your admiration? How about in the world of film?

Among the classics, BELLE DE SEIGNEUR by Albert Cohen has without a doubt impacted me the most. When it comes to modern foreign writers, Stephen King, for his capacity to bring fear into our day to day lives, Patricia Cornwell, for making a heroin so easy to empathize with, and Caleb Carr, author of The Alienist, for the sheer humanity of his characters.

For my writing, I also draw inspiration from the masters of the American thriller (Grisham, Crichton…) not so much for the themes they address but more for the way they construct their chapters and their stories.

Among modern French writers, the ones that absolutely stand out for me are Jean-Christophe Grangé, for the feverish pace that jumps out at you from every page, as well as Tonino Benaquista.

Movies also inspire me. Of course, a book differs from a movie, but I try to give certain chapters a very visual style, with a very choppy structure, and a consistent rhythm.

I especially enjoy Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, as well as such great classics of American comedy as The Seven Year Itch and The Apartment by Billy Wilder, as well as The Shop around the Corner by Ernst Lubitsch. And, more recently, The Sixth Sense, Silence of the Lambs, the Blue, White, Red trilogy by Krzystof Kieslowski, Magnolia, and Groundhog Day

Have you thought about writing a screenplay?

Yes, I have two ongoing projects that I work on when I can find the time: one is a thriller, the other a comedy. I also enjoy tv series that allow you to follow characters over a longer period of time. I was really engrossed in Six Feet Under, for example.

Do you know what your next novel is going to be?

I already know it’s going to open in Manhattan, on the encounter between a man and a woman who never should have met… There will be suspense, a love story, and, most probably, a hint of the paranormal…

Will you be there ?

May 2006

After the wonderful success of your novels, in hardback and in paperback, you are known as a “popular” writer. Do you see yourself in that way?

There is nothing more rewarding than to see people reading my books on the train, or on the bus. Popular fiction, such as the work of Marcel Pagnol, Agatha Christie, Barjavel or Stephen King…is what, as a child, gave me a taste for reading. These are books of storytelling, and for the pure joy of reading. I have no issues with the term “popular” writer, on the contrary, I am quite proud of it… Every time I meet my readers at signings, I’m surprised by their diversity: readers of all ages, male and female, a whole variety of readers! But, the majority are young adults and teenagers.
I think that is what surprised me the most: that I could touch a generation known for preferring video games and comic books to reading.

Throughout your three previous novels, we can identify what is now known as the “Musso Style”, typically filled with suspense and emotion. How do you construct your stories?

I always try to write the kind of books that I would enjoy reading. I like being captivated by a story, to the point of not being able to put it down. And so, when I’m putting together the plot, I’m very aware of the twists and turns, and the building suspense. I like it when each page drives the reader to turn to the next and the end of each chapter leaves them wanting more. I try to be as inventive as possible, to set my scenes up almost like a film, without sacrificing the depth of my characters to it. I work hard at their “biographies”. I need to know them inside out in order to empathise with them, and for that mysterious chemistry to appear between them and the reader that will elicit the kind of emotion I want them to experience. In the end, what really interests me, are the little thrill that the reader will experience after he turns the last page. It’s my definition of “goosebumps” literature…

Can you introduce your new novel, Will You Be There?

The starting question was quite simple: If someone gave us a chance to go back, what would we change about our lives? That is the question that Elliott, a young, idealistic doctor is faced with when an old man suddenly shows up in his life, claiming to be him, in thirty years! This older doppelganger claims to be able to predict his future. In the light of these new revelations, Elliott decides to take charge of his own destiny…What grabbed my attention was the idea of setting up an encounter between a man and himself, at two different stages of his life. One is young, the other experienced. One has the knowledge, the other the ability, one wants to save his daughter, the other wants to save the woman he loves…It is from this confrontation that unity, and truth, will appear to him.

In order to arrange this face-to-face “encounter”, you broach the topic of time travel. Where do you get the idea?

Ever since I was a little boy, I have always been fascinated by stories of time travel. From H.G. Wells to Back to The Future, it is a classic theme in literature and film that allows for an entertaining approach to the more serious subject of the constant nature of the passage of time. The paranormal element allows me to tackle the theme of second chances, and to open a discussion about the responsibility we have for our own choices, the randomness of destiny, and the opportunity of changing its path. For many philosophers, the past and the future are in fact blights on our present. We are constantly torn, on the one hand between nostalgia and regrets about the past, and on the other, hopes and projects for the future. The risk, of course, is bypassing “real” life: the one you’re living in the moment.

Can you describe your process for writing Will You Be There?

The novel is set in part in San Francisco, so it was important for me to go there to absorb the Californian atmosphere. Just like New York, San Francisco is a very unique city, closer to European cities than American ones. The city was a hotbed of counter-culture in the sixties, and still retains a certain tolerance and an ease of life that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s not surprising that Americans have nicknamed it “Everyone’s favourite city”.
On the other hand, a large portion of the novel takes place in the seventies, which required a lot of research. I was born in 1974. My parents were thirty years old in the seventies. I started by taking out all their old photo albums! Then I really got into it, and immersed myself in that period, reading dozens and dozens of books, watching all the important films of that era, and diving into the CD racks to obtain music by the artists most in demand during that time: Hendrix, Clapton, Springsteen… I learned a lot about that fascinating time, link between the idealism of the hippie years and the cynicism of the eighties.

What are your literary and artistic inspirations?

When it comes to the classics, I like books rather than authors: Belle du Seigneur by Albert Cohen, The Horseman on the Roof by Jean Giono, The Stain by Philip Roth… As to writers who have influenced me: authors of American thrillers (Ludlum, Follett, Grisham…) for their efficiency, Stephen King for his ability to blend the paranormal with ordinary day-to-day life; and, from French writers, Pagnol and Barjavel, “popular” authors not always given their just recognition by critics.
My other main sources of inspiration are movies. I belong to the video generation: discovering films on the little screen, thus having the possibility of playing and replaying the same scenes over and over again, in other words, the possibility of “deconstructing” a film, and therefore identifying its structure and technical makeup more easily. I’m convinced that this will have influenced the way I write. Another major source of inspiration: English and American TV series, such as Six Feet Under, Lost, The Sopranos, Spooks, 24…This is where nowadays you will find the most innovative plots, the most flexible formats, and the most inspired authors. Indeed, fiction, in all its forms, plays a very important part in my life. It feeds my novelist’s imagination, of course, but it is also a source of pleasure, and protection from “real life”, which can sometimes cause us to despair, but which we sometimes cannot help but be lumbered with… Anais Nin expressed the same sentiment when she said that “we write in order to create a world we can live in”.

If it were possible for you to encounter yourself in thirty years’ time, just like your protagonist, what would you like to see in yourself?

Just knowing that I’m still alive in thirty years would be enough of a satisfaction! If this man could also have been useful to those around him, that would be even better.

Lost and Found

May 2007

How would you present this novel to your readers? 

The story begins with a family: Mark is a brilliant young psychologist, and he and his wife Nicole are one of the most glamorous couples in Manhattan. However, their married bliss is shattered when their daughter Layla disappears. Unable to face their pain together, Mark and Nicole finally separate. Time passes, and five years later, Layla is found in the exact spot where she disappears. She is alive, but strangely mute. After the joy of being reunited, come the questions. Where was Layla during this time? With whom? And most importantly : why did she come back ?

The possibility of rebuilding a life after a tragedy seems to be the theme throughout your novel…

The paranormal aspects, the mystery, the thriller are pretexts to address bigger questions. Afterwards… spoke of grief, and the frailness of existence; A Mix-up in Heaven addressed the role of fate and destiny, Will You Be There? was about getting old, guilt and regret.

Lost and Found is about resilience, the psychological ability to withstand adversity, to overcome tragedies and emerge on the other side, sometimes even stronger than before. For a long time, I have read Boris Cyrulnik’s work with interest and have enmeshed his message and credo that nothing is ever final into my story and characters.

Why do you ask your readers at the beginning of the book, not to reveal the ending?

Americans speak of “twist endings”, to describe those films, or novels, that manage to surprise you with their conclusions. As a reader, and viewer, I always enjoyed plot twists that come at the end to change the meaning of a story. For example, I still remember the surprise I felt, as a child, when I arrived at the finale of certain Agatha Christie novels (Ten Little Niggers, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), or of movies such as Psycho (the stuffed mother in an armchair was, one must admit, brilliantly thought out for its time…) Citizen Kane (the famous Rosebud in the final scene) or Les Diaboliques. In fact, Clouzot had the warning not to “reveal the ending to your friends!” added to the movie poster. More recently, M. Night Shyamalan’s specialty is this kind of ending (The Sixth sense, Unbreakable), as well as David Fincher’s (Fight Club, The Game). For lovers of the genre, I also recommend Shutter Island, a great novel by Dennis Lehane.

Your previous novel, which took place during two different periods of a man’s life, relied on very ambitious plot construction techniques. This one raises the stakes, with a series of flashbacks…

I always take great care in putting together the “skeleton” of my story. The succession of chapters, the progression of clues, the construction, touch after touch, of the character and past of my protagonists: all these elements come together to form the spine of my novel. I can spend anywhere up to six months putting together this framework, which must work as perfectly as clockwork.

The book is filled with visual allusions, and original and meticulous graphic presentations. Is this a conscious choice?

I try to always be as creative as possible. I’m always looking to innovate, to find more modern forms of making my story more visually attractive. Once again, this goes back to my childhood, when I first discovered Calligrammes by Guillaume Apollinaire. I hope one day to push the boat out even further with these visual tricks contained in my work, in the same sort of way Jonathan Safran Foer did with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

At the end of your novel, instead of thanking your loved ones, you thank your readers. Why did you choose to do that?

Because I owe everything to my readers. For the past four years, they have been with me through my novels, by my side, and by that of my characters. They have made my stories their own, and they have heard them resonate in their own lives. They write to me and come to my book signings in large numbers. I owe my success to them.

Such a “love story” deserves at least a few sincere thank yous at the end of a book. It’s the least I could do… And, as I have often said, there is nothing that makes me feel prouder than seeing my books read on the metro. Because it’s popular literature, that of storytellers, and of the simple pleasures of reading, that as a child, led to my love of reading.

And what is the status of the movie adaptations of your novels?

Production on Afterwards… begins this summer in New York. The casting sounds great: Romain Duris, John Malkovich and Evangeline Lilly, the heroine of the world famous TV series Lost.

Save Me will also be made into film, since book rights have been sold to Christian Fechner, and several producers are interested in A Mix-up in Heaven.

 Do you have any ideas already for your next novel? Your readers sometimes ask for a sequel to Afterwards… Is this a possibility?

I always have a dozen or so stories percolating in my mind. For now, I don’t know which is going to be put on paper next.

As to a sequel for Afterwards…It is true that I would love to take up another adventure with Nathan Del Amico and Garrett Goodrich, but I will only start working on that if I can come up with a plot that will be just as strong as the original.

One day, Pershaps

April 2008

In this new novel, the main protagonist dies in the first hundred pages…And the plot restarts all over again! Apart from the tour de force that is the construction of this book, what were you looking to achieve by setting up the repetition of the timeline?

Like most of my novels, this one can be read and understood on several different levels. You can choose to be carried away by the story, or you can see it as a reflection on the themes of redemption and getting a second chance.
Despite their modern tone, my stories are often inspired by mythology. It is the case here, where the repetition of each day brings to mind the myth of Sisyphus, as well as Prometheus’s torment, sentenced by the gods to have his liver repeatedly ripped out for the rest of eternity by the Caucasian eagle!
Finally, in this novel, through the voices of two different characters, two visions of the human condition are exposed: one that says our paths are written out somewhere, and another, influenced by Buddhism, where free-will plays an important role.

As we read your books, we get the impression that the irrational, or supernatural part, is shrinking in importance. Is this an expression of a will on your part to turn yourself towards a more classical form of writing?

There is sometimes a certain misunderstanding about my novels. The paranormal, the mystery, the thriller, are all pretexts used to address, under a sometimes humorous and light guise, issues which concern us all. Afterwards… talks about grief, and the frailness of our existence. A Mix-up in Heaven addresses a lovers’ first encounter, whereas Will You Be There? tackles getting old, guilt and regret. Lost and Found treats resilience; One Day, Perhaps raises the question of responsibility for our own choices, destiny’s random nature and the possibility of influencing its course.
The paranormal is therefore a literary tool that I sometimes use as parable to address issues that I feel passionate about: emotions, the meaning we give to our existence, the passing of time, destinies that are intertwined.
I probably draw inspiration for this from my admiration for certain American movies from the forties, which under the guise of entertainment, address crucial issues:
It’s a Wonderful Life by Frank Capra, La Féline by Jacques Tourneur, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Joseph Mankiewicz. More recently, Wim Wenders with Wings of Desire and Alan Ball in the TV series Six Feet Under have also used the paranormal in their work in order to talk about grief and the human condition.

Setting aside your chapter openings for the moment, this novel is illustrated with many references, from Kundera to Eluard, not to mention Carson McCullers. How do these references find their way into your novel? What purpose do they serve?

They come from my reading, and naturally come to me when I write. They generally help to define a character and allow me to share my literary tastes with my readers. Some interpret them as recommendations, like a reader who confessed that she read The Alchemy of Desire after reading a quote from it in Will You Be There?. Another discovered Belle du Seigneur after I quoted it in an interview.

Your style is very fluid and well paced. We get the impression that sentences flow easily, and the pages turn themselves. Do you feel fluent in writing?

Unfortunately not! My novels are the result of endless re-writing. As Anna Gavalda so humorously said, “It takes a lot of hard work to convince people that we don’t need to work at all!” But I’m very attached to this fluidity, which for me is a form of discreet elegance.

In this novel, the main character is professionally very successful and quite well-known, yet he feels desperate and hollow inside. Do you see a lot of yourself in him, or is this a way of illustrating the modern day value placed on success in general?

We all know what Stendhal said on the subject: “A novel is a mirror we carry down the road”. Even though I don’t write myself into the pages, it’s only natural that there is a bit of me in each character. It’s the only way to draw out true emotion: you have to empathize with them, live with them, not just during the year-long writing process but …for many years to come. These close and intimate relationships that connect me to my characters constitute the true heart of my writing, or at least the key to understanding the sincerity of it.

The first movie adaptation of one of your books is about to come out on the big screen. Others are in production. How do you feel about your work being screened in cinemas?

Looking at the first stills, the movie based on Afterwards… seems very promising! It’s unbelievable to see John Malkovich and Romain Duris bring to life characters that come straight from my imagination.
I’m impatient to see what other adaptations will look like, especially Lost and Found, the rights of which were purchased by Yves Marmion, the producer of Un Secret.
Of course, in any adaptation, you always run the risk of not finding in the movie what you liked about the book. But in any case, I feel unbelievably lucky to have seen my work adapted into film.
The fact that producers want to adapt your work is proof that the story is solid, and the characters strong.

Last year, you were one of the two French writers to sell more than a million copies. Your books have very positive word-of-mouth, your signings are always packed, and your work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages. Do you describe you

It’s very satisfying for me, since I always wanted to write for everyone: not only educated people, but also those who never went to university. Going by the many letters that I receive, I realize that I brought back the joy of reading to people who read very little, or not at all, and that is an achievement that I am very proud of. I also know that my books are taught in middle schools and high schools by certain French teachers. And finally, I’m always moved when I see that my work brings comfort to people who are suffering.

It is said that this success is due to the efficiency of your plots and the sheer humanity of your characters…

Every time I write a novel, I put nothing but honesty into my work. Poeple know my books are not “fabrications” and this touches them.

Is this success, which is now a given, a motivating factor, or do you feel pressured by it?

Knowing how to handle success is a rich person’s problem, isn’t it? Let’s just say that I am incredibly lucky to have a very close relationship with my readers. I see this connection as an “epistolary love story”, a relationship based on trust and communication. So it’s true that, success breeds anxiety and nerves: certain readers are impatient to read my work, and I would be unhappy to let them down. I consider it a duty, therefore, to do just as well, if not better, with each book.

Where would I be without you

April 2009

Where would I be without you? is your sixth novel, and your success is ever growing. Tell us about your state of mind as this newest work is about to be released.

I am impatient : I cannot wait to bring this story to my readers, and to share this experience with them again. I am lucky to enjoy a close relationship with many of my those who read my work. I receive quite a considerable amount of correspondence, and for the past few months, I can feel the mounting anticipation that surrounds this latest novel, which I would qualfy as different from anything I’ve done before.

I wrote first and foremost for my readers, and I know that word of mouth is at the heart of my success. That’s why before every new novel’s publication, I suffer from a real case of “stage fright,” the way actors do just before the curtain comes up.

Can you tell us a little bit about this newest novel?

I wanted this book to be full of optimism, a feel-good story if you will. Just like that feeling you get sometimes, when you just need to sit in front of a good movie, that you know is going to make you feel good, make us laugh, bring you a taste of adventure and comfort you at the same time..

I wanted it to be a sweeping work of fiction, a cross section of various genres: part thriller, part comedy, part family drama, a coming-of-age tale and a love story all in one. I mostly wanted to create characters that echoed what my feelings are at the moment: men and women resolutely looking ahead, who are making an effort to build a life for themselves rather than trying to escape their destinies or misfortunes.

It’s also the first time you have chosen a woman as your main protagonist…

Yes, the central character at the heart of the story is a 30 year old woman named Gabriella, who lives in San Francisco. She is a woman who learned from her own mistakes, and whose weaknesses and faults I find more endearing than her qualities. She is wounded from being left by the two men in her life, who suddenly reappear after she thought them gone for good.

The book also describes a confrontation between a cop and a famous thief who deals in works of art.

Yes, it was a pleasure writing about the world of art. I have had, for a long time, a true love of “modern” paintings and sculpture. From the impressionists to the monochromatic works of Ryman and Soulages, not to mention of course Van Gogh, Brancusi and Picasso, some of these works have had as much meaning to me as the work of famous novelists.

This passion of mine dates back to the early days of my adolescence, and my discovery of Parisian museums.

The opening scenes of this new book take place in Paris in fact…

It’s true, it’s the first time that France is so present throughout my story!

For a long time, the imaginary world I created worked better within the United States. For complicated reasons, it was more colourful in an American setting. This time, however, the novel starts in my beloved Paris: along the Seine, among the Bouquinistes, at the Musée d’Orsay, through winding cobbled streets near the Montsouris Park. Passing by the quays along the river at two in the morning, you truly realize you are in the most beautiful city in the world!

The story continues in San Francisco, which is, with New York, my favourite city in the States, with its balmy climate, the openness of its inhabitants, and of course, the dream of freedom long associated with California.

The story ends in a mysterious location. Without giving too much away, are we seeing you return to the supernatural register?

The last fifty pages indeed take place in a particular setting, and I can’t wait to see how the readers will interpret it.

For now, I want to reveal as little as possible! I always aim to preserve the pleasure of reading….

Are you happy being labelled as a « popular writer », as you are now known?

More than happy, I’m proud. I feel very privileged to be able to speak to not only those who read one book a year, but to those who read several a week! I always wanted to write novels that can be read by large numbers of readers, without compromising on my aims to address challenging issues in my books. I keep in mind Francois Truffaut’s quote, who wanted to make films that both ‘entertain and elevate’.

With that in mind, I feel a kinship with certain authors and screenwriters of American dramas, who, for the past fifteen years, use the media of television to tackle difficult and painful themes in a ludic manner, such as: Alan Ball, creator of Six Feet Under, Aaron Sorkin of The West Wing fame, J.J. Abrams with Lost, and Michael Crichton with ER.

You publish one book a year. Do you still have time to read?

Fortunately, yes! Reading, and fiction in general, have always played, and will always play, an important part in my life. My favourites of the moment are The English Major by Jim Harrison, and the fascinating Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, which shows how much the roads of creation and writing can be a internal journey full of twists and turns, and mystery.

You talk a lot about your readers. How do you explain the privileged relationship you mentioned earlier ?

I read so much nonsense in articles that tried to explain or rationalise the success of my novels! The most important element is of course this very special relationship, a chemistry that I prefer to experience rather than analyse!