After winning over 300,000 readers with her previous novels, French writer Claire Norton returns this year with a feel-good new novel, The direction of our steps. Moving, luminous, delicate, deeply human, this story tells the wonderful bond that is created between Auguste, 85 years old, and Philomena, 15 years old. Their unexpected joint quest will bring them each a precious gift.
At first glance, Auguste and Philomène do not have much in common and nothing should have brought them together. However, this improbable duo undertakes a very particular quest. A quest for truth and a quest for meaning.
“I really wanted to talk about old age and give old age back its nobility and its virtues, while still putting life back at the heart of the story, because I think it's very important”, explains Claire Norton, in an interview.
“I feel that COVID has accentuated a lot of the little things that were crystallizing between the two ends of life, between these very young and older generations. . It has accentuated many divisions in our society. In France, it really opposed the young and the less young, and me, it really challenged me.
Finding a meaning
The older she gets, the more she advances in time, the more she realizes, she says, that the people who preceded her have or had something to tell us about how to seek or find meaning in our lives.< /p>
“Obviously, I'm talking about grandparents because often grandparents told us: you'll see when you grow up… It's something quite classic, but I think that it is true, in life.
“How many times, on little things, I remember anecdotes or details that my grandparents told me about and which now make a lot of sense. But for that, I had to grow up, mature a little and become aware of it. I think it's something that comes with time.”
So she chose to talk about old age, but without talking about it too darkly. “Often, when you talk about old age, it can be a little scary so I show it a bit like a fairy tale.”
At the same time, she chose to talk about transmission, which is part of our history. “That's why I put these two characters, Auguste and Philomène, who find themselves at the two ends of life. The only thing they have in common is that they are faced with an unpredictable ordeal.”
Auguste, inspiring man
She also imagined the character of Auguste, in mourning for his wife, jostled by the arrival of his son and his controlling daughter-in-law in his little universe. “Auguste is inspired by a real old man who rather touched me by what he was doing with his life. He was a man who was 87 years old, who continued to cycle his 30 kilometers every day, at a pace that commanded respect.”
“What really hurt me a lot was that he was a man who loved to live, above all. One day, he found out he had an incurable disease and it was terrible. I was young then and within a week I saw him wither away. I think the fear of death was such that it terrified him. I started from there to create my character of Auguste, who has to face the final stage of his life, who has lost none of his mental faculties and who, too, loves life above all.”< /p>
“To all our grandparents who have so often told us about:
“You will see, when you grow up…”,
“You will see, when you are my age…”,
and whose words take on more and more meaning as we walk in their footsteps…”