THE SOUND OF THE WORLD
(Les Éditions Noir sur Blanc, 165 pages, 2018)
There are traces of Duras or Annie Ernaux in the style of Stéphanie Chaillou. —Le Figaro Littéraire
Marie-Hélène Coulanges, also known by her nickname Marilène, grew up in Brigneau, a small hamlet in rural France. As a young child, her future seemed as wide open as the fields surrounding the family farm. But the fields are heavily mortgaged. Marilène is born poor and she does not know it yet. That awareness, latent at first, will slowly find its way into her consciousness —a convergence of images, sensations, and feelings that she experiences but cannot name. When she leaves her family behind to step into a new world full of promise, she cannot find her place in it. Not until she realizes that her story, all of it, Brigneau included, is worth telling.
After having lost their farm, Marilène’s parents move to town and find solace in the relative security provided by steady, if meager, salaries. They are proud when Marilène, a good student, is offered the chance to study in a prestigious prep school. She is excited even if she stumbles on that word, chance. “To those who already have it—she can’t help think—it is not necessary to give it.” Her confidence is soon shattered in an environment in which she feels invisible and lacking. Nothing will ever compensate for her cultural backwardness, the books she did not read, the museums she did not visit, and the travels she did not experience. Locked into silent suffering, Marilène retreats back home, and resumes the motions of a life more attuned to her family’s expectations. But it is too late. Marilène cannot deny the part of herself that led her in the first place to move beyond the social milieu in which she was born.
Written in a pared-down and poetic style, The Sound of the World tells of the secret wounds, self-doubt, and shame—and the shame at being ashamed—of a young woman venturing on a path of upward mobility. It is a novel about the courage to be oneself, and the redemptive virtues of literature. Through writing, Marilène can at last make sense of her life, but she also realizes that her story is not hers alone.
Stéphanie Chaillou is a novelist and the author of three books of poetry. Her first novel, L’Homme incertain (Alma Editeur, 2015), was selected for the RTBF Première Prize and the Fnac literary season, and adapted for the stage. Le bruit du monde is her third novel after Alice ou le choix des armes (Alma Editeur, 2016.)