When small and big stories of swimming and lives take turns on a crescendo tempo, it gives Chlorine, successful novel by Bruno Giroux, writer, teacher in Martinique, but also trainer and swimmer in the Transnage Caraïbes club. Interview between the lines.
Ex-trainer in sports-studies at the Lycée Raymond Naves in Toulouse, from which several swimmers selected for the France team will come out, Bruno Giroux, 54, now trains and swims in the Masters section of the Transnage Caraïbes club in Martinique. He also regularly dips his feather in the bath of swimming, but not only. In his latest novel Chlorine (Talent Editions, 18 euros), it delivers a very poetic, but also very realistic story around the story of a father and a son shaken by a family drama where swimming and its champions play the role of “lifebuoy. » Two hundred and twenty-two removed pages where the shadows of Alfred Nakache, Alex Jany and Jean Boiteux reappear, but also the lesser known one of Charles Devendeville, Olympic champion in the 60 meters under water during the Paris Games in 1900.
Chlorineyour latest novel, is it initially the ambition of a well-tuned relay between literature and swimming?
What I didn’t want above all was to do a Prévert-style inventory around swimming. But rather write a poetic, magical tale around the story of my characters. For example, when I talk about the Paul-Asseman swimming pool in Dunkirk, where I swam and coached, it’s actually quite easy because there is a very Francis Ponge side (poet close to the surrealist movement, editor’s note) in this place that has hosted so many championships: a kind of oyster placed on the edge of the beach. And then, there is behind the scenes, with its physical reality: the rather complicated exercise of putting on a suit, the stress, the fear, the piss, the shit of the locker rooms and the call room…
A universe that you know well since you train and you are still a swimmer in the “masters” category?
Indeed… I have always had a double course, shared between literature and sport since I studied modern letters up to the DEA, while training (BE1, BE2) up to the Pôle Espoirs de Toulouse with CTR Philippe Migeon. Then, I was a PE teacher in Martinique before becoming Technical Director of the Dauphins du Moule club in Guadeloupe, then a little in Franche-Comté, and then at Schœlcher Natation 2000 in Martinique. And, today, I train and I swim at Transnage Caraïbes. At the end of the day, I’ve been training while swimming for thirty-five years since I’ve had around forty French championship titles with the Masters, from the 50m butterfly to the 400m medley. Besides that, I write all the time, a little bit… I published my first book in 1999 (The raw heart) then others. But, ChlorineI had it in mind for a few years…
Bruno Giroux (Photo: DR)
Chlorineso it is also your experience and your experience as a coach that speaks?
Yes, there is a part of me, of course! In 2006 I published the drowner which spoke, roughly, of lifeguards, but I had not approached in this book the competition part and the blind spots of swimming: the parent-child swimmer or child-coach relationships. In the Chlorine, I really wanted to tell these aspects of my sport through the story of a relationship between a father and a son. And then, I also wanted through this story to “revive” swimmers like Alfred Nakache, Alex Jany and Jean Boiteux who fell too quickly into oblivion in my opinion. But doing it in a very poetic way. Like an ode.
In your story, the father of the central character venerates this trio of swimmers as a “holy trinity”. Why this choice ?
Because these three swimmers are a bit like mythical figures. Nakache is a bit like Orpheus returning from hell after experiencing deportation to Auschwitz in 1943. Alex Jany is Sisyphus with his four Olympics where he never won individual medals even though he was favorite in London in 1948. And yet, he constantly revived, ending up competing in the Rome Games in 1960 in water polo. Finally, Jean Boiteux is Icarus: he won gold in 1952 in Helsinki, touched the sun in a certain way and died in 2010 following a fatal fall… But there is no than them in Chlorine since it’s kind of the leitmotif of the hero’s father to tell his son a swimming story every evening to try to condition him for this sport.
Alfred Nakache (Photo: FFN)
The description of the parent-child swimming relationship is also one of the strong features of Chlorinevery finely chopped and also very raw…
Exactly, but I don’t write postcards! So, if I can itch in what is a little irritating, I do not deprive myself of it. This is why I chose to name the coach of my young swimmer, Bidel. A reference to François Bidel, a lion tamer who really existed in the 19th century and very well known then for having worked “in ferocity. “A being who in Chlorine is a little fragile, a little apart, with its shadows and its moments of grace.
Looking carefully, we can also find in François Bidel, a resemblance to a coach who really existed and who even continues to exist?
Obviously, we will recognize Philippe Lucas in the big mouth side… I was also inspired by Philippe Migeon, coach of the Pôle Espoirs de Toulouse, with whom I worked and experienced a lot of things. But the figure of my trainer is atypical because I defend the individual a lot in relation to the institution. My coach has some kind of immunity as long as his son Jayson performs. But when it fails, it will be crushed by the system.
Jean Boiteux (Photo: FFN).
In any case, this François Bidel who cuts the heating of the swimming pool to toughen up his swimmers allows you to tell another frozen story, that of Alain Mosconi and his swimming pool of ice cubes in Acapulco…
Yes, in 1966, he broke his first world record in the 400m freestyle by preparing for it at altitude in Mexico City before descending to Acapulco where the water in the swimming pool was too hot. During the night, it must therefore be cooled with blocks of ice! This story is the thread of my method in Chlorine : bring to life the great events of swimming’s past by linking them to the story of my characters. So I question the archives and then I fill in the blanks with my past as a swimmer and coach.
Like when you talk about the first gold medal in French swimming, that very little known of Charles Devendeville in 60 meters under water during the Paris Games in 1900?
And since there is not a huge literature on this medal, I completely recreated the event by immersing myself in the thin existing archives: the result, of course, the weather and then the story of enormous pollution in the Seine, part of the event, two weeks before the competition. From there, I do my cooking in order to be in the water with Charles Devendeville, so that we can feel the competitor right next to him. In any case, for me, Devendeville like the Hungarian Alfréd Hajós, the first Olympic champion in the 100m in 1896, whose victory I trace in the port of Piraeus in Athens, are the real scouts in swimming. That’s why, without pun intended, I really wanted to bring them to the surface…
Interview conducted by Frédéric Sugnot