A New Start for Literary Nantes

Emmanuelle Petit provides a more contemporary view of the city of Nantes than Gracq and Rossi in her 2010 police novel aimed at 12-14 year-olds, Elle n’était pas Marilyn. The key theme is one of setting off into new and unknown ways of living coupled with a slightly wistful look at the ways of life that will be lost.  This theme is grounded in two places that Petit uses in the story and which can be easily identified and visited today.  The first scene occurs very early in the novel (Petit 2010, 12) when the main police detective, Capitaine Dubreuil crosses the Anne de Bretagne bridge in his car and stops at La pointe de l’Île de Nantes beneath a large grey coloured crane, ‘sous la grue grise’ (Petit 2010, 12).  Dubreuil likes to come to this point to think, he can see out along the river Loire to the bridge, Le Pont de Cheviré.  Pont de Cheviré was inaugurated in 1991 and creates a link in the Atlantic Arc so that goods can be transported by road from the UK to Spain using the ferry ports of Brittany.  The bridge represents new European cooperation on trade and Nantes’ new place in that modernised geography. In a later scene, without giving too much away, the great grey crane comes to represent the end of an era as the quayside loses its commercial transport activities. The character, Dubreuil, uses the place to reflect on what he has lost thanks to his immersion in his everyday working life and dreams of what he should have been doing instead.

A second character, who will also have to change with the city’s new millennium identity, manages one of the hostess bars on le Quai de la Fosse.  Her bar is introduced quite early in the story (Petit 2010, 38) but these bars along the Quai de la Fosse are important to the story and so are often re-visited as the story unfolds.  The ambiance of this central urban space at night with its prostitution and alcohol forms a backdrop for the main story.  However, this exploitation will have to change as the city loses its cargo docks on the Quai Wilson. For the visitor in the twenty-first century both of these locations are easy to find and Petit’s novel allows contemporary visitors to re-live vicariously the dangers and beauty of Nantes in the last days of the twentieth century.  Rather than being a nostalgic view of the Nantes just lost, the novel offers a second chance to its older characters and to the city along with the warning that it is time to take that chance now.

Petit, E. (2010) Elle n’était pas Marilyn, Paris: Belin.

My Social Media researches across WordPress blogs have yielded an exciting new detective fiction writer who both lives in Nantes and has set at least two of his novels in the city, Sylvain Forge. The main character in the stories is Capitaine de police Isabelle Mayet who moves to Nantes in Forge’s 2014 novel, La Trace du Silure. In his next work, Un Parfum de soufre (2015) Capitaine Isabelle Mayet again investigates in the city. In a YouTube video, filmed here in Nantes, Sylvain talks about how the intrigue takes place in the Jules Verne Museum.