June 18, 2021

The writer Michel Host, Goncourt Prize 1986, is dead

Goncourt Prize 1986 for Night valet, the writer Michel Host died in Paris on June 6.

Born in Veurne, in Belgian Flanders, very close to the border, of French parents, Yves Chavatte kept from his early childhood in the North, marked by war and the harsh rusticity that endured at the end of the conflict, the feeling of ‘be a’ survivor ‘. Haunted by the violence that strikes animals but also children – the name of a bird that makes him dream, the swift is for him first and foremost a whip – the little boy is rejected by his family and placed as an intern for eight years in the hospital. institute Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-La Salle in Estaimpuis, again on the Belgian side of the border.

Of its “Semi-prison years” who do not lessen his distrust of human beings, he only retains literary awakening thanks to a few exceptional masters who give him a glimpse of another life. Another life, therefore another identity: Michel Host will erase Yves Chavatte and assume, after wandering and discoveries in Brussels in particular, to consider himself as a « Belge mental », fascinated by the flat landscapes and the culture of the place.

The second birth took place in Paris, which he won at the age of 21, the city and the Seine adopted as decisive matrices. Host conducted his university studies there, rubbing shoulders with painters from beyond the Pyrenees who naturally interacted with his Flemish references (Bosch, Ensor, Magritte, Delvaux). It was there, destined for teaching, that he chose Spanish, presenting the aggregation, rather than French which he reserved for his desire to write. Passed the competition, Holt taught first in the provinces and then in Paris but, very quickly, for health reasons, he gave up this classical magisterium to devote himself to teaching by correspondence with students from the University of Nanterre. .

Protective confidentiality

A specialist in Golden Century literature, Host taught at CNED when Night valet (Grasset) was distinguished by the Goncourt jury in November 1986. This is not a first attempt: his first novel, Shadow, river, summer (Grasset, 1983) was greeted by François Nourissier, enthusiastic about this text “Allures of an estuary, in this moment of age and work where so many writers offer us only the rivulet of a spring” which gives him the same “divine surprise” as, before Holt, JMG Le Clézio or Marc Cholodenko. And the very young Robert-Walser Prize made him his third winner (1984).

Read also (achive from 1986): Goncourt: Michel Host for “Valet de nuit”

For Night valet, André Brincourt, in Le Figaro, hardly sees that The man of Buridan, of Saul Bellow to be compared to him. At Drouant, same plebiscite. Five rounds of voting and he was elected by five votes in front of Gilles Lapouge (three for The Battle of Wagram), Jean-Edern Hallier and Pascal Quignard (one each for The Gospel of the Fool and The Württemberg Fair). But the public is not following. Sales remain very modest (70,000 copies) for a Goncourt, especially as the previous winners, Marguerite Duras (The Lover) and Yann Quéffelec (The Barbarian Wedding) like the following, Tahar Ben Jelloun (The Sacred Night) and Erik Orsenna (The Colonial Exhibition), set record scores.

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