This too shall pass, if it hasn’t already, given the coronation of Le Clezio, but recently I happened to be revising, with an eye to publication, an excerpt from the memoirs of Michel Mohrt, the Gallimard editor who brought, among others, Styron, Roth, and Kerouac to France. Short on intimacy, long on courtliness, Mohrt’s is a memoir in whose lightness of style and fond tone can be seen the author’s genuine desire to revisit only that in which he has taken joy.
He has these curious and wistful reflections, which make American writers sound jes’ about like lonesome cowhands drifting restlessly across the salons of the Continent. Ah, that national dissatisfaction, that dogged pursuit of happiness, that chip on the shoulder.
“It isn’t easy to make friends with American writers. It seems to me (I make this observation cautiously) they have a slight complex about the Parisian literary milieu, uncertain of being appreciated as they’d like to be (and because they aren’t in their own country—all this despite sizeable print runs). Surprised at their own success, and afraid of being misunderstood…
Well-off (though that isn’t saying much), backed by rich foundations both private and public, showered with honors in Paris and all over Europe, they constantly roam about, and it’s hard to sustain a true friendship with them—especially as their publisher. But does the literary life lend itself to friendship?”