Grand Prize for Literature of the French Academy 2021 for all of his work, Patrick Deville, who has just returned from India, where his next novel will take place, is rewarded for the last published, “Fenua”, by the Joseph Prize Kessel de la Scam, awarded each year at the Étonnants Voyageurs festival in Saint-Malo to the author “of a work of high literary quality, in the wake of the writings of Joseph Kessel: a biography, a novel, a travelogue or documentary, or even an essay”. Deville sits exactly on the edge since his books can be called “true novels”.

Loti – and even before his brother, the photographer Gustave Viaud -, Gauguin, Segalen, but also Stevenson and Melville, how many fascinating characters preceded him to Fenua, in this new journey to Polynesia, which Patrick Deville, included in his great planetary work. “I saw everything, but understood nothing”, wrote Herman Melville in his first “adventure novel without fiction” (like those of Deville) when, injured in the leg, the sailor and author of Moby Dick was stranded in this end of the world, for four weeks.

Behind him, and in the footsteps of many other illustrious people, Patrick Deville spends three months in a small cabin in Papeete and invites us there, really. He illuminates this “Fenua Enata, the country of men” where, in his own way, he reads everything, walking “in this library as in the middle of the hundred and eighteen islands of French Polynesia”, meeting the cicerones, witnesses and smugglers , “those men who will have taught me as much and differently than the books the enigma of being alive”. The great history, and up to the present of these islands and atolls, is complex, as Stevenson so aptly puts it: “the history of the Marquesas is […] made very confused by the comings and goings of Frenchmen”.

But nothing frightens the writer in search or puts off the reader embarked on these pages as erudite as they are sensual, not to mention their tone a bit sarcastic, especially on the colonial adventure, since Fenua (eighth of the twelve novels of the literary project Abracadabra ) is part of “the sidelines of the partition of Africa, organized by Bismark at the Berlin Congress in 1885”. Deville does not avoid any angry subject, from the question of nuclear tests to that of the sovereignty of Polynesia, which gives his novel a particularly topical acuity when his first trip to this archipelago dates back to… his 17 years. , when he discovered traces of Gauguin and Brel there. And long before! From early childhood, in dreams, from the Nazi lazaret…

A true adventure novel, therefore, populated by “glorious vagabonds”, whose destinies are undoubtedly more familiar than those encountered in his previous books – starting with the central character, Gauguin -, but accompanied by figures as unknown as they are fascinating: d’ “wonderful child” (Ky Dong) or “extraordinary woman” (Jeanne Baret). We feel in Deville, in the peaceful movement (no pun intended) of Fenua and as he therefore advances in his “planetary investigation”, a look decoding further his literary enterprise, and more intimately perhaps after the appointments with oneself, which were Taba Taba, filial, and to a fatherly extent, also, Amazonia… From the writer on his magic carpet, we will learn even more by reading his interviews with Pascaline David, published in the same time.

Fenua, ed. du Seuil, 361 p., €20