A writer in full

He was very early, as he always was when he had an important appointment. Yes, important was the right word. The heat was oppressive, yet the canicule had not yet begun. His shirt was already soaked. Crushed by the heat, guests slowly climbed the steps and disappeared inside the Plaza Hotel. Across the street, in front of Central Park, horses harnessed to horse-drawn carriages, exhausted by the day, rested patiently waiting for tourists who wanted to visit New York by night. A few nostalgic for the days when Truman Capote had organized his black-and-white masked ball, bringing together all the celebrities of the moment, parked in front of the fountain to catch a glimpse of the guests. The presentation of the prestigious International Book Prize would take place in an hour's time, and the ceremony would attract the whole of New York: notables, politicians, artists, writers, publishers, agents, press agents, actors, producers, journalists, photographers, filmmakers and many more. In the lobby and reception area, people pushed their way through, stopped to exchange a few words, and news and rumors flew. Who's on the jury? Who's going to win?

Photographers were everywhere, and TV crews struggled to navigate their cameras. New York was waiting for the heatwave that had been forecast for two weeks, and was sure to last a long time. Meteorologists had stressed that the climate was out of whack, especially since the latest earthquake in Japan, and that global warming was now a reality that had to be taken seriously. The end of the world was fast approaching, and prophets of all stripes were swarming the streets, bearing signs with advice on how to survive, and for those who still doubted, all they had to do was look at the sun, a round, red disk hanging just above their heads. Look at the sun and you will understand.

Gary crossed the hall. To the left of the entrance, the Champagne Bar and facing it, the Palm court where aperitifs were served while waiting for the Grand Ballroom doors to open. To the right, the hotel reception. The light from the chandeliers reflected in the marble floor. Tall columns supported the ceiling, and the famous glass roof, an essential set piece in The Great Gatsby, had been completely renovated. One could easily imagine Jay Gatsby / Robert Redford / Leonardo DiCaprio entering the room giving the arm to the woman of his dreams. Huge chandeliers twinkled with light, probably low-voltage bulbs. Potted palms were scattered here and there. The ashlar walls were pierced by arched French windows, and sculptures mounted on pedestals watched over the comings and goings of visitors and guests. Despite the air-conditioning, Gary was sweltering. Ethan offered to bring him something to drink. Ethan was his agent and always kept a close eye on him. Sitting further back, Gary's wife Ruth was chatting with Lester, his publisher, and Kimber, his press agent. Ruth couldn't take her eyes off Gary. He waved to her. He was one of the most popular finalists and people kept waving at him, so he couldn't even tell who was who. He ran the back of his hand over his forehead to wipe away the sweat, then saw Miles arrive, followed by his wife. Miles was the head of a major production company that worked with all the national TV networks, and he had confirmed that everything was ready, except for the award, but he was confident they would get it. He saw Ethan stop and shake hands and then pull a guy aside, a journalist no doubt or a literary columnist. He had forgotten about the drink. Ethan worked tirelessly to place his books, and Gary often wondered what he would do without him. Ruth disagreed, and lately had even raised the idea that it might be a good idea to change agent, to get one who was used to managing the careers of celebrities. Ethan was nice but Gary was the only heavyweight he had in his portfolio of authors apart from all those Gary brought him, and that wasn't enough. Ultimately, Ethan lived on what Gary brought in. Gary was reluctant, but Ruth maintained that a decision would have to be made after the outcome of the award.

Ruth had a keen business sense.

A young woman near the reception counter glanced at him. He approached her. It's hot, isn't it? he said, staring at her. She raised her eyebrows slightly and smiled. He added. Perhaps we could meet elsewhere, later? you and I? She nodded. Soon... She nodded again. I live nearby. He took a business card out of his pocket, wrote down his home phone number and handed it to her. See you soon, he murmured close to her ear, so close that he could have kissed her. The guests headed for the Grand Ballroom, the most beautiful room in New York, according to Truman Capote. They entered the great hall and began to settle in around the many round tables set up for dinner. Gary waved to his wife, who joined him, and they headed for their table. Ethan caught up with them.

Miles says everything's ready. It's so exciting. We can start working on the details.

Their table was located right at the edge of the stage where the awards were presented. The room was filling up fast, with chairs creaking on the wooden floor, glasses clinking and an incessant hum of voices. All around, journalists and cameramen and photographers were jostling for position. Gary and Ruth were at table with Senator Jones and his wife, the mayor and his wife, Lester, Kimber, Ethan and Forrest, a journalist specializing in political analysis, and Miles and his wife. Ruth leaned over Gary and kissed him on the cheek, smiling at the other guests. She was wearing a royal blue dress and Gary thought she looked pretty. He took a sip of red wine and looked around the room, sumptuous with its frescoes, cream tints and gilding. Truman Capote was right, it was the most beautiful room in New York. He'd made quite a party of it, to the point of creating a historic event. Gary felt euphoric, light, drunk. If he got his award... no, it was a jinx, but still...

If he had his award, he could do anything, he'd finally be free to write all the books he wanted, in the way he wanted them...

He had so many projects in mind, novels as powerful and devastating as hurricanes... If he had the award... An army of waiters, trays laden, served each table. He was soaking hot and the laughter echoed in his head. The heatwave would be tough. The media had warned that the heat of recent days was nothing compared to what was to come. Ruth was talking to Senator Jones, and they were discussing the possibility of a commission with Gary as chairman. Jones predicted that Gary would have a great future and the mayor intervened and added that he might even aspire to a position as ambassador abroad and why not in France. Ruth was ecstatic. She had always thought he would achieve something important. Ethan listened to Miles, nodding excitedly. Miles' wife sipped glass after glass.

The president of the jury took his place on the podium and motioned to the room, shush, silence and silence gradually settled in. With the ceremony's patrons, a writer and an actor, he introduced the jury and began handing out the prizes, summarizing why this book had won such and such an award, and with applause, the winner climbed to the podium, stammered a few thanks and came down with his award, a medal and a cheque, wearing a broad smile. Gary's stomach tightened, it must have been a cramp and his throat was dry, he had it, he didn't... He loosened his tie and opened the collar of his shirt. The Novel Prize. His heart stopped, then no, not completely, it was still beating, in fact it was pounding, then a name was called out, he hadn't understood, no, it surely wasn't that, for God's sake it was, he'd heard right, his name had been mentioned and his wife took his arm and squeezed it. No, he hadn't heard right. It couldn't have been him. The whole room stared at him and cameras pointed in his direction. Yes, it was him. He had won the prize. The world slowly faded away, leaving him in an opaque haze. His wife grabbed his arm and shook him, go ahead. Get up. Go get your prize. Senator Jones smiled and showed him his two erect thumbs. Yes, it was him, his name had been called, he had the prize. Hesitantly, Gary stood up, his legs wobbling, he breathed in, picked himself up and climbed the steps to find himself face to face with a well-known actor, he wanted to say hello, something appropriate but he couldn't remember his name, who was this little actor with the pointy nose and the outdoorsy look and then the president of the jury spoke and the actor smiled at him and handed him a bronze statue and the crowd applauded. The actor looked sincere, he said he'd read all his novels and Gary thanked him flatly, the president of the prize stepped aside and Gary found himself in front of the microphone, he coughed and wiped his forehead and then stammered that he was honored, very honored and very happy to receive this prize, that he had never hoped for such an honor and he felt his voice trembling with emotion, derailing a little but the room applauded and faces smiled. At the foot of the podium, he was surrounded by microphones and hands and questions and he tried to answer. They asked him how he felt, and he replied that yes, he was very happy, no, he didn't expect it, yes, it was exciting, he had won the prize, he didn't believe it but he had won it, and he felt strange, excited, distant. He returned to his table and sat down next to his wife, you did it, my love, she whispered in his ear and kissed him insistently, holding his arm firmly. Senator Jones and the mayor congratulated him, and Forrest gave him the victory sign. Ethan winked at Miles and nudged Gary. I told you so. The cameras rolled and Ruth pressed up against him, smiling at the photographers. You finally got your trophy, she murmured. Every time he looked at her, he thought she was beautiful and alluring. The heat was unbearable, the cheers and bravos endless, it was an incredible mess. His cell phone kept vibrating in his pocket.

The waiters brought out the cheeses and desserts, and the noises swirled around in his head: laughter, jokes, people shouting at each other, and the coffee and cognac were served. He couldn't think straight. It felt unreal. The prize, the recognition, the success. He could do anything. Write everything he had ever wanted, let go. Stunned, drunk with happiness, he kept staring at his trophy. He drank more water, then a glass of wine, then cognac, then more water. He was so thirsty. He kissed Ruth on the cheek, just beside the mouth.

I'm stepping out for a smoke. I'll be right back.

He needed some air. On his way, some reporters stopped him and he directed them to Kimber, who's in charge of my appointments, her or my wife. Congratulations, they said. Focusing on the front door, he proceeded through the lobby. Tourists surveying their suitcases watched him and a woman he had seen in the hall smiled with complicity but he couldn't recall her name, only that they had slept together. It was a long time ago. She was peeking for a sign of recognition from him and he nodded vaguely as he passed her. Jackson, a writer and screenwriter, also among the finalists, stopped him and expressed how pleased he was that Gary had won the prize, he smiled tightly as he shook Gary's hand and patted him on the shoulder but without much conviction. Gary just smiled, a radiant smile, thank you, old man and continued towards the exit.

With an acute sense of analysis, she offers us a magnificent contemporary fable that questions the creative process, the desire to change the world, but also the status of the artist in a world where the Internet and reality TV have succeeded in making us believe that anyone can (must) become a genius.

This chilling novel is a stimulating invitation to think about our times.

Pia Petersen is one impertinent woman !

Where does she get this rage for shaking things up?


IRÈNE FRAIN, Paris-Match