- Interview -
His life is a novel
Back in 2000, nothing predestined him to be the world’s most widely read contemporary French author. Everything changed when Marc Levy randomly sent his writing to a publisher. At the age of 40, his first book titled If Only It Were True was a spectacular success, since followed by an ongoing stream of bestsellers. With 43 million copies sold and translations into 49 languages, he has enjoyed a truly remarkable career to date.
Marc Levy, what would you like to share with us about yourself?
I’m an epicurean who spends his life traveling. I love visiting countries and exploring cultures. Often, when I’m abroad, I visit local markets, which are extremely revealing of the way people live and mingle, representing truly fascinating meeting places. Due to my background in architecture, I’m also extremely interested in urbanism. When I stroll around,I admire the façades of buildings and imagine the lives hidden behind the windows. That is exactly what gave rise to my latest novel, Une fille comme elle.
How did you come up with the idea of writing this romantic comedy?
Firstly, there was something really playful about stepping through an entrance door and spying on people. One of my characters is an elevator operator. I actually met him and was fascinated by all he knew about the people who lived in
his apartment block. In this book, I also wanted to examine the issue of being different. When you have a scar, should you show it or instead hide it throughout your entire life? Finally, I felt a wish to write a comedy because you can convey extremely deep and sincere messages using a light-hearted tone.
How long did you take to write this novel?
When I’m ready to write a story, it just has to come out and I literally can’t stop. This novel took me four and a half months of working 10 to 15 hours every day.
Do you find writing easier now than when you started?
Not at all, it’s much harder! When you start, there’s a kind of blissful ignorance which is in fact totally necessary, since otherwise you would never venture into such an endeavor.
After 19 books, would you say you know the keys to pleasing the broadest possible readership?
Definitely not, which is partly why I constantly alternate between various genres. I don’t take what I do seriously, since that would kill off the pleasure I find in writing. An author must above all be passionate about a story, because otherwise there is no way the reader will be.
You’ve been writing for 18 years; what’s the finest compliment anyone has ever paid you?
Telling me that I make people want to read, and I don’t say that because it tickles my ego, but because I have a deep-felt passion for professions. There is plenty of talk of money, companies and stock markets, but little is said about what people succeed in achieving through their daily activities.
What makes you passionate about your job?
I think I’m fortunate to exercise an extremely joyful profession. Age has no influence and is even an asset, which is a fairly rare phenomenon. Looking into the sparkling eyes of Jean d’Ormesson, you could sense his happiness. It’s one of the professions in which the years nurture you rather than draining you.
At the age of 23, you were an entrepreneur and you even went off to the Silicon Valley. People describe you as bubbling over with ideas, so if you were to set up business today, which field would you choose?
It would have to be something I’m passionate about, such as creating an Uber-style taxi-plane company. There’s a real niche there and the arrival of electric planes will generate even greater potential! Or else one of my old fantasies is to open a guest house in the countryside, surrounded by olive trees, listening to the chirping of cicadas, not too far from the sea. I would do this above all for the pleasure of fine dining and welcoming guests. Sheer delight!
If you were to start all over again, would you choose the same life?
Without being overly presumptious, I would definitely say yes! I’m convinced that I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t made so many mistakes. I
think you build on your failures rather than on your successes. One mustn’t have regrets and there is one particular saying that I strongly believe in during periods of mourning: it’s terrible to lose a loved one but it would be far worse not to have known them.
Do you have a life motto?
Yes, but it’s not one I made up myself and is generally credited to the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, as well as to French comedian Pierre Dac: “It is exceedingly difficult to make predictions, particularly about the future.” I just love this adage, because it expresses a blend of humor and irony confirming that boldness is not a token of arrogance.
Based on an interview by Anouk Julien-Blanco
Photos © A. Verglas Studio
© Robert Laffont