Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 12, 2020

One Day I’ll Tell You Everything, by Emmanuelle Pagano, translated by Penny Hueston

Emmanuelle Pagano is the author of fifteen novels, and lives in the Ardèche in South-east France.  One Day I’ll Tell You Everything won the European Prize for Literature in 2009, but although the prize includes support for translation, it has taken all this time for it to be available in English.  And that is a real pity because this book tackles a delicate issue with great sensitivity.

After ten years away, Adèle has returned to drive the school bus in the village in the Ardèche mountains where she grew up. Her body has undergone seismic transformations, just like the landscape around her. No one recognises her. But when a snowstorm strands the bus on a mountainside, Adèle and her passengers take shelter in a cave, and the secrets begin to emerge.

One Day I’ll Tell You Everything is the haunting story of two siblings—a younger brother and his older sister, who used to be his brother.

Pagano’s evocation of the remote mountains where Adèle drives her bus is stunning.  The novel spans September to February of the following year so much of her route traverses freezing conditions as she picks up both primary and secondary students to deliver them to their schools.  There are regular warnings about snow storms and alterations to her usual route because of landslips, but ploughing on through snow and fog is routine.  You can see the translator’s skill in this passage:

The autumn you read about in books doesn’t last.  The flamboyant colours, the lyrical oranges of the beech trees, the brilliant ochres of the willows, the sun-speckled acid greens on the birches, the deep reds bleeding into scarlet of the maple forests, or conversely the sparkling, pointillist reds of the individual maples standing out among the yellows of the other trees—there’s just time for me to describe it, time for the wind to send a few leaves back to the ground, and two or three more trips with my kids, and it’s over.  It’s over on the ground as well as on the branches. (p.57)

On Adéle’s trips, autumn is soon enough a display of dreary colours that match the fog. In the old days, children used to walk to local schools, but with the decline of village life in rural France, these schools have closed and now the children have a long journey every day.  Each one of them is an individual to Adéle, and she cares about them all.  Her life as their driver is solace for the loss of a most important relationship.  Her brother Alex was angry about her transition from male to female: he grieves the loss of his big brother, but he refuses to acknowledge her as his sister.  So she left the city to come to a place where she is accepted as a woman because no one knows her history.

Adéle and Alex have not seen each other for ten years when he gets injured in a work accident.  He does rope access work which stabilises the rock face.  In hospital, he doesn’t want to talk about his relationship with Adéle: he would rather complain about the engineers who manage the job, who decide what needs to be done from photos, or from a chopper, and they produce printouts, diagrams and photocopies from their computers without ever seeing what he sees because they never go up the mountain. To all of them it’s just a job.  Pagano does not connect this gulf between theory and practice with the disaster that eventually happens, but the reader can join the dots.

It is when the children are sheltering from the extreme cold in a cave that one of them reveals Adéle’s history to the others.  This is a crisis in her life because the revelation may affect her standing in her community and her emerging relationship with a man called Tony.  Pagano doesn’t labour the point but the novel shows with awful clarity that transitioning from one gender to another impacts on all kinds of relationships and it takes great courage to negotiate that.

I like the way the novel ends on a note of hope:

I know exactly how the rumour will take over the whole countryside: like the thawing of the snow, it’s going to be dirty.  But it’ll be good, it’ll be true, it’ll be very down to earth, one piece of ground after another, step by step. (p.233)

This is a beautiful book about an ordinary person whose life becomes extraordinary—Adéle becomes heroic in more ways than one. l think what it shows us is that even radical changes to the body do not alter a person’s nature or humanity.

I hope this book is widely read.

Author: Emmanuelle Pagano
Title: One Day I’ll Tell You Everything
Translated from the French by Penny Hueston
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2020, first published as , 2007
ISBN: 9781922268914, pbk., 241 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books Bentleigh


Responses

  1. Sounds excellent Lisa – and if it helps us towards more tolerance, that has to be a good thing.

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    • Yes… but it’s also about her accepting herself. Living a lie is incredibly stressful.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll track this one down.

    We have a lady who used to be a man in the office. Distributing her pay slip is a sensitive affair since her legal name is still her male identity.

    The Ardèche is a beautiful region between Lyon and the Provence. I hope you get there some day.
    The way it’s described, you’d think the Ardèche is like the Canadian rockies when it’s not that high. The landscape is more middle mountains with narrow gorges and that’s why driving around is tricky.

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    • Yes, it’s taken a while here for jurisdictions to get their act together regarding changes of gender. Fair enough, I think, in the very beginning when it was very unusual, but it’s not now, and the bureaucracy needs to sort it out.
      I remember when I reverted to my maiden name after the Ex departed, I wrote to various authorities to let them know, and nearly of them were no problem. But VicRoads (or whatever they were called back then) demanded a decree nisi or a certificate to say I’d changed my name by deed poll if I wanted to change my driving licence. I didn’t have any money, not even enough to pay for an uncontested divorce, which was lucky, because I wrote back to them and said that all I was required to do by law was to notify them and I had done that, and whether they changed their stuff or not didn’t matter to me at all. Within a week they issued me a new driving licence.
      The irony is that a woman can change her name to her husband’s on marriage without any of this fuss and bother…

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  3. How sad that she felt she had to live in a remote region to avoid hostility from those who knew her. I daresay the kids mostly accepted her as she was (younger ones, anyway, still untainted by adult-acquired prejudice)

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    • The remarkable thing about this book is that it’s not sad: there are sad aspects to it, as you say, but Pagano has created her as a resilient character who is more concerned about moving on than about past hurts.

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