“Three rings”, by Daniel Mendelsohn: mixed destinies

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“Three rings. A tale of exiles ”(Three Rings. A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate), by Daniel Mendelsohn, translated from English (United States) by Isabelle D. Taudière, Flammarion, 192 p., € 19, digital € 14.

We ignore it when we haven’t forgotten it:’Iliade and theOdyssey are just two of eight verse accounts retracing all the events of the Trojan War, from its distant origins to its later consequences. The other six texts did not resist “To the destructive force of time, abandonment, fire, rats and violence; because in the end, the manuscripts are as safe as the libraries that house them, and therefore as much as the cities that house the libraries, and, we know, the cities of men are always exposed to destruction, ” writes Daniel Mendelsohn in Three rings.

A book (we mentioned it during the author’s interview with Emmanuel Carrère) which presents itself as an essay on narration, but hides in its heart a powerful and moving meditation on the fragile immortality of literature, the thousand and one dangers which threaten the texts, but first of all those which weigh on the writers – and the historical circumstances which orient their works.

Extraordinary grace

It was the German philologist Erich Auerbach who, taking refuge in Istanbul to flee Nazism, wrote the immense Mimesis (1946) to the glory of European literature. It is François Fénelon who triumphs with a sequel to theOdyssey, The Adventures of Telemachus (1699), which, as read at the time as the Bible, earned him banishment for insolence towards the Sun King. It is again WG Sebald, who leaves his country, Germany, by “Claustrophobic shame”, in the 1960s, and went into exile in England where he composed one of the most important works of the post-war period, including The Rings of Saturn (1995).

Around these three destinies, and a reflection which combines the experience of a writer and literary theory on the practice of digression, and the circular or rectilinear forms of the story, Daniel Mendelsohn weaves a learned and accessible, theoretical and intimate work. He slips there with extraordinary grace from one reference to another, from one subject to another, relying on coincidences, images or discreetly recurring themes (the reflections of the sea, cypresses, models, “the education of young girls”, the influence of French culture …). The figures of Proust and Racine cross that of Homer, and the silhouette of an arriving stranger “In an unknown city after a long journey Runs through the whole of this damn brilliant book. It makes it possible to forge links across places and times, to resonate, without needing to underline it, its questions and concerns in our time.

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