Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Marthe Lincel at Manosque

 
"The war had not yet begun when Marthe Lincel went to the
perfume factory for the first time. It was a visit organised by
the school for the blind in Manosque. If anyone were ever to
ask her, she would tell him without hesitation that it was the
day that changed her life.

She was eighteen years old, almost ready to leave the school,
when she took her first careful steps towards the long table
in the blending room at the Distillerie Musset, her hands in
the hands of other girls, one in front and one behind. The
girls walked in concert down from the school, through gusts
of dung from the stables, past the ramparts of the ancient
teardrop-shaped town, on past incense from the church and
into the tree-lined boulevard des Tilleuls. At the door to the
shop, a bell tinkled, and moments later they seemed to enter
the very flowering of lavender."

                                                        from The Sea Garden
 
The tree-lined boulevards of Manosque in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence still encircle the old town, linking its fortified gateways - one on the north side, one on the south - that date from the fourteenth century. The planes and limes cast welcome shade over the pavements, for even in this early in the year, the light is searing and on a cloudless day the heat can be intense. The gnarled branches and green leaves make a quintessentially French picture.
 
The fictional Distillerie Musset, in The Sea Garden, is situated on just such a street. It's not a grand shop front, but it has an enticing display of perfumes and soaps in the window and a presence on one of the main shopping boulevards. At the rear, accessed from the narrow lanes of the ancient town, is the courtyard and manufacturing shed. The entrance to this part of the business is discreet, also dappled by a venerable tree, rather like this:
 
 
                                   "In the blending room at the Distillerie Musset in town,
Marthe held a glass vial to her nose: a distillation of violet. She
breathed in slowly until it seemed for those few moments the
air was reduced to a powdery sweet- sharpness. Over the months
since then she had experimented with other ingredients to
intensify the fragrance, but now the addition of spicy acacia
wood had deepened its distinctive sweetness (the scent that
would always recall that first propitious visit to the Mussets)
to capture its shaded woodland origins and the shy purple petals
in the first shafts of spring sunshine." 

As many of you know, Marthe Lincel first appeared as a character in The Lantern, but seen only through the perspective of others. Writing about her in the third-person-intimate (in which the story unfolds only through the viewpoint of one character) was a particular challenge, because she is blind. Her story had to be told through other senses but the visual, and from her memories of sight as a child. In the event, I found it easier that I thought, given that I am normally a markedly visual writer.

Others will judge whether I have succeeded, but I found it hugely interesting and a spur to my own perception of certain circumstances. Of course, there is a certain irony in setting the scene in this way by posting these photographs, but the reading of a book has a great deal to do with the creation of pictures in the mind, and as a reader myself I always fascinated to see - and hear and smell and touch - the places that inspire books.

5 comments:

Gill Edwards said...

im looking forward to learning more about Marthe, i enjoyed the references to her in The Lantern.
Gill x

Nadege said...

I truly cannot wait to read "The sea garden".

Kelly Hashway said...

Sounds like you have a great setting for The Sea Garden. I love the cover, too—both versions.

stadtgarten said...

I love Manosque which is the next town to our Provence home.
I am still reading "The Lantern", which lays on my bedside table in Provence and I am looking forward to your new book.
Happy easter, Monika from Germany

Marcheline said...

Can't WAIT to read this...

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