Literary Rendezvous
at Rue Cambon invite

Marie NDiaye


Charlotte Casiraghi and Rokhaya Niang

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The eighth edition of the Rendez-vous littéraires rue Cambon [Literary Rendezvous at Rue Cambon] was held at Dakar’s former Palais de Justice in Senegal, on the occasion of the 2022/23 Métiers d’art CHANEL – DAKAR show. The House of CHANEL and ambassador and spokesperson for the House Charlotte Casiraghi invited writer and 2009 Prix Goncourt winner Marie NDiaye, along with actress Rokhaya Niang.

Animated by literary historian Fanny Arama, this encounter dedicated to Marie NDiaye evokes the way literature has offered her access to other worlds, enabled her develop a richer inner life. Together, they also discuss the strong desire Marie NDiaye had to write since her early childhood and the power of vocation.

Marie NDiaye

Marie NDiaye was born in 1967 in Pithiviers. She wrote about twenty books – novels, short stories, and plays. In 2001, she was awarded the prix Femina for Rosie Carpe, and she received the prix Goncourt in 2009 with Three Strong Women. One of her plays, Papa doit manger, became part of the repertoire of the Comédie-Française.

© Prix Femina.
Rosie Carpe by Marie NDiaye © Éditions de Minuit, 2001. Translation © 2004 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. All rights reserved.
© Académie Goncourt.
Marie NDiaye, Three Strong Women, Translated by Jordan Stump, © Hachette, 2012.
Marie NDiaye, Papa doit manger, © Les Éditions de Minuit, 2003.
© Comédie-Française.

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Marie NDiaye, in search of light

The power of Marie NDiaye’s novels lies in the way she captures pivotal moments in her heroines’ life: those singular moments that everyone dreads experiencing one day, and that we know are irreversible because they plunge their victims forever into a morass of darkness, loneliness and uncertainty. Her boundlessly rich output mainly consists of novels and plays. These explore the troubled consciousness of men and women filled with contradictory emotions, thirsty for ideals – love, work or recognition –, and trapped in a society that is both judge and judged, and whose authority is indirect and invisible, yet omnipotent.

An alchemist stirring the murky waters of human consciousness

A great many of Marie NDiaye’s novels feature heroines beset by intense loneliness, racked with never-ending feelings of guilt, victims of their own implacable inner tribunal and endowed with the tendency to feel ever more deserving of blame and indebted to others to whom they actually owe nothing. Lucie, Rosie, Norah, Fanta, Khady, La Cheffe, Maître Susane, Marlyne… Could it be because they are women and, as such, already condemned for their actions by the collective imagination? Whether they are destined for the worst fate of all or to be one of the elect – does it amount to the same thing? –, they examine themselves in disbelief, explore the unsettling failure of their memory, and deplore their inability to grasp the truth of their inmost being.

The accuracy of the stories expertly crafted by Marie NDiaye lies in the surgical precision with which she describes the most painful personal low points. For example, the abandonment of a poor black mother, cut off by the person for whom she sacrificed her youth and health (her light-skinned daughter, refusing to be humiliated by such an embarrassing relative) in Ladivine, the murder of three children by a caring, devoted mother in Vengeance is Mine, or the abuse – through helplessness or neglect – of children whose very existence has become a burden in Rosie Carpe or The Cheffe. Marie NDiaye pays close attention to the way in which people fight – so pathetically – against the feelings of guilt and betrayal caused every time the ideal of the bond between lovers or parents is abandoned. She strives to reveal the successive states of consciousness experienced by characters trying despairingly and stubbornly to survive, despite ignominious events, disappointments and thwarted dreams of greatness.
Marie NDiaye excels at varying the narrative approaches which inform the reader of her characters’ thoughts. Her favourite method is to report their inner discourse in a subtle multi-layered narrative, while remaining ambiguous about the reliability of their point of view. This is because Marie NDiaye much prefers plots with an inner temporality, that are driven by distraught subjectivities, to the artificial construct of fiction writing prevalent in the French 19th-century novel, that describes rational characters with coherent thought processes. In this way, Marie NDiaye gets to the truth about people: because how can you claim to depict the past when memory is fallible? When the factual basis for any recollection is gone? When we are overcome by the bleak, stinging conviction of our lack of substance?
How can we aspire to write the truth about any time in the present when our whole being is torn apart by repressed desires, wrecked ideals and past acts of cowardice? When the stupor caused by some paralysing event causes our mind to check out?
Human values, caught in the flurry of contradictory, unpredictable moods, are consequently turned on their head and it becomes impossible to decide whether characters are despicable or admirable, free or held captive, self-sufficient or lonely, wise or foolish, victims or oppressors.

Such Eloquent Bodies

When reading Marie NDiaye, it is impossible not to think of the work of Samuel Beckett and his blocked, debilitated characters, assailed by their own bodies. Marie NDiaye’s characters often absent themselves through modesty, restraint, or unassuming decorum. They endeavour not to be indebted to anyone and they shoulder the sacred burden of people who put the good of the community before themselves. Faced with the absence or abuse of love and acknowledging the impossibility of incorporating the other into the self, their continually bothersome bodies develop temporary or lingering stigmas: a suppurating calf, an itchy neck, a swollen knee. The ailments that afflict the heroines are a reminder that, despite their hopes and dreams, they will always be subject to the harsh laws of the material world. As women, they are often alienated by childbirth and the superhuman responsibilities this entails: “How she dreamed, sometimes, of being alone in the world! No weight on her back, no family or parents at all!”
Although women’s bodies are often ground down, mistreated and afflicted, their minds are wholly given over to thoughts of flight, letting go, soaring above the ground, light. Occasionally, faced with impossible situations, some of them manage to escape: the twin sisters Maud and Lise, make use of the gift handed down by their mother in La sorcière to change into crows and joyfully swoop away from threatening men. Khady Demba is set free from her fate as a persecuted refugee by gazing at a bird with long grey wings at the end of Three Strong Women. Clarisse shrugs off her burden of guilt in Ladivine in the course of a frantic trajectory that finishes with her transformation into a vigorous dog. Finally, in The Cheffe, the exhilaration felt by the heroine at achieving culinary perfection causes her to become one with her creation and be reduced to nothing with it. She lives for perfection and its absence keeps her on her feet for nights on end, no longer aware of or subject to her own body weight. The only thing that excites her is the transformation of the ingredients to which she has devoted her life.
Often disheartened but never demoralised, Marie NDiaye’s heroines are hard to fathom since the erratic course they follow with childlike solemnity, unaware of their own value or how exemplary they are, defies understanding. Paradoxically, what enables these vulnerable women to survive is their ability to face the world with their bodies and, indeed, to engage the world in a thrilling, vital hand-to-hand combat, until they feel that they are, like Khady Demba, indivisible and eternal. No force, however diabolical, can overcome the will to survive. Reading the work of Marie NDiaye causes readers to commit themselves physically and mentally to a psychological epic from which they rarely emerge unscathed.

Fanny Arama

Bibliographic record

© Prix Femina.


Marie NDiaye, Rosie Carpe, © Les Éditions de Minuit, 2001.

Rosie Carpe by Marie NDiaye © Éditions de Minuit, 2001. Translation © 2004 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. All rights reserved.

© Académie Goncourt.


Marie NDiaye, Trois femmes puissantes, © Éditions Gallimard, 2009.

Marie NDiaye, Three Strong Women, Copyright © Éditions Gallimard, Paris, 2009. English translation copyright © 2012 by Jordan Stump.

Marie NDiaye, La Sorcière,

© Les Éditions de Minuit, 1996.

Marie NDiaye, Mon coeur à l'étroit, © Éditions Gallimard, 2008.

Marie NDiaye, My Heart Hemmed In, © Two Lines Press, 2017.

Marie NDiaye, Ladivine, © Éditions Gallimard, 2013.

Marie NDiaye, Ladivine, Copyright © Editions Gallimard 2013. English translation copyright © 2015 by Jordan Stump.

Marie NDiaye, La Cheffe, roman d’une cuisinière, © Éditions Gallimard, 2016.

Marie NDiaye, The Cheffe: A Cook's Novel, Copyright © Editions Gallimard, Paris, 2016.
English translation copyright © 2018 by Jordan Stump.

Marie NDiaye, La vengeance m'appartient, © Éditions Gallimard, 2021.

Marie NDiaye, Vengeance is Mine, Copyright © Editions Gallimard, Paris, 2021.
English translation copyright © 2019 by Jordan Stump.

Marie NDiaye, Papa doit manger,

© Les Éditions de Minuit, 2003.

© Comédie-Française.


Mansour Sora Wade, Le Prix du pardon, © Kaany Productions, 2001

Mansour Sora Wade, The Price Of Forgiveness, © Kaany Production, 2001.

Moussa Sène Absa, L'extraordinaire destin de Madame Brouette, © Les Productions La Fête, 2002.

Moussa Sène Absa, Madame Brouette, © Les Productions La Fête, 2002.

Moussa Sène Absa, Xalé,

© Set Bet Set productions, Les Films du Continent, Rhone production, Canal+International, 2022.

Annie Ernaux, Les Armoires Vides, © Éditions Gallimard, 1984.

Annie Ernaux, Cleaned Out, Translated by Alison L. Strayer, © Seven Stories Press, 2023.

Alice Diop, Saint Omer,


Ken Bugul, Le Baobab fou, © Présence Africaine Éditions, 2010.

Ken Bugul, Abandoned Baobab: The Autobiography of a Senegalese Woman,Translated by Marjolijn de Jager, © Lawrence Hill Books, 1991.
Afterword and bibliography © The Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 2008.
No endorsement by the University of Virginia is expressed or implied.

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