This Tilting World: Colette Fellous

Translated from French by Sophie Lewis
Published by Les Fugitives

“[B]ut now it’s over, my novel is damaged, the world is damaged, I too am deeply wounded, something has happened here, something real, but everything can still begin, everything can begin again, I firmly believe it…

“I must tell this before tomorrow, I must bear witness and right away, this book will be my nocturne, then I’ll give back the keys and take my leave.”

A woman sits in a house on a shore in Tunisia, in a house very much like the one she has seen regularly in a dream. But she is reeling from two recent events: the sudden death of her friend Alain, and the mass shootings in a museum and a tourist resort in Tunisia.[1] These deaths have shaken her world, and she tries to make sense of them in her book.

This Tilting World (Pièces Détachées in French) is part novel and part memoir. Colette Fellous said in an interview that everything in the book is true, but she has used the form—and the liberties—of a novel.[2] “Memory in pieces, scattered pieces to be reassembled patiently, to attempt to understand.”  

The book is also a love letter to Tunisia, the place where she grew up, Jewish in a Muslim country. This was where “I learned to read this alien land, alien to the one where I thought I belonged, this land where we were in fact merely guests, though we only half realised it. Now and then it would appear, something touched us, an appalling story was referred to, then very quickly it vanished, our anxiety dispersed and we could take up our lassos, our chants and our hula-hoops again, stowing within us love for this country, inscribed for eternity in our very skin”.

At the core of this book are memories of Fellous’s father who died a few years ago—his larger-than-life personality, his love of life, and the mistress he hid from his family for years.

There are many stories here: stories that people have told her over the years, both in Tunisia and in Normandy, where she lives. For example, Matilde, who falls in love with a younger man; and Madame Henry, who leaves her husband after her father-in-law dies.

Fellous’s writing is lyrical, and beautifully translated by Sophie Lewis. The book feels like a stream of consciousness or a long chat with a friend. Fellous writes about what home means, and what it is to move between worlds—or between homes—of being able to uproot yourself from one place and set down roots in another, while feeling the constant pull of the old.

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[1] In 2015, Tunisia saw two mass shootings: one in the Bardo National Museum that left 22 people dead, and another at a tourist resort in Port El Kantaoui that left 38 dead.

[2] “Colette Fellous, une vie faite de pièces détachées”, L’Orient Littéraire, 2020-04, Numéro 166. https://www.lorientlitteraire.com/article_details.php?cid=33&nid=6961

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