Le French Book is sad to announce the loss of one of our authors. Anne-Laure Thiéblemont passed away this week after a struggle with illness. Our thoughts are with her friends and family. Her voice and her way of revealing art and telling stories will live on in her books.
Could it be true? French art reporter and mystery writer Anne-Laure Thiéblemont and I discussed this recently. I was finalizing the translation of her novel The Collector, an art world mystery set in Paris, and I had a burning question: Could there really be forgeries in the Louvre?
An art reporter and trained gem specialist, Anne-Laure Thiéblemont is known for her investigations into stolen art and gem trafficking. Her art world mystery novel, The Collector, just came out in English. Here, she talks about some of the places that have inspired her writing.
Two books inspired the character of the collector Edward Magni in this Marion Spicer art thriller. The first was Werner Muensterberger’s Collecting: An Unruly Passion (Princeton University Press, 1994). The was a psychoanalyst, whose couch saw the likes of James Dean, Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando. I learned recently that he also had a PhD in anthropology, and another in art history, and that he was a great collector of African art. Now I understand better why his book struck me and helped me to build the character of Edward Magni. Muensterberger portrays several collectors, including French author Honoré de Balzac and the English bibliophile Thomas Philipps, who wanted to procure “a copy of all the books published in the whole world.” Muensterberger’s portraits of these collectors are not those of a cold, distant entomologist, but of someone with empathy. His analysis of the irrepressible urge to collect is full of emotion. This book moved me a lot, perhaps because it is so easy for anyone to slip into addiction (a “longing for substitution”) and prefer things to people to protect them from earlier traumas.
A second book, L’Etrange Docteur Barnes by the French writer Alain Boublil, helped me to understand how an obsession to possess and accumulate objects goes beyond ethics, morality, and common values, how a collection can give a person a feeling of being all-powerful. The book is a biography of an American billionaire born in Philadelphia. But more than that, it follows how a butcher’s son develops a dangerous and eccentric love for modern art. Albert C. Barnes was an industrialist, a chemist and a millionaire by the time he turned 36 thanks to an antiseptic he developed. He went on to take revenge the conformist conservative Philadelphia society that had humiliated him. He collected works by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, and Seurat, choices judged to be those of a “parvenu.” In Paris, he was considered a king, with gallery owners Ambroise Vollard, Kahnweiler and Leo and Gertrude Stein who found him to be intelligent, energetic and insatiable. But Philadelphia establishment rejected him. And Barnes sought revenge. He built a foundation, showed his collection there, allowed blacks in along with the working class and the poor, and refused to host the rich. He refused to see people who requested to see him, or to give meetings to art historians, but only if there was a full moon. In this biography, revenge went hand in hand with pettiness and childish behavior. Perhaps it is a way for the man to set aside his exceptional nature and return to being an ordinary person like the others.
Today, we have a few words from Anne-Laure Thiéblemont, author of an upcoming mystery set in Paris art circles: The Collector. Anne-Laure is an reporter and trained gem specialist, known for her investigations into stolen art and gem trafficking. She currently works as a magazine editor, and splits her time between Paris and Marseille. She shares her thoughts about the upcoming release.
Books have the quality and advantage of circulating independently of the author. Now, The Collector will be coming out in English and it will be released in August. I love that month more than any other. It’s the month I always plan to be at the beach. I swim and I write. That is all I do. I don’t need anything more than a few square meters right next to the water. Then, writing can take me anywhere. Being a writer is a state of being on vacation without being on vacation.
I like the way thinking, meditating, imagining, and writing bring out other ways of being in the world. Then, as a writer, what I enjoy most is meeting readers. It’s not the reviews, the promotion, the prizes. No, it’s the possibility of meeting someone who enjoys the universe I created.
I worked as a reporter for a long time, but I needed to find a more personal mode of expression. I always wanted to write a novel and the character of Marion Spicer had been tapping on my shoulder for a long time. She kept saying, “Tell my story.” And the topic of the book was important enough to me to spend three years writing it. Sometimes you can get tired of a story. It can run its course quickly and putter out. But you know early on if you have a protagonist that has enough of a structure to lead you further, and even to dictate the course of the story.
This is what happened. It wasn’t easy for me to write a mystery. But Marion's story was a mystery, so that is what I wrote.