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Marcu Biancarelli: 51 Pegasi astru virtuali (51 Pegasi, astre virtuel) [51 Pegasi, Virtual Star]

Biancarelli’s first novel is something of a disappointment. It tells the story of a very negative, aggressive, drunken, sexist writer/professor. It may be semi-autobiographical, not least because the narrator is called Marco. In his early days Marco had been a professor but also had all the characteristics mentioned. He had left Corsica for France for ten years. He had wanted to make his way as a writer but had not had much success. He had started a relationship with a Belgian woman who was a secretary in a publisher’s firm. Through her he had met the publisher, who had told him that the only way to get a book published in France was not by writing a good book but by contacts. Indeed, this was the only way and explained the current sorry state of French literature. As a result, Marco’s work was not to be published. However, to help him earn a living and get him started in the business, he put him in touch with the publisher of mildly erotic romance novels and he had written several of these under the name Nancy Flannaghan (or Flanaghan – he uses both spellings).

However, early in this book, he had returned to a now autonomous Corsica to try and resume his career as a writer. Initially, he tells nobody of his return and lives in a small rented flat. It is while there that he sees a TV programme about Yannick Franceschetti, one of his former students. Franceschetti had been something of a loner, had been teased because of his lack of girlfriends and had had, according to Marco, no literary talent but seemed to be quite good at maths. He has now developed a virtual reality system, where the user is taken to 51 Pegasi, a real star but one for which Franceschetti has developed an entire planetary system (though it was the first one outside our solar system where there is definite proof of the existence of a planet) and, more importantly, a culture and people. Marco does not understand all that Franceschetti is saying but is impressed. To his surprise, Franceschetti turns up at his door a few days later to wish him well. They become sort of friends but still use the vous (polite) form in French and Marco calls him Franceschetti all the time rather than Yannick. Despite the title, the game plays very little role in the book. Marco watches Franceschetti playing it once but, of course, learns nothing and then, much later in the book, he has a go and almost has a breakdown, so involved does he become in the story of the family he seems to be part of. However, that is all we get of 51 Pegasi.

As mentioned, Corsica is now autonomous. One of the key issues Marco and Franceschetti discuss is the Corsican language. Both are critical of the fact that parents do not teach their children Corsican and that, even those that do speak it, speak it badly. However, Marco is not too concerned about the matter, while Franceschetti is. Indeed, he is more concerned with that issue than he is with his virtual reality programme. The other key event is that Marco is invited to appear on TV on a literary discussion programme. He is surprised that the presenter – Lisa Benedetti – has even heard of him as he thought he personally knew everyone who had ever bought a copy of his poetry. He is on the programme with Matthieu Piredda, who writes in French. However, he is disappointed that Lisa focuses on Matthieu, who is rather full of himself, comparing his writing with the likes of Camus and Kundera. However, at the drinks session afterwards, Marco manages to make a date with Lisa, merely to discuss literature, of course, and inevitably, they end up in bed. The two start a relationship. However, when Marco bumps into Matthieu again and Matthieu tells him that he, Matthieu, has slept with Lisa, things take a bad turn.

Marco is a despicable person with seemingly no redeeming characteristics. Women are all bitches. He has a negative view of everything, even his own writing. He has no good word to say about anyone, including various writers that he disparages. Moreover, from the point of view of the novel, not much happens. We are given 51 Pegasi and think that it might lead on to something but it does not. We learn little of Marco’s writing (though we do see a story written by Franceschetti, written in straight imitation of H P Lovecraft.) Virtually all we learn about is his appalling behaviour and attitude, making him a very unendearing hero. It is to be hoped that Corsican literature can do better than this.

Publishing history

First published by Albiana in 2003
No English translation
Published in French as 51 Pegasi, astre virtuel by Albiana in 2004
Translated by Jérôme Ferrari