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Michel Tournier: Météores (Gemini)

This is definitely my favourite of Tournier’s novels, not only because it is brilliantly written but also because of the originality of how he treats its theme. The story starts with the twins Jean and Paul Surin, who live with their large family in Brittany, where their father runs a textile factory, when he is not visiting his mistress in Paris. As twins, they are so close that they are called Jean-Paul. They themselves very much feel that they have a shared identity and that this identity makes them both exclusive and superior to other, non-twins. Indeed, they will later consider their Uncle Alexandre flawed not because he is gay (which is why other members of the family consider him flawed) but because he lacks a twin of his own. However, this closeness was bound to break apart eventually. Jean starts to assert his independence wanting, for example, to dress differently. Paul tries and, initially, succeeds in bringing him back. However, when Jean meets Sophie, he falls in love with her and plans to marry her. Paul tries to break the relationship off and when he succeeds, Jean sets off for Venice to find Sophie. Tournier gives us a story of a round-the-world chase, as Paul follows his twin to different places, ending up in Berlin just prior to the construction of the Berlin Wall.

Meanwhile, we also follow the story of Uncle Alexandre, the black sheep of the family. Both of his brothers – Edouard, the father of the twins, and Gustave – consider him a black sheep not just for his homosexuality but because of his lack of career. However, when Gustave dies, Alexandre takes over Gustave’s rubbish collection business. His gay cruising and his refuse collection activities are superbly narrated by Tournier and the character of Alexandre is a wonderful and very colourful portrait. In theory, the novel ends more or less in tragedy but Tournier’s skill is to show it not as tragedy but more as a form of renewal. Critics have suggested that the weakness of the novel is the weak link between the two stories and, while this is a valid criticism, I do not accept it. Apart from the family relationship and the fact that Alexandre sees the twins on his travels, Tournier is clearly making a parallel. What this parallel is, I will leave you to surmise for yourself, though I have my own views. Suffice it to say that it is not a conventional narrative parallel.

Publishing history

First published in French 1975 by Gallimard
First published in English 1981 by Collins
Translated by Anne Carter