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Novel – Isabelle Autissier, the unsinkable

LIsabelle Autissier’s eyes have the shades of the ocean, as if they had ended up absorbing the sea. You can make out gray, blue, green, golden sparkles. She shares her life between her boat, writing and her fights for the environment. Three fundamental obsessions, each of which feeds on the other. We imagine her as a Breton, growing up with her feet in the water. But this “little girl from the book”, who spent her childhood devouring Jules Verne, was born in Paris and grew up in Saint-Maur-des-Fossés. His passion for the sea? Love at first sight during a childhood vacation. She grew up surrounded by four sisters, three grandparents, a great-aunt and a little cousin. When it is pointed out that this is a very feminine environment, she shrugs her shoulders. Questions about gender annoy him. “I was the first woman to circumnavigate the world solo. It needed one! What did it do to me? Neither more nor less than the crazy effect it would have on anyone…” Nor is there any question of trying to obtain details of his private life. “My cat’s name?” The color of my kitchen curtains? Who cares! »

We have an appointment on the roof terrace of the La Rochelle aquarium, where she has lived since 1980. She shows the fishing port at our feet. Few boats in the water, no one on the quays. “Here, before, there were only “pêchous” things, old sheds for repairing boats. On the water, we went from one sailboat to another on foot…” The “pêchous” are the fishermen she met a lot in the 1980s, when she was an agricultural engineer, specializing in fisheries. It was before the climatic disorders emptied the sea of ​​its fish and the pêchous deserted the port. On these quays, in 1980, at the age of 24, she built her first boat alone, learning on the job. With this “scrap” boat, she left for a first Atlantic tour in 1985, with friends. She returns via the West Indies, alone.

In ice cream. The desire for competition comes to him. “If we want to win, we have to be better. And to become better, we will learn a lot of things…” Curiosity devours her, she always wants to go further. In 1987, she finished third in the Mini Transat. In 1989, she took part in the Solitaire du Figaro. “I say to myself: the next course is around the world. You dreamed of it at 8 years old, make up your mind! » In 1991, she finished seventh in the BOC Challenge, completing this famous world tour. She devoted herself to racing: Vendée Globe in 1996, Around Alone in 1998…

Four world tours is enough, Isabelle Autissier decides in the early 2000s. She wants to sail slowly, to the north of the world, in the ice, these landscapes that she adores. She wants to leave with people whose sensibilities interest her, athletes, artists, scientists. She still does it, every summer, without writing, but drawing inspiration from there. She became involved in the environment, joined the board of directors of WWF, then became its president: “I like the way they work, to invest themselves thoroughly. »

Sunken city. His second childhood passion, literature, is coming back to him in force. She receives several proposals from publishers, who disappoint her. “Isabelle Autissier, tell your life! It doesn’t matter if someone else is holding the pen. » No way. She wants to roll up her sleeves, get her hands dirty, like on construction sites, on the oceans and for the climate. The publisher Manuel Carcassonne, then at Grasset, pushed her to write. She “test the water” by writing the life of M. de Kerguelen. She crossed the islands on foot – a “Sacred ride”. Reassured about the quality of her writing, she moved on to the novel. Most of his books (Only the sea will remember it, The Lover of Patagonia, Suddenly, alone…) are inspired by her experiences in the heart of the harshest lands, on the most dangerous oceans, which she tamed in pain.

His novels are literary escapades in the great outdoors, with finely crafted style and plot, but also warning messages about ecological peril. It is so with Shipwreck of Venice, his latest book, which opens with the insane spectacle of a sea that devours everything. A man navigates the destroyed canals of Venice. Around him, ruins. The city was swallowed up by a murderous wave. The man, adviser to economic affairs, has largely contributed to its destruction. His wife, Maria Alba, a descendant of a noble family in Venice, believed in its eternal splendor. Their daughter, Léa, founded a ZAD. The novel, which recreates the months preceding the disaster, follows this family torn apart in the heart of a city threatened by disaster. With The Shipwreck of Venice, Isabelle Autissier invites us to “coming out of denial” in the face of rising oceans. React, and quickly. “It’s something I learned at sea, death on the heels. Responding to ensure my survival kept me from sinking. » This, she says, is how to bring about happy endings. By opening your eyes and facing the wave that comes at a gallop§

“The Shipwreck of Venice”, by Isabelle Autissier (Stock, 200 p., €20.50).


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