“The anomaly”: Hervé Le Tellier finalist of Goncourt 2020 with a “Oulipian” novel punctuated like a TV series


With his novel The anomaly (Gallimard), Hervé Le Tellier won his place in the final square of Goncourt 2020, exceptionally postponed this year to support bookstores, closed due to the health crisis. In this low-amplitude anticipatory novel (the plot takes place in 2021 and the setting looks very similar to ours), the novelist stages his characters in a fourth dimension, the door of which opens into the sky. , aboard a plane shaken by turbulence following a storm of unprecedented violence.

With this novel with a thousand facets, but above all philosophical, Hervé Le Tellier gives food for thought on the world, and paints a gallery of characters whose lives are turned upside down by an event as unexpected as it is inexplicable.

The anomaly is also in a way a hymn to the Oulipo (Ouvroir de literature potential), of which Hervé Le Tellier has been the president since 2019. This literary movement launched in the 1960s by Raymond Queneau among others, and counting among its followers writers such as Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, or artists such as Marcel Duchamps or Clémentine Mélois, intends to produce a “literature under constraint”, the Oulipian author being “a rat which itself builds the labyrinth from which it intends to come out”.

The story : it all begins on March 10, 2021, aboard an Air France flight from Paris to New York. The plane suddenly finds itself face to face with a gigantic cumulonimbus cloud which precipitates the plane in a downdraft “crazy”. Among the passengers are Blake, a hitman, Slimboy, a gay Nigerian musician, Joanna, an ambitious and committed lawyer, André, a septuagenarian architect and his partner Lucie, much younger than him, David, suffering from a tumor. pancreas, but also Sophia, a little girl addicted to her frog and loaded with a secret that she shares with her military father in the American army, or Victor Miesel, a writer whose latest book is titled The anomaly

The plane emerges from what the commander calls “the washing machine” as quickly as he got into it, “a dazzling sun” and silence suddenly found, as if by magic. Everything seems to be back to normal when the plane lands, and everyone picks up the thread of their lives. Three months later however, the passengers discover that during this meteorological incident, time (the one passing) has been seized with a slight hiccup. This “anomaly” will change their lives, and the world, beyond imaginable …

Hervé Le Tellier paints with small touches the life of a handful of human beings, and dissects their most intimate secrets, by confronting them with an incredible event, which we will keep silent so as not to “divulge”. What we can say is that this scenario idea as fun as it is interesting allows the writer to put his characters in front of themselves, both literally and figuratively.

Through a rich gallery of characters, Hervé Le Tellier tackles multiple subjects, such as war, illness, sexual abuse, romantic relationships or even environmental problems. With this choral novel, he has fun with literary universes and genres, navigating according to the characters from thrillers to psychological novels, through science fiction, or even spy novels.

This novel, written as a screenplay, is a clever construction game whose pieces fit together to tell a “surreal” story. False anticipation, The anomaly actually questions us about our present, about the world in which we live today, by suggesting crazy hypotheses: what if the world was ultimately just a gigantic computer simulation of which human beings are simple programs, more or less less intelligent?

Do we live in a time that is only an illusion, where each apparent century lasts only a fraction of a second in the processors of the gigantic computer? What then is death if not a simple “end” written on a line of code?

Herve Le Tellier

in The anomaly

An assumption that gives the opportunity to one of the characters, Meredith, a scientist invited to reflect on the unexplained phenomenon, to tell us what she thinks of modern man, this descendant of a Cro-Magnon “indecorably stupid”.

The anomaly ends on a very beautiful page in the form of a calligram, which in itself condenses the message of this book on the uncertainty and fragility of the world, the real, like the romantic.

Hervé Le Tellier, mathematician by training and president of the Oulipo, signs a book which perfectly meets the challenge offered by the followers of this literary movement: “a contemporary literature created under constraint”. Both learned and entertaining, this Oulipian novel, punctuated like a television series, could definitely seduce the jurors of Goncourt.

Cover of "The anomaly", by Hervé Le Tellier, 2020 (GALLIMARD)

The anomaly, Hervé Le Tellier (Gallimard – 336 pages – 20 euros)

“Wesley is not looking at the screen, where the president rolls his eyes and continues: – The important thing is this: a hypertechnical civilization can simulate a thousand times more” false civilizations “than there are. of “real.” Which means that if we take a random “thinking brain”, mine, yours, it has 999 in 1000 chances of being a virtual brain and one in 1000 of being a brain In other words, the “I think therefore I am” of Descartes’ Discourse on Method is obsolete. Rather, it is: “I think, therefore I am almost surely a program.” Descartes 2.0, to use a phrase from a topologist from the group. Are you following me, president? The president doesn’t answer. Wesley watches her look stubborn and angry, and concludes:
– You see, Mr. President, I knew this hypothesis and until this day, I estimated at one in ten the probability that our existence is only a program on a hard disk. With this “anomaly”, I’m pretty sure. This would also explain the Fermi paradox: if we have never met extraterrestrials, it is because in our simulation, their existence is not programmed. I even think we are facing some kind of test. To go further, it is perhaps because we can now consider the idea of ​​being programs that simulation offers us this test. And we had better make it happen, or at least do something interesting with it. – And why ? asks Silveria.
– Because if we fail, those responsible for this simulation might turn everything off. “(The anomaly, page 169)

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