« Le livre coréen qui fait sensation et chaud au cœur » : le sous-titre choisi par l’éditeur britannique préempte la critique, qui est moins qu’un avis comme un autre, parce qu’elle refuse le relativisme cynique qui la place sur le même plan que les impressions des lecteurs1. Le cerveau réfléchit, le cœur achète, alors celui des critiques importe moins que celui des lecteurs. Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop dégouline d’un baume qui sent l’encre fraiche et le café de spécialité, étouffe d’une chaleur qui me rappelle celle de ma librairie favorite, mais je ne peux pas dire que ce soit désagréable. Il faut dire que j’écris ces mots entouré des effluves d’une lampe Berger et d’une couverture chauffante.

Dans ce monde qui se prend tant au sérieux, qu’il est réjouissant de suivre des personnages qui ne veulent organiser rien d’autre que leur dilettantisme ! Yeongju vend des livres parce qu’elle ne sait rien faire d’autre depuis son divorce, Minjun prépare du café parce qu’il ne sait rien faire d’autre depuis la fin de ses études, et c’est très bien comme cela. L’intrigue, pour autant qu’on puisse dire qu’il y en ait une, ne comporte aucun enjeu, ou tellement si peu. Hwang refuse de traduire les craintes financières de Yeongju en mettant la librairie en péril, de faire apparaitre le mari tempétueux de Jimi ou de faire sortir Mincheol de sa torpeur adolescente2.

Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop est un livre sans antagoniste et sans antagonisme, comme nos propres vies, qui sont bien moins mouvementées que nous voulons le croire lorsque nous nous racontons le roman de notre existence pour nous assoupir. Reste que la bienveillance de l’autrice, parait-il que les Coréens parlent de « fiction réparatrice », n’empêche pas les critiques. La sentimentalité — pour ne pas dire la sensiblerie — confine parfois à la niaiserie, la bibliographie vaguement anticapitaliste est quelque peu forcée et la conception épisodique détend un fil narratif déjà fort lâche. Si ses personnages peuvent décider de se laisser porter par le courant, alors Hwang pourrait naviguer un peu plus intentionnellement.

Notes

Silence settled comfortably between them. Yeongju enjoyed these quiet moments. She was glad to share space without needing to force a conversation. Small talk could be a considerate gesture, but most of the time, at your own expense. With nothing to say, squeezing the words dry leaves only an empty heart and a desire to escape.
— p. 39
When she was young, little Yeongju thought authors didn’t even go for bathroom breaks, as if they were too far removed from the likes of ordinary beings who need three meals a day. She imagined that at night, the raindrops would trickle down from their shoulders as vines of loneliness sprouted from the nape of their necks, twisting and wrapping themselves over their bodies down to their toes. To little Yeongju, authors were all somewhat eccentric and she should try to understand them. After all, those steeped in loneliness could sometimes appear gruff and unfriendly. She imagined authors to be enlightened about the workings of the world, thereby being drawn by fate to spend their lives with the written word. Was there anything authors didn’t know? Probably not. Even now she still hung on to the image.
— p. 47
As he stepped out of Goat Beans, Minjun felt the passing of time. The baking heat of the summer had abated, replaced by the first hint of crisp autumn. All summer, he had been taking the bus from Goat Beans to the bookshop. Soon, it would be cool enough to walk again. His simple life – yoga, work, movies, sleep – was starting to feel like a well-put-together routine. Perhaps life was enough as it was.
— p. 58
Beans that could no longer be used should be thrown away without hesitation. Once a bad bean – even if it’s just one – was mixed with the rest, the coffee tasted somewhat disappointing. One bean was enough to make a difference. Just like bad beans, there were thoughts he should throw away, too. One bad thought was enough to cause his mental health to spiral. He picked up a shrivelled bean, curled up like a human, and stared. He wished he could unfurl the bean. He tried, but the bean didn’t budge.
— p. 128
‘What I’m saying is, there’s no absolute yardstick in this world. Of course, there are those who are obviously good, and also obviously bad ones. But when two people are about the same, then it boils down to who has a shinier business card. Look at my writing. This is good writing.’
‘Who says so?’
‘Me! I, the one who has read countless movie reviews, say so! This is the gold standard of writing. You wait. Once I become famous, people are going to say that my writing went up a notch.’
‘Hey, why are we so hung up on this?’
‘Well, in short, I’m a movie critic who writes movie reviews. I don’t need anyone to bestow the title on me. If I say so, then I am. That’s enough, and isn’t this what life is about?’
— p. 256

  1. Qui, je le suspecte, sont surtout des lectrices. ↩︎

  2. Un nouveau personnage apparait avec chaque chapitre, ou presque. Je me suis parfois perdu. ↩︎