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La Femme du général” is Michel Chevallier’s second novel, after “Rome est une femme”, a crime story, which he published in 2020, when Covid gave us the luxury of time to read. Now that most of us are back in the office, his new book makes for another timely reading in that it relates precisely to office life.

Michel, a true fourth-generation Genevan, drew from two sources to write his new book. One is the true story of Ulrich Wille, who was Swiss army general in WWI and got this position thanks to his dirty tricks and unscrupulous behavior, the other is Michel’s own experience of violence on the workplace. He said he needed understanding what goes through the mind of abusive supervisors, the kind of hyper narcissistic type we tend to see more and more nowadays up the hierarchical ladder.

His challenge was to find a storytelling that would make such an exploration attractive. His answer was to come up with the story of an officer who yearns to become a general in a country that, similarly to Switzerland, only elects one when a war is looming. So, the “general”, as the character is named all through the novel, jubilates to see a war coming. He sends his own son to the border, to show his deep commitment to the common good and his alleged equal treatment of all young men, thus using the flesh of his own flesh to promote his ambitions.

After he scared away all officers who could pretend to be elected, he his chosen to become the general, but the world begins undoing around him, without him noticing. The chaplain of his wife starts courting her, the prisoner of war he gave his wife as aide-de-camp promotes communism in the household and the most revered hermit in the country makes a prediction that he misunderstands and that leads him to wrong decisions.

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One may think of the famous story of the Pythia in Delphi being asked by Cresus what would happen should he start a war against Cyrus and the Pythia answering that he would destroy a large empire. Convinced to destroy Cyrus’ empire, Cresus started the war and destroyed his own.

Michel, why is this book timely despite it may sound like a Greek tragedy?
Well, our times look always more like a Greek tragedy where the Gods make decisions that the humans have to accept without understanding. More seriously, the Greeks mythology and the histories around it draw an incredibly accurate and lively panorama of the human psyche. Trying to explore the human mind and passion, I am always brought back to the Greeks.

Did Ulrich Wille really exist?
Yes, he did, He had married a niece of Otto von Bismarck and admired the Prussian militarism, which is indeed very alien to the Swiss mind. He actually made sure no other officer would challenge him for the election to the position of general by scaring his challengers away. In 1916, he tried to convince the federal council to join the war on the side of Germany. In short, he was scornful, full of himself and definitely despising democracy and the people.

He is also the grand-father of one of the best-known Swiss writers, Annemarie Schwarzenbach, who helped the Mann family out of Nazi Germany and was a close friend of Erika and Klaus Mann. She saved the family honor, if I may say so.

And why did he inspire you?
I needed a “vehicle” to tell a tale of modern-day violence, the sort we are all exposed to, the workplace mobbing, aggression, the daily attacks that I once compared to the IED, the Improvised Explosive Devices the American soldiers were exposed to in Iraq. IED were toys, packs of cigarettes, fake stones, a loaf of bread, stuffed with explosive and thrown to the ground as rubbish would. When a patrol would pass by, they would be detonated and would maim the soldiers.

Sometimes, the office life may look like this: anything you say or you do, however trivial, vapid, or true and important, can be detonated against you. I needed trying to fathom what can go in people’s mind who have this vision of the work relationships, a vision where there can be only a winner and a loser, a strong and a weak. This vision is not a reflection of the world, it is a fabrication, a projection of a sick mind. What goes on in such a mind?

Why is the book called “La Femme du général”? What role does she play?
Constance, that’s her name, is a beacon of humanity in the book. That does not mean that she is perfect. She has her own contradictions, liking and disliking. But she is a being who has feelings, loves, fears, hatreds, she sees the reality as it is an cannot – or does not want – act upon it. She is very much like us all: knowledge and awareness do not necessarily lead to action. Not all of us feel having a mission to change the world. So we cope with it.

And how does the story end?
Let me be silent on this. But the comparison of my book with a Greek tragedy came from readers after they had turned the last page, where everything unfolds. I shall not say anymore.

button discount150Michel is kindly offering a special discount to knowitall readers. If you order his book by sending him a mail through his website www.michelchevallier.ch, he can offer you a signed (or not) copy for CHF 18.- instead of CHF 22.-. If you order both his novels, they are yours for CHF 35.-. Just mention that you read this article. The offer is valid through 23 December 2023.

 


Michel will be signing "La Femme du général" and "Rome est une femme" at the following events:

1-3 December 2023
Château de Coppet Christmas Market
Friday 10am-6pm
Saturday 10am-9pm
Sunday 10am-6pm
1296 Coppet

Wednesday, 6 December 2023
from 11h30 to 19h
Centre Otium rive droite
39, rue Veyrot
1217 Meyrin

Saturday, 16 December 2023
from 13h to 17h
Marché de Noël de Veyrier (salle communale)
Route de Veyrier 265
1255 Veyrier


La Femme du général
by Michel Chevallier
www.michelchevallier.ch

Publish date 09.11.2023
Publisher L'Harmattan
ISBN 2336403560
212 pages