“My obsession is to write about the invisible”
Length describes the influence of pedophiles through the eyes of Alice, a young girl abused by Mondjo, her mother’s friend and her climbing teacher. Claire Castillon tackles this disturbing subject head-on and describes her heroine’s suffering, her feelings and fears in a raw novel of hidden horror. His book can be read by adolescents from the age of 13, but also by adults, parents and educators.
Why did you write for children on the subject of pedophilia?
The first to accept the challenge: that of writing. I had already published a novel about bullying and an editor offered to write another book about a difficult topic for teenagers. From the beginning I thought about pedophilia. I wanted a book that a teenager could read in shock (because it is shocking), but without disgust. For example, the sex scenes had to be readable by children. That’s what motivated me.
When I’m writing a book for a 12-year-old girl, I’m 12 years old in my head, so the question of sexuality doesn’t cross my mind. This is my obsession, to write about what cannot be said, what is not said, to write about silence, to write about the invisible. It’s actually a hidden topic by nature, hidden in the hearts of children who experience it because pedophiles don’t brag about it. It lifts the veil from method and feeling.
Do you like to write about taboo topics?
Taboo or not, I write about violent or painful topics that we generally avoid. For example, bullying is not taboo, simply getting into the head of a bullied child is a representation of their suffering that other children don’t necessarily want to read. He carves out mental mechanisms, telling them through characters.
What research did you do to make Alice, this abused child, believable?
none ! I never work. Writing a novel is not writing a study. Turns out it might be truer than the study. It’s writing with what you feel. It limits me if I try to grab someone else’s story. I need it to be mine. This does not mean that I lived it, but that I appropriate it. how to do I put this little Alice inside me and with our shared eyes I imagine what I feel because of this man’s behavior. I imagine so. Actually bingo, I’ve been told “that’s crazy” because people feel it.
I often say that what I write is reality, but I’m making it up, so with this book I’m telling myself that I’m making something real up. The novel is what goes through the character and therefore cannot be wrong. I’m not asking my character to tell the general truth, I’m asking him to tell his story. Maybe the little girl to whom this happened will say that she did not feel that love for her tormentor. I took a young girl who has feelings for him. When we meet the heroes of the novel, there are those who look like us and those who are less like us, whom we discover and who are not us. That doesn’t mean it’s fake.
How did you recreate Alice’s ambivalence between her love and her loathing?
That’s what’s complicated about stories like this. If she was sure that her attacker was a horrible monster, it would be easier. But she is still torn between the desire not to disturb her mother and the superficial tenderness he offers her. Adding to the discomfort is that she is constantly cut in two during moments when he is abusing her. She experiences two conflicting feelings: affection because he is nice and replaces her father and disgust because of what he does to her, which she does not want.
Despite this ambiguity, how to show that this relationship is unhealthy?
There is no ambiguity in the book, the reader knows it is wrong. But what horrifies us is that Alice has an open heart. And the way he brings love into this relationship is the way he supports it. It’s the same with children whose parents beat them and say to themselves: that’s my dad, that’s my mom, I love her. For it to be bearable, she must believe that he will marry her. We all have protective mechanisms against suffering.
Alice implements two strategies. She partially disappears during sexual acts so that she can submit to them, and sends such an imaginary doppelganger, Anna, to submit in her place. Besides, she assures herself that everything is fine, that they haven’t done anything wrong since they love each other. As she grows up, she knows that this is wrong, but she is too swayed by Monđo’s lies to react.
You write raw scenes that remain readable for a teenager. How do you do it?
When I write the character of Alice, I am the same age as her. This means that I don’t look at sexuality the way someone would look at you if you were 20 years older. What saves me in writing this book is that an eight-year-old girl discovers it for the first time. She has no vocabulary, only pictures. During the first rape scene, he can’t use adult words, he uses the ones he has. I think it’s more touching, more true. She grows up and knows that things are not normal. As a teenager, she knows how to describe them better, but she keeps using childhood words she learned with her abuser, so it’s easier to tell.
You left the ending without too much detail, do you want the reader to imagine what happens next or do you have a clear idea of what comes next?
For me, the aggressor is behind bars, his climbing club is closed, he no longer has the right to approach children. I wanted to show that with the disappearance of Anna, her damaged part, Alice was saved. And what I wanted was a mother and daughter holding hands with this unbreakable bond, the daughter supporting the mother to show how strong she has become by the end of the book by shedding her dirty skin.
This article was written by a young reader intern in the editorial office Life, Corisande chestnut.
Read: lengths, by Claire Castillon, Gallimard Youth 2022, €10.50.
lengths, by Claire Castillon
The latest novel for young people by Claire Castillon is intended for teenagers from the age of 13, but also for parents, teachers and educators. Length describes the influence of pedophiles through the eyes of Alice, a young girl abused by Mondjo, her mother’s friend and her climbing teacher. The author deals directly with this disturbing subject and describes the suffering of her heroine, her feelings and fears in a raw novel of hidden horror. However, thanks to the finesse of the writing, she manages to reflect that reality by putting herself in Alice’s head, using images from her childhood. She succeeded in the challenge of writing a book whose subject is necessarily shocking, but a readable and useful book. CC
Gallimard Jeunesse, Scripto collection. €10.50.