By Arianna Noera
I had the opportunity to talk with India Desjardins, a Québec author best known for her young adult series of books on the life of her character Aurélie Laflamme. Her nine-book series Aurélie Laflamme’s Diary has been adapted for the big screen and sold more than 2 million copies in the francophone world. The series has been adapted into English under the title Amy’s Diary. In Germany, the series has reached more than 85,000 readers.
She has come out with the book: Mister Big ou la glorification des amours toxiques (Mister Big or the Glorification of Toxic Relationships), which analyzes the relationship between Sex and the City’s major couple, Carrie Bradshaw and Mister Big.
We spoke by telephone for an hour. What started out as an interview ended up as an amicable conversation. Here are some extracts:
Stepping back, are there articles or books you would have written differently?
Yes, in my essay I particularly write about my first novel. I cite my own work in order to highlight that with Mister Big, I don’t want to throw shade at novels, because among other things, I too have written about toxic relationships. When I started to write Aurélie Laflamme, I was more conscious of what I was writing because I was more protective of teenagers than I was of adults. That reflection also occurred before Aurélie because there were things I didn’t want to do. That was in 2006, and the social issues involved have evolved a lot since then.
Personally, I’m a fan of your podcast Les ficelles, the feminist podcast about Occupation Double, and I know of your rapport with it. Do you spend time around any other militant feminist milieus in Montreal or elsewhere?
Apart from my private groups of friends with whom I discuss feminism, I think we’re all militants in our own way. For me Aurélie was, in its time, even though the word “feminist” wasn’t all that widely used, a feminist gesture, possibly militant in some ways. At a time when male characters were having adventures I created a female character that had adventures of her own on the way to finding herself. Our way of being feminist is personal: to each her own. We all have a role to play in causes. There are those who attend demonstrations and who are very important, and there’ll be those who talk to the media, professors, etc. As for myself, I’ve integrated my feminism into what I write. We can’t all have the same role in a play.
Is there a question no one’s ever asked you, but you’d like to answer?
Concerning Aurélie, since not everyone who’s ever interviewed me has read the book, I’d answer that the LGBT character is important to the story, and contributed to quite a few people accepting themselves and coming out. If I wrote Aurélie today there’d be even more diversity. I never describe my characters in Aurélie because it’s fundamental that everyone can see themselves. Sadly, in the film they missed with the diversity character. The film lacks in diversity and if they did it today, even if I wasn’t the one who wrote it, I think they’d find another way of doing it. It’s important to mention certain social issues because the world is changing. I’ll admit I didn’t even notice it at the time, because I lived in a teenage world where there wasn’t enough diversity, and I reproduced a world more like it is today than like it was in my time.
I never noticed this lacking in films. Sometimes we don’t notice how much films influence us…
That really touches me, because it’s true, we don’t notice. We’re no longer obligated, as women or as people from a diverse culture, to keep track of what “normality” is. We’re not a part of it. We should all be aware of our biases, and with Mister Big, I’ve tried to raise awareness of our biases when faced with psychological violence. If I as a white cisgender woman can’t find myself in stories, I can’t imagine how it is for other people (from cultural minorities). It’s important to recognize yourself in stories. Men have lots of role models, but we women have fewer. Why is a character like Carrie criticized so much for being selfish, and not a character like James Bond? Does Carrie therefore deserve an abusive partner like Mister Big? We don’t allow our female characters the same thing. This sort of a female character is one that we see a lot less of, and we allow her a lot less than James Bond.
If we’re in a healthy relationship with our partner, our relationship doesn’t fall within the standards of love.
Yes, exactly.Even when we see couples on reality television, if a couple gets along well and there’s no arguing, people find them boring.Sometimes, to associate these roller coaster ups and downs with love, we link anxiety to love. Like when we feel sick when waiting for a text message, and we think that’s love.
I think that reflecting on conjugal violence is important. Each of us has a position to take and it shouldn’t just come from the government or from the mobilization of funds, even if those are really important. We should take this on in many ways in our daily lives, and fiction has a role to play in that too.
Any cultural advice, or not, for young women:
I never want to be the police in terms of fiction. I never want to tell people what to read or what to watch. What I want with Mister Big is to create a framework, a critical sense.
But a good film for young people, above all the ones with a double standard, is Easy A with Emma Stone. (Her character) is ostracized because of rumors about her that aren’t necessarily true. What I want is for the world to watch things that they like. We all have guilty pleasures, but the important thing is to stay detached. When people are able to say to themselves: “I don’t like that vision of love, but it’s fiction”. We’re able to keep that distance and detachment from the violence and the speed of films like Fast and Furious, but when it’s love, we say we can’t keep our detachment because it’s sneaky violence. Put on your critical thinking glasses while you watch.