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“Lucky” de Eddie de Oliveira

Lucky est le premier roman de Eddie de Oliveira, un tout jeune auteur (il est né en 1979). Depuis est sorti Johnny Hazzard (2005) que je n'ai pas lu. Lucky a été publié  en 2004 chez Scholastic.
Ce roman à la première personne raconte le laborieux coming out de Sam Smith, un garçon doté d'un humour assez persistant: "My name is Sam Smith, and I've never forgiven my parents for it. So short, so simple, so alliterated, so... English. Just a hint of foreignness (Sam le Smith?) or a first name that didn't start with an S (I've always quite liked Bernard) would have been a better start."
L'essentiel de l'histoire se passe durant l'été qui suit la première année universitaire de Sam, avec des plongées dans les années de lycée et une évocation assez terrifiante du harcèlement (bashing) frappant les élèves supposément gays dans les écoles publiques. A l'université, Sam étudie l'histoire, tandis que ses amis de toujours, Brenda et Pod, sont partis dans des universités de province. Ils habitent un patelin dénommé Surbiton. J'ai supposé que c'était un jeu de mot sur suburban town, et que l'endroit était fictif et désignait allégoriquement la mentalité "ville de banlieue", par opposition avec le centre de Londres. Sam vit avec sa mère, manifestement assez fauchée. Il joue au foot dans l'équipe locale des Surbiton Rangers et les vestiaires sont un peu le lieu où s'éveille son trouble sexuel.

The reason for all this consternation was simple. For the first time in my life, I was admitting to myself that I thought I might possibly in effect maybe potentially have the capability to fancy boys. OK, so it was a long-winded admission, but it marked severe progress. I knew, and always had, that I fancied girls. But this summer I began having doubts. Was that attraction just a front? Was I pretending to like girls when in fact I liked boys and only boys? Looking back at my seven years of secondary education, my eyes seemed to linger longer on the boys, not the girls. But was that just because it was a forbidden thing; and breaking rules is so much more fun than keeping to them? Taboo is fun, after all. My keen interest in the changing rooms might have been because I knew far less about boys and sex, and was curious to know more. I knew about girls, had consumed plenty of porn, [...] but boys remained a mystery.

These confusions were made all the more complicated by being a principal part of the laddish football team. But I decided it was time I figured everything out because I'd spent the previous eleven years trying to get an inkling as to what I was — after all, if you don't know yourself, how can you be yourself? And if you can't be yourself, how can you be what you want to be? I [...] shouted out loud, “What the fuck am I?” But “What am I?” is a bloody difficult question for anybody to answer, let alone a nineteen-year-old leading goal scorer of the local football team with potential for fancying boys. And, where I'm from, blokes are blokes, women are women, and anything in between is most seriously frowned upon. Not so in Greece, where, apparently, men kiss each other when they meet. Here you're labeled from birth: It's black, white, Asian, or other (wow, what an honor to be labeled “other”), male or female, and hetero, homo, or bi. What about that mixed-race hermaphrodite from Puerto Rico, who wasn't black, white, male or female, hetero, homo, or bi?

I was pretty sure that I found comfort in breasts. Like many of my peers, I'd always been fascinated by tits, but lately I couldn't help peeking at pecs. And what made all of this so much worse was the fact I couldn't tell anyone a thing. I couldn't express my confusions — or discuss my feelings with a soul, because of one silly little word, which is so easy to say but so difficult to live with: fear. Being scared stiff. Petrified. What will they say? How will they react? Will they push me away, reject me for good? [...] It's so difficult to describe a fear that takes hold of you completely and stops you from doing anything, from being remotely proactive. [...] That's the incredible power of this paralyzing type of fear.

Since the first few weeks of the first term at university last September I'd noticed this bloke who sat opposite me in the lecture hall. He was about six feet tall, slim, with short dark brown hair and stunning brown eyes. His clothes were always smart and casual, erring on the side of trendy, and I knew from seeing him with other students that he was a polite and funny guy. I caught his eye at our second lecture together and just couldn't stop catching it. I really couldn't put my finger on why I kept staring, because he certainly didn't look as though he was as transfixed by me as I was by him. I never imagined him naked or anything. I was just spellbound by him. He seemed . . . what's the word. . . different. [...] Without any words, it was clear we had something big in common, and I just knew from the get-go he'd be joined to me in intimacy and mutual benevolence. I knew he'd be my … friend. (p. 14-16)

Et c’est ainsi que Sam va faire la connaissance de Toby. La première conversation entre les deux garçons à la fin de l’année universitaire est assez embarrassante pour Sam, qui a gardé une peur panique de tout ce qui rappelle de près ou de loin un poof (pédé). Or Toby finit par l’embarquer dans des considérations sur les boys bands… Un autre chapitre raconte les premières retrouvailles des deux garçons et les confidences peu à peu échangées. Eddie de Oliveira fait merveille dans les dialogues. Il joue avec les allusions, les circonvolutions, les demi-vérités, d'une façon à la fois drôle et grave.
Le début de l’été signifie aussi le retour de ses amis Brenda et Pod. Sam réalise à quel point Pod est homophobe, ce qu’il n’avait pas remarqué auparavant. La petite bande a l’habitude de se retrouver dans un pub et de boire plus que de raison. À mesure que l’amitié grandit entre Sam et Toby, la question d’intégrer ce dernier finit par se poser. Par ailleurs, Toby a manifesté le désir de participer à l’équipe des Surbiton Rangers, qui est entraînée par deux personnages assez loufoques :
“Sam, get your arse out here!”

It was the dulcet Cockney tones of Harry, coach of the Surbiton Rangers. Harry is a big man: fifteen stone, five foot nine tall, a traditional side-parting in his greasy brown hair, and the obligatory nonleague football manager's camel sheepskin coat, which looks like a relic from the cold war, the sort of thing only worn by a KGB operative or a used car salesman in Essex. Harry has so many chips on his shoulder he could open a successful, if rather unhealthy, fast-food outlet. Although only twenty-eight, he easily passes for fortysomething. As a player, he failed miserably, which he claims was because of forced retirement following a serious injury when he was only twenty-one. We all suspected he was just crap. He has coached the Rangers for two years, his main qualification for the job being that he wanted it when nobody else did. We survived for three months without a manager before Harry turned up one Sunday morning, without any announcement, and began barking orders from the touchline. He assumed the title of “head coach” without anyone asking him to, or giving him permission. Still, nobody has challenged him for the job since, and he has guided us to respectable top-half positions in the league for the past couple of seasons.

However, Mr. Popular he ain't. He shouts a lot, is never wrong, refuses to partake of any training exercises, and frequently delegates the more mundane chores (such as liaising with the borough council for use of the football pitches) to his sidekick, the ultra-skinny and odd Morph. The only other “person” I know called Morph is a tiny clay cartoon character who speaks in squeaks. Sadly, our Morph has terribly low self-esteem, and Harry's oppressive ways don't help. About a year ago, Morph responded to Harry's ad in a local newspaper for an “enthusiastic and committed voluntary assistant.” He is twenty-two years old, unemployed, and a hypochondriac — tissues, decongestants, and scarves frequently adorn his face. (Throughout the previous year's heat wave of July and August, Morph insisted on wearing a scarf and woolly hat to every training session.) But he's also strangely likable. I guess I feel sorry for him. (p. 48-49)

        Harry et Morph donnent depuis longtemps des sueurs froides à Sam car ils n’ont de cesse de le qualifier de gentle, ce qui est une façon plus honorable de suggérer looking gayish… La rencontre de Toby avec Pod se passe horriblement mal, mais Sam redoute encore plus la confrontation avec l’équipe de foot. Le chapitre qui raconte cet épisode est mémorable de drôlerie. En voilà quelques morceaux :

Toby's arrival was no big deal. Players come and go every week —students who want to get fit quick might come for a couple of months then never reappear; older men who think they can hack the pace frequently disappear; friends and siblings of the regulars often come down for a session and maybe even a game or two before calling it quits. Nobody gave Toby a second look. But it wasn't long before the others noticed he was no ordinary addition to the squad.

His stare was lingering — mainly on Pretty Boy, I noticed, but also on one or two of the others. Pretty Boy was his usual cool James Dean-esque self, shooting a look back at Toby every now and then. The lads wore puzzled expressions as they witnessed Toby's roving eye. (p. 91-92)

Morph shouted at us, “Game over. Drill number one!” […]

“Pretty Boy says it's still hurting. Potential team crisis” Morph informed Harry, excited at the prospect of somebody other than him having a serious problem to deal with. Harry called for Toby, and I moved closer as I stretched in order to get within earshot. “Pretty Boy Pete has had” Harry started.

“Why is he called Pretty Boy Pete?” Toby interrupted.

A pause. I think Toby was trying to get one of them to explain how Pete was a dashingly handsome young man, but instead —

“Because he is a Pretty Boy” — started Harry.

“— and his name is Pete,” concluded Morph.

Toby replied quick as a flash:
“He's not that pretty.”

Harry's face wore a look of unbridled horror.

“What?” he demanded.
“Well, I've seen prettier.”

Morph looked at Harry, at a loss. Was this a member of the Rangers saying he'd seen prettier boys? Surely not! Harry took the ignore it, and it'll go away approach. Mikey stopped packing his kit bag and just stared at Toby, a look of total confusion on his face. Chopper Chubby's narrow, suspicious eyes focused on the new boy too. I was beginning to sweat.

“Yeah, well … his hamstring's looking dodge,” Harry continued. “I want you to try for us at left mid, but you've got to concentrate on your ball control.”

“Ball control's my speciality,” Toby cheeked. Chopper gave Laid Back a look. My shirt was, by now, drenched and I was nervously picking tiny pieces of dry summer mud out of my boots.

“What?” said Harry, sternly.
“Nothing,” Toby replied.

I think Harry was having second thoughts about his offer. I was on the verge of exploding with embarrassment. Toby was outing himself and, by default, me.

“What's your favored position?” asked Morph, and I could see where this one was going. Toby grinned.

“My favored position, since you ask, is in the hole.”

This was the straw that broke Harry's back. Irreverent humor was bad enough, but innuendo? Beyond the pale. His voice turned all gravelly and threatening, sounding a bit like a cheap East End gangster.

“You being funny?”

“I asked you where you like to play on the pitch,” explained Harry, still resembling a London Godfather.

“I told you, in the hole,” said Toby.

Morph didn't get it. “The hole? The hole? Where's the hole? Could be anywhere, couldn't it? Specify!”

“Between midfield and attack, the hole,” explained Toby, and he wasn't wrong — the hole was a position made popular by teams in Italy.

Harry told Toby to warm down, and crouched by me as I took my boots off. Morph crouched behind him, annoyingly. I knew I'd be interrogated, and Harry pulled no punches.

“This … friend. Quite nifty on his feet…”

“Quite useful in the air,” pitched in Morph. For once, I agreed.

 “Yeah, showed me up a bit, I reckon,” I said.

 “Yes, he did,” said Morph, which wasn't what I expected.

 “Leave tactical opinions to me, please,” said Harry. “He around a lot, is he?”

 “He's staying for the summer. Working at the biscuit factory,” I explained, slightly wary of what was to come. Harry seemed to be beating about the bush a bit.

“Is he now? Round for the Summer Cup, then?” asked the gaffer. I answered in the affirmative. Then came the question Harry was dying to ask.

“Exactly how much of a friend is he?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, keeping my eyes on the ground.

“Well... he seemed quite similar,” said Harry.

“Quite gentle,” added Morph.

“I just know him quite well, that's all. We do the same subject.”

Harry got back to business. “Know him well enough to convince him to play left mid? On a trial period, mind.”

I was a bit taken aback. I knew we were short on left-footed players, but he'd only played one training session, and he was already being considered for the first team. Of course I could convince him to play, although I wasn't sure, in light of Toby's cheekiness, that this was the best idea for me personally.

“We want him in, we think he's great!” squealed Morph.

“Morph! Remember what I told you about you annoying me, about talking out of turn? Well, you're doing it now.”

“I'm sorry,” began Morph, “but I was just trying to exercise my right. It's difficult. I mean I've got to raise my self-esteem, the whole point of the counseling –“

“Morph — I repeat: You're doing it now.”

I offered to have a word with Toby about trialing. But I was far more concerned with finding out what Toby had revealed about personal matters.

“Has he told you anything?” I asked. “Like, about himself?”

Harry leaned in. He had an annoying smirk on the left side of his mouth. Morph looked very excited as he said

“Oh yes, he's told us all about the –“

“Morph! Bloody hell!” shouted Harry, getting up to leave. What he said next filled me with terror.

“He's told us he's… gentle. Know what I mean?” (p. 94-97)

La suite est à l’avenant… Eddie de Oliveira parle de sexualité sans pudibonderie, même si aucune scène de sexe n'est présente dans le livre. Parmi les choses que Sam découvre peu à peu, il en est au moins deux qui sont clairement des opinions que l'auteur a voulu mettre en scène : les non-hétérosexuels surestiment l'homophobie de leur entourage et le sexe est loin d'être l'aspect le plus important d'une relation de couple.
Lucky est un livre extrêmement drôle, mais aussi émouvant. La langue n’est pas toujours évidente à comprendre, mais avec le contexte on s’en sort correctement. Je ne dévoilerai pas les multiples rebondissements qui émaillent les 150 pages suivantes, car elles font partie des joies de la lecture. Eddie de Oliveira a une méticulosité de chirurgien pour nous faire assister à l’éclosion progressive de Sam et à son ouverture sur le monde.
Le récit d'une expédition de Sam et Toby dans le centre de Londres est assez fascinante, véritable déniaisage de Sam sur la diversité du monde et moment de tendresse bourrue.

J’ai été tellement scotché que je n’ai pas pu m’empêcher de le finir très tard une nuit. Je ne saurais dire que c’est de la très grande littérature (quoi que le tempo est assez maîtrisé et le livre plutôt subtil). Mais c’est assurément un beau livre pour (assez grands) adolescents.
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