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Exclusive Interview with Stéphanie des Horts Who Publishes Carolyn et John, a Legendary Couple with a Tragic Destiny

Stéphanie des Horts, a successful French novelist, in the streets of Paris. Author of Jackie et Lee and also Les Soeurs Livanos, she presents to us today her latest work Carolyn et John.

Ecostylia met with novelist Stéphanie des Horts on the occasion of the release of her latest work, which retraces the story of John Kennedy Junior and his wife Carolyn Bessette. Having personally known a close friend of "John-John", the author of La Panthère and Pamela immerses us in the secret of a mythical couple who were promised a great destiny. This novel is already shaping up to be one of the most immersive of the early year.


Pierre-Antoine Tsady: What led you to write Carolyn et John, and how did you conduct your research to accurately recount their story?

Stéphanie des Horts: I am fascinated by the Kennedys. Always have been. By the father, who is the most enigmatic figure there is. By the mother who is terribly unsympathetic. And by most of their children with broken destinies. I wrote a book about Jackie Kennedy and her sister Lee Radziwill, Jackie et Lee. I looked at different members of the family and each time it was always just as fascinating and intense. Carolyn and John, it’s my generation, I remember exactly where I was when I learned of their death. It upset me to a point you can’t imagine. I think my whole generation identified with Carolyn and John.

Cover of the book Jackie et Lee, by Stéphanie des Horts
Cover of the book Jackie et Lee, by Stéphanie des Horts

P.-A.T.: Can you describe the process from the initial idea to the publication of the book? Do you have any particular writing rituals?

S.d.H.: First of all, I have to find the subject, the subject is essential. I discuss it with my editor and when we agree on the angle to take, I start gathering my sources. Books, newspapers, the internet. In the case of Carolyn et John, the archives of Paris Match were essential. There was also a lot of stuff on the internet. Google is quite amazing for research. And then I have an extraordinary bookseller, Kogan at 17 rue du Bac, who looks for the unfindable books for me. My writing ritual is 5 hours in the morning after coffee.

Cover of the book Carolyn et John, by Stéphanie des Horts
Cover of the book Carolyn et John, by Stéphanie des Horts

P.-A.T.: Who are your main literary or artistic influences, and how have they impacted the writing of your books and particularly that of Carolyn et John?

S.d.H.: Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, two English people with an incredible sense of repartee, humor and cynicism essential in my eyes, with such fluid and fast writing. Vita Sackville West too. It’s from her that I learned how to start a book in the middle of a scene. You don’t have to explain anything, the reader is already in the scene, he feels like he’s at the heart of the story even though he hasn’t started reading. The Americans I revere more than anything are Scott Fitzgerald and Ernst Hemingway. I named my son Scott after my favorite author. And I wrote this book that sheds light on his life, Les Heureux du Monde (The Happy Ones of the World in French). It tells the story of the Murphys who inspired Scott’s most beautiful work, Tender is the Night.

Cover of the book Les Heureux du Monde, by Stéphanie des Horts
Cover of the book Les Heureux du Monde, by Stéphanie des Horts

P.-A.T.: Have you had the opportunity to directly exchange with French, or even American, personalities mentioned in the book, who worked with John Kennedy Jr.? If so, can you tell us more?

S.d.H.: I had the opportunity to meet people who knew Carolyn and John very well. One of my friends had an affair with John Jr. She told me about his gentleness, his kindness, his tenderness. One of my friends at Cartier met the couple later, just before their death and mentioned their multiple disputes. It made me very sad. It’s always difficult to meet people who knew your characters because it can distort your own appreciation and the distance you can put in the apprehension of the characters.

P.-A.T.: Writing their story must have been moving. How did you handle particularly touching moments?

S.d.H.: It’s true there are moments that are difficult in a story but surprisingly they are not scenes of death or tragedy. What is very complicated are the love scenes, you have to be right in the feeling and the thing is not easy. In Carolyn et John, I wanted to build up the tension, so the writing goes very fast and just before the end, everything stops. Abruptly. And we go into slow motion to evoke the last day, the last night, the last flight.

P.-A.T.: What challenges did you encounter in writing about such public and scrutinized personalities as Carolyn Bessette and John Kennedy Jr.?

S.d.H.: When I wrote Les Sœurs Livanos (The Livanos Sisters in French), I implicated Stavros Niarchos in the death of his two wives. I didn’t assert anything, I repeated what I could find in the newspapers. Yes, it’s very dangerous, I could have been attacked by the Niarchos family lawyers and they are terribly powerful. That’s why I will never write about the Grimaldis because they systematically attack.

Cover of the book Les Soeurs Livanos, by Stéphanie des Horts
Cover of the book Les Soeurs Livanos, by Stéphanie des Horts

P.-A.T.: Was there a discovery during your research that particularly surprised you?

S.d.H.: I didn’t think John was that nice. He’s the ideal man for a woman, the one you come across in English movies, he’s gentle, tender, faithful, he never gets angry, he doesn’t smoke, he loves sports. He is there for a woman, he respects her. We all dream of a John Kennedy Jr. I think he was particularly well raised by his mother. She had suffered so much from JFK’s appalling behavior with women.

P.-A.T.: In the narrative of Carolyn et John, what myths about this legendary couple were important for you to deconstruct?

S.d.H.: I don’t know how to deconstruct, I only know how to build; I hate preconceived ideas, I love the truth. I restore what I know, what I learn. At the time, we knew nothing or so little about Carolyn and John’s marriage. Today, there are books written by John’s best friends, they waited about ten years before daring to give their version of the couple. These American books are the sources that allow me to offer a story where everything is true to my French readers.

P.-A.T.: What do you think of the conspiracy theories surrounding the tragic disappearance of Carolyn and John, particularly those suggesting an assassination?

S.d.H.: It’s ridiculous. Conspiracy theorists are everywhere today but at the time, social networks did not exist and I admit I did not hear too many stupid things about the accident. Nothing was questioned. We knew right away that it was a piloting error. I remember a huge sorrow that crossed the Atlantic and fell on Europe. Like a huge black veil, the curse! But it’s true that today with social networks everything is questioned.

P.-A.T.: Since the publication of your books, what reactions have struck you the most, both from critics and readers?

S.d.H.: The reactions that strike me are quite happy. In the salons, I meet readers who talk to me about happiness, reading pleasure, who tell me they learn things. And then I am often told that people love my universe that mixes glamour, history and aesthetics. It’s a real compliment.

P.-A.T.: After devoting so much time to Carolyn et John, do you already have an idea for the next subject or historical character to explore?

S.d.H.: No, I have no idea, I’m not in a hurry. I need to live with my characters during the promotion. Last year I released a novel called Cynthia. And I had already made good progress in writing Carolyn et John when Cynthia came out. It spoiled my promotion a bit. I didn’t know where I was anymore, I had to reread Cynthia because I was actually in two books at once and it’s disturbing. Today I am totally dedicated to Carolyn et John.

Websites and social networks of Stéphanie des Horts