The text below is a translated extract from Ricochets by Camille Emmanuelle. Ricochets opens on 7 January 2015, as Camille accompanies her husband Luz—cartoonist for Charlie Hebdo—to his first psychiatric appointment following the terrorist attacks that took place earlier that day.
In this book, Camille Emmanuelle conducts both a personal and journalistic investigation into an under-appreciated domain of post-traumatic stress, something which was recently recognised by the psychiatric profession, but unknown by people at large. She tells of her chaotic experiences, the good and the bad days, the friends who understand and those who don’t, the failings of the authorities, the hangovers, and the good souls who are critical of victimhood. And she meets others who are close to victims, as well as psychiatrists, lawyers, sociologists and even a gardener, in an effort to understand what being a ‘victim by ricochet‘ means.
Ricochets is published by Grasset.
Camille Emmanuelle [tr. Nick Haughton]
January 7th 2015, 8.17pm
I call from an interior courtyard at 36, quai des Orfèvres, HQ of the Criminal Investigation Division in Paris:
— Good, evening, Lucky Luciano Pizzeria!
— Hello, I reserved a table for 10 and I’m calling to cancel it. It’s in my name, Camille.
— Just give me a sec’ (silence). For tonight, 8.30pm, right? In ten minutes? We kept that table for you!
— Yes… I’m really sorry… I ran out of battery. It was a birthday surprise dinner, for my partner. Maybe you’ve heard there was a terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo this morning. Three of the guests at tonight’s dinner work at And, well… two of them are alive. So erm… we won’t be coming… we’re not going to be celebrating his birthday.
— (Silence) Fuck… That’s horrible… We’ve been watching the news all day. It’s awful. You’re in our thoughts…
— Oh thank you. Well, erm… maybe next time. Goodbye.
At 8.17pm, January 7th 2015, as millions of people in France, and across the entire world, watch the news speechless, shocked, shaken, some in tears. The terrorist attack on the newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, resulting in twelve deaths and 11 injured some of whom in a critical state. At that moment, I, Camille, 34 years old, journalist, married to an historic Charlie cartoonist, a survivor of the massacre as he arrived late to the editorial meeting, I cancel our pizza reservation.
An absurd every day task that slips into the heart of a tragic, historic, world event. Nestled in these first hours of lives shattered for eternity, those of the victims, the survivors and their closest kin.
My call to the Lucky Luciano Pizzeria isn’t just me being overly polite. I did it because I thought about a scene in a Raymond Carver book I read when I was 20, A Small, Good Thing.
In a small American town, a woman orders a custom-made birthday cake for her son, Scotty. That same day, the 8-year-old child is run over by a car. He spent three days in a coma in hospital before dying. During this time, the cake maker, unaware of the tragic event, is furious. No one came to pick up the cake he made. He calls the parents. Often. He persecutes them over the phone, enigmatically spouting. “You forgot Scotty…,” he repeats time and time again in a creepy voice. The parents, crippled by their pain, suddenly understand the source of this constant harassment and head to the bakery to confront this “monster”. On learning the terrible truth of the situation, and feeling awful about his behaviour, the cake maker invites the parents into his back shop. Together, the three of them eat sticky buns all night long.
A story of a life shattered in a matter of seconds, and also that of an unwitting tormentor, both tragic and prosaic.
On arriving at the police HQ on the evening of January 7th, my battery was dead. Earlier that day, I’d lent my charger to a woman at the makeshift First Aid post in the theatre on rue Nicolas-Appert. We we’re rushed out of there, surrounded by police officers who held back photographers, I lost sight of the woman, along with my phone charger.
Inside the huge, freezing cold waiting room, lit by neon lights and guarded by three plain-clothed police officers, I sit down, flanked by the companions of other survivors. They are upstairs, giving statements. We are simply waiting. We introduce ourselves. “I’m the husband of…”, “I’m the girlfriend of …”. I wonder who may have a charger. Because I just thought of something.
The pizza place. I need to cancel the table. I have to call the fucking pizza place. Before even calling my dad, who I haven’t spoken to all day.
I haven’t lost a child, unlike the woman in Carver’s book. But I’d managed to avoid getting angry calls at 9pm telling me I’d reserved a table for ten for nothing.
That kind of message could quite possibly have pushed me over the edge when I needed to keep it together. Be strong.
In all this chaos, this day filled with death, injury, blood, cries of pain, fear, this day of a country at war, I held on to something practical, something real, something I could control. Making a call to a restaurant to cancel a reservation, that was much easier than thinking about the journalists, cartoonists and people who came to work at the paper who’d been killed, with Kalashnikovs, in central Paris, during an editorial meeting, on a Wednesday morning. Less horrible than thinking that amongst them was the best friend and mentor, and the friends of your husband, who escaped the massacre thanks to just a few minutes. Less scary than knowing the two terrorists were still on the loose. More tangible than the terrible and unimaginable reality of this event.
That call marks the beginning of my new role: Support, console, listen to, answer, foresee, organise, block, lightning conductor, answer again, reassure family and friends, care for, be present for, be strong, don’t lose it, be strong, calm the fears, allow the tears, anticipate anxiety, provide levity, move home a million times, manage everyday life, keep a tab on threats, give pleasure, talk of the future, carry life.
A self-given role. Albeit vague. There’s no manual in how to perfectly support someone who is psychologically injured by a traumatic event. But a simple expression seems to define it: victim by ricochet.
Camille Emmanuelle is a journalist who specialises in sexual issues, erotic culture, feminism and gender. She is the author of five books and numerous features for The Huffington Post, Le Nouvel Observateur, Causette and Play
Ricochets is available from Grasset.
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