A Literary Playlist ‹ Literary Hub


Translated from the French by Emma Reynolds

Everyone has their own personal playlist. It’s unique, like DNA: one person’s five favorite songs will always be different from another’s.

And then, there are what are called in France the “tubes”: the tubes which can connect thousands, even millions of people in an instant. As soon as we hear them, they transport us to a specific time, an intimate moment. (Think of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” for example.)

Music gives our life its rhythm and its temporality. It is an integral part of our feelings, not to mention our mental images. Music is there to make us tremble, dance, sing, understand and love.

That’s why I used it a lot in writing Three. I have created a soundtrack belonging to three friends who met in 1986, when they were 10 years old, and I describe their 31-year journey, a largely musical journey. Three friends, a girl and two boys: Nina, Adrien and Étienne. Three different sensitivities. Three different musical tastes. United by the same dream: to go to Paris to make music.

As if my books were films, I use music like a director. No song is used by chance. Each responds to a particular situation. A light song can enter the heart of a dramatic situation, or vice versa. Before writing each chapter, I point my mental cameras at my characters and shoot.

For this book, I used over 50 songs that have had a national or global impact over the past 30 years. Some of them are:

The remedy, “Charlotte sometimes”

I was 17 when I discovered The Cure. I felt a mixture of curiosity, envy, terror and beginnings. It was time to hit the road – what would tomorrow bring?

In the meantime, we drank coke whiskey in our weird New Wave outfits. We used to mix sugar in water and apply it to our hair, letting it dry with our heads bent, to give us a spike; there would be several of us doing the same thing, each in our parents’ bathroom, getting ready to go out to a nightclub.

The Cure has not aged and never will.


Three, the title of my novel, is also a tribute to Indochine’s third album “3”. To my chagrin, many only remember a vague “and we take each other’s hand” from the song “3rd sex”, which was playing on repeat in nightclubs in 1986. However, the leader of Indochina, Nicola Sirkis never stopped writing and creating. The guardian of the soul of Indochina, obsessed with Marguerite Duras, Patti Smith and David Bowie, has never given up. Many more personal and yet magnificent albums between “3rd sex” and “J’ai demande à la lune”, the song that put the group back on the front of the stage.

Today, Indochina fills halls and stadiums. After 40 years of drama and splendour, Our Celebrations, their last title, was the most broadcast song on French radio in 2020. The link between the history of this group and the lives of my protagonists is so obvious that I used their music as a guideline in my book . I needed a rock band that would survive – and this band weathered all storms. As the saying goes, “Fall down seven times, get up eight”.

U2, “New Year’s Day”

It’s one of those songs that brought together millions of listeners around the world at once.

It’s also a timeless song that marks the beginning of adolescence for the three teenagers in my book. They will grow. We too have grown. When we listen to this song now, when we realize that our own children listen to it too, then we can appreciate the importance and the power of music. Real music never goes out of style.

INXS, “Need You Tonight”

My little brother was a fan. He went to a concert. When he returned, he was holding one of Jon Farriss’s wands that he had grabbed on the fly. He was screaming with joy. Later he broke this pestle in half and placed the pieces on the graves of two deceased friends.

My brother also liked Sonic Youth and Spaceman 3. I wanted Etienne to have the same musical tastes as my brother. When I asked him for his ideal playlist, he said nonsense by these three groups.


This band didn’t last, but they made history with two songs: “The Sun Always Shines on TV” and “Take on Me.” These are essential for Threemarking the first explosions of adolescence.

Etienne Daho, “The Bay”

In my life, I’ve always listened to this beautiful song about a breakup when I was at my worst. I used it in my novel at a time when Nina is also very unhappy – she listens to it on repeat.

David Bowie, “Rebel, Rebel”

David Bowie is present in my three novels. How could we survive without it? And who would want to survive without it? Bowie personifies an utterly brilliant youthful spirit that courses through our veins early in life.

I find that his songs never take me back to the past; there is nothing nostalgic about them. It always keeps us in the here and now, in the immediate present. Its eternal modernity does just that.


Three by Valérie Perrin is available through Europa Editions.


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