La Rentrée Littéraire Jan. 2007

January 16, 2007By Heidi EllisonBooks

Poli-lit, Tech-lit & Chick-lit

It’s January, time for the publication of a slew of new books in France. The fiction scene is a little less crowded for this rentrée littéraire, with 353 new French novels, 67 of them first attempts, 12 fewer than last January’s harvest.

The main event seems to be the publication of Maurice G. Dantec’s American Black Box. The third volume of the author’s journal, it was supposed to be published in 2004, but was deemed “too heretical” by his longtime publisher, Gallimard, and was then dropped by Flammarion because of the legal problems its publication might entail. Dantec, who lives in self-exile in Canada, had refused to make the changes requested by the publisher, and the book was once more up for grabs. Albin Michel took up the reins and, after first announcing a pub date of January 2006, has finally published it this year.

What’s the big deal? In his journal, the mystery and science-fiction writer, who is sometimes compared with his fellow provocateur Michel Houellebecq for his politically incorrect, rightist beliefs, fulminates against what he calls “Nazislamistes” and the “journalistic Cosa Nostra” and expresses his admiration for George W. Bush, always a controversial position to take in France.

At least one of the season’s new novels promises to be contentious as Dantec’s journal: Jean-Christophe Rufin’s thriller Le Parfum d’Adam (Flammarion) warns of the threat of terrorism perpetrated by militant ecologists and the American secret services.

The political scene is a hot topic for fiction, and some novelists couldn’t resist taking on the upcoming French presidential election, with Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy appearing under their own names in the mystery Le Pacte Secret (Albin Michel) by journalists Albert Algoud and Pascal Fioretto, in which the two protagonists become allies in a race to save the French republic.

One retired politician, former Minister François Léotard, has stayed away from politics in his third novel, Le Silence (Grasset), which revolves around a young Frenchwoman’s inquiry into the mysterious past of a man who hasn’t spoken a word since he was 10 years old in 1944. Béatrice Wilmos’s first novel, La Dernière Sonate de l’Hiver, also deals with World War II: a French translator investigates the death of a Russian pianist in an Estonian village in 1942.

The trend for navel-gazing autofiction (fictionalized autobiography), noticeable over the past few seasons, seems to be giving way to novels with broader themes. Karine Tuil’s Douce France (Grasset), her second novel, tells the story of a young French woman, a writer and pied noir (European living in North Africa) who has never felt fully at home in France and is mistakenly arrested with a group of illegal immigrants. She decides to pretend to be one of them to see what happens, giving the author the chance to look at immigration issues and what it means to be French.

In La Working Girl (Stock), Sophie Talneau describes life in the marketing department of a beauty products company from the point of view of a young woman. Will this be France’s first contribution to the chick-lit genre?

Young people might also appreciate Isabelle Le Louarn’s Je T’M (Calmann-Lévy), which uses the abbreviated language of instant messaging to literary effect, describing a torrid love affair conducted entirely via text messages by a man and woman who never meet, while Emilie Stone’s Pomme Q (Michalon), billed as the first diary written be a computer, features a Mac as the main character.

Among the non-fiction offerings, Philippe Delerm applies his talent for writing lyrical descriptions of the little things in life to the world of sports with La Tranchée d’Arenberg et Autres Voluptés Sportives (Panama).

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