It’s that time of year again. The biannual frenzy of book publishing in France known as the rentrée littéraire is upon us. Pull up an armchair and choose from a stack of over 680 freshly printed novels, around 475 of them French.
Paris-based Belgian novelist Amélie Nothomb, famous for wearing big hats and writing between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. every day, has whipped out a new novel every year since 1999, when she made a hit with Stupeur et Tremblements (Fear and Trembling). The critics are not being kind about this year’s offering, Journal d’Hirondelle (Albin Michel), the story of a contract killer who falls hopelessly in love with a woman he has just assassinated, calling it slight, cliché-ridden, boring and forgettable. That hasn’t stopped it from topping the best-seller lists, however.
Sensationalism is also the stock in trade of Christine Angot, who made her name in 1999 with L’Inceste, in which the main character (called Christine Angot) has an incestuous relationship with her father. Now everyone is talking about her latest work of autofiction (fictionalized autobiography), Rendez-vous (Flammarion), which is being tipped as the probable winner of the Prix Goncourt, France’s top literary prize, to be awarded in November. Tamer than her sexually explicit earlier efforts, Rendez-vous describes a woman’s affairs with two men, a banker and a young actor. The latter, a fan of her books, asks her to write the story of their affair as they live it.
From the Paris suburbs comes the fresh voice of a young woman of Algerian descent, Faïza Guène. Her first novel, Kiffe Kiffe Demain, sold 200,000 copies and was translated into 26 languages. Just out is Du Rêve pour les Oufs (Hachette), about a young woman living in the suburbs who has lost her mother to violence in Algeria and must care for her disabled father and delinquent younger brother.
Nancy Huston, a Canadian who has long lived in France and even writes many of her books in French (translating herself those that she writes in English), has published Lignes de Faille (Actes Sud), which explores the lives of different generations of an American family of German origin.
In case it seems that women are grabbing all the attention, let’s mention a few works by men. Laurent Gaudé, winner of the Prix Goncourt in 2004 for Soleil des Scorta, takes on the currently hot topic of illegal immigration in Eldorado (Actes Sud), while TV news presenter Patrick Poivre d’Arvor and his brother Olivier, a diplomat, have written a novel, Disparaître (Gallimard), that purports to transcribe the thoughts of Lawrence of Arabia as he lay dying after a motorcycle accident. Another big name from across the Channel, the artist Francis Bacon, has inspired Alain Absire’s Deux Personnages sur un Lit avec Témoins (Fayard), the story of a painter’s twisted relationship with his lover and favorite model.
That’s just the top of the stack. For the rest, visit your friendly neighborhood bookstore.Favorite