Après le Déluge
The usual tsunami of new works of fiction is being published in France again this fall: 727, to be precise, 493 of them written in French, including 102 first novels. The hot ticket of the season, however, isn’t a novel, but one of the 600 non-fiction works: L’Aube, le Soir ou la Nuit (Flammarion), a portrait of French President Nicolas Sarkozy by playwright Yasmina Reza (of Art fame), who followed the hyperactive politician on the campaign trail for a year before his election. While it doesn’t reveal much that is new about Sarkozy, it has the French press buzzing with speculation about the identity of a character in the book called “G,” another presidential aspirant whom the left-leaning Reza is close to but has refused to name.
Books by many familiar authors are piling up on the nouveautés tables in French bookstores. Amélie Nothomb, who can always to be counted on to turn out a new novel, often high in shock value, offers Ni d’Eve ni d’Adam (Albin Michel), which the critics are hailing as the equal of her best-selling autobiographical novel Stupeur et Tremblements (1999). Both books are set in Tokyo (her birthplace), which she left as a young woman for Belgium, her parents’ native country, but the new one focuses on her relationship with her Japanese fiancé rather than her working life. The equally prolific Marie Darrieussecq brings us Tom Est Mort (POL), the story of a grieving mother who refuses to let the memory of her little boy die.
The death of a child, seen from a very different angle, is also the subject of the new book by another now-familiar female name on the literary scene: Mazarine Pingeot (the long-hidden love child of the late President Francois Mitterrand). Her Le Cimetière des Poupées (The Doll Cemetery, Albin Michel), written from the point of view of a mother who kills her newborn child and puts the body in the freezer, echoes last year’s news story of a women accused of doing exactly that (twice).
The Poivre d’Arvor fraternal writing team, Patrick and Olivier, is back again this year and hoping for a Prix Goncourt with another novel, J’ai Tant Rêvé de Toi (Albin Michel), the story of a young woman’s search for her father in Prague.
Another novel being tipped for a major literary prize is Olivier Adam’s A l’Abri de Rien (Editions de l’Olivier), about a woman who leaves her husband and two children to help illegal immigrants.
At least two books touch on the events of September 11, 2007: Frederic-Yves Jeannet’s Recouvrance, in which a man looks at current events through the filter of the past; and Maurice G. Dantec’s Artefact, Machines à Ecrire 1.0, three novellas by this author known for his literary science fiction and fascination with the dark side of human nature.
Belle-Soeur (Fayard), by the provocative and prolific Patrick Besson (who has some 40 books under his belt) explores a man’s love for his brother’s wife. Other big names on the bookstore tables will include Philippe Claudel, with Le Rapport Brodeck (Stock), in which a man in an unnamed German-speaking country investigates a massacre that occurred during World War II; and Philippe Sollers, with Un Vrai Roman, Mémoires (A Real Novel: Memoirs, Gallimard), who uses the title of his book to classify his memoirs as fiction.
If the literary prizes had a category for evocative titles, the winner might be Lydie Salvayre’s Portrait de l’Ecrivain en Animal Domestique (Seuil), about a fast-food billionaire who hires a novelist to lionize him; Patrick Modiano’s Dans le Café de la Jeunesse Perdue (In the Café of Lost Youth, Gallimard), in which a detective investigates the disappearance of a young women; Alain Fleischer’s Quelques Obscurcissements ; Leïla Marouane’s La Vie Sexuelle d’un Islamiste à Paris (Albin Michel); first novelist Boris Bergmann’s Viens là que Je te Tue Ma Belle (Scali); and Thomas Clerc’s Paris, Musée du XXIe Siècle (Gallimard).
According to the Nouvel Observateur’s survey of French booksellers, the book to watch out for this fall is Michèle Lesbre’s Le Canapé Rouge (Sabine Wespieser), about a woman who sets off on the Trans-Siberian Railway in search of a lost love while an elderly friend and neighbor waits at home on her red sofa for news of the trip.
One author with a new book hasn’t been heard from for some time: none other than Napoleon Bonaparte, who at the age of 26 penned Clisson et Eugénie (Fayard), a short romantic tale about a young military officer betrayed by his wife. And the author who brought you the novelized Napoleon, Max Gallo, gives the Sun King’s childhood the same treatment in Louis XIV.
Those unable or unwilling to read the hundreds of new books that will be jamming French bookstores this season can get the flavor of the stye of France’s leading literary lights and save a lot of time by reading Et Si C’Etait Niais (Chiflet & Cie) by Pascal Fioretto, a collection of clever, funny pastiches of the literary ticks of “Denis-Henri Lévy” (who sets out on a life-changing journey to the Right Bank of the Seine), “Mélanie Notlong,” “Christine Anxiot,” Fredéric Beisbéger,” “Fred Wargas” and “Bernard Werbeaux” and others.Favorite