La Rentrée Littéraire Sept. 2008

September 2, 2008By Heidi EllisonBooks

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

The usually bloated list of new books coming out during France’s fall publishing season, known as la rentrée littéraire, has slimmed down somewhat this year, with “only” 676 novels being published, 466 of them French (as opposed to 727 and 493, respectively, last year). Commentators have picked up on a dark outlook in many of these books – are writers depressed because the publishing industry is falling on hard times?

Living up to the French image of libertinage so popular in other countries, two writers known for their salacious stories are back in the saddle, so to speak, with new autobiographical works: Christine Angot offers Le Marché des Amants (Seuil), about her intimate relations with rapper Doc Gyneco, while Catherine Millet discourses on jealousy in Jour de Souffrance (Flammarion). While novelist Philippe Sollers has called the Angot’s book one of at least two “great novels” of the season, the press and public seem to be getting fed up with the navel-gazing antics of these authors.

The rentrée littéraire wouldn’t be the rentrée littéraire without a new novel from the prolific Amélie Nothomb, whose Le Fait du Prince (Albin Michel) is expected to be a big seller, with a first print run of 200,000. Faïza Guène, dubbed “the Françoise Sagan of the cités,” already has two best-sellers under her belt at the age of 23 and looks set to rival Nothomb for frequency of publication. Her third novel, Les Gens du Balto (Hachette), is about the murder of a racist bar owner in a tough Parisian suburb.

Among the debutants this year, a few are making noted entries: Tristan Garcia, who writes about AIDS in La Meilleure Part des Hommes (Gallimard); Pierric Bailly, whose Polichinelle (P.O.L.), about tragedy striking a group of bored teenagers in a nowheresville small town, is already being highly praised; and Frédéric Ciriez, who takes on the topic of prostitution in Des Néons sous la Mer (Gallimard). He is not alone. Prostitution and rape are hot topics this year, figuring in Jeanne Benameur’s Laver les Ombres (Actes Sud), about a dancer whose mother is a prostitute, while Marie Nimier adds drugs to the picture in her well-received Les Inséparables (Gallimard).

Other first-timers who are attracting attention are Aude Walker, with Saloon (Denoël), the story of a young American woman in exile who decides to return to her rich, dysfunctional family; Paul Melki, with Au Paradis de Candide (Calmann-Lévy), about a janitor who finds lost chapters from Voltaire’s manuscript; and Laurent Nunez, with Les Récidivistes (Champ Vallon), an autobiographical novel in which the narrator explains himself through the voices of great writers, including Duras, Proust and Genet.

The critics also have high praise for Zone (Actes Sud), the third novel byMathias Enard, which covers a century of European history, and Corniche Kennedy (Verticales), by Maylis de Kerangal, about yet another group of bored teenagers and the trouble they get into.

Death figures prominently in such works as Lacrimosa (Gallimard), by Régis Jauffret, in which the narrator corresponds with his girlfriend, who has committed suicide. Life’s other tragedies, including incest (L’Amant des Morts, by Mathieu Riboulet, published by Verdier), physical disabilities and drug addiction (Crack, by Tristan Jordis, published by Seuil), are also well-covered in this year’s literary crop.

Speaking of drugs, another hot topic is rock and roll. Petit Déjeuner avec Mick Jagger (Editions de l’Olivier), by Nathalie Kuperman, is the story of a young woman who imagines a relationship with the man himself, while Keith Me (Stock), by Amanda Sthers, is written from the point of view of Stones guitarist Keith Richards. The main character in Bertina Henrichs’ That’s All Right, Mama ! (Panama) uses a trip to Memphis, Tennessee, to shake up her life and commune with the spirit of her dead mother. New Wave (Flammarion), by Ariel Kenig and Gaël Morel, is about the music-based friendship of two boys in small-town France in the 1980s.

The gay lifestyle takes center stage in Antoine Sénanque’s L’Ami de Jeunesse (Grasset), about a middle-aged man who decides to go back to college to study history, as the author himself did, and in Ginsberg et Moi, by Frédéric Chouraki, in which the gay, Jewish narrator meets Allen Ginsberg in a sauna in Paris’s Marais.

Filmmaker Alain Fleischer has come up with the clever idea of commenting on the names in his address book in Carnet d’Adresses (Seuil) as a way of telling the story of his life. As if that weren’t enough, he is also publishing Prolongations (Gallimard), a novel about a young man exposed to the crime and degeneracy of a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea, cited by Sollers as the other surefire great novel coming out this season (a number of other commentators agree).

Laurent Gaudé, winner of the Prix Goncourt in 2004, is back with the eagerly awaited La Porte des Enfers (Actes Sud), the story of the repercussions of the death of a six-year-old boy in Naples in an organized-crime shooting.
Olivier Rolin’s Un Chasseur de Lions (Seuil), based on the life of a 19th-century French adventurer who was a friend of the painter Manet, also looks set to be a hit, as does Jean-Paul Dubois’s Les Accommodements Raisonnables (Editions de l’Olivier), the story of a Frenchman in the midst of a midlife crisis who is called to Hollywood to write a script.

Start reading now if you want to form your own opinions before the literary prize season begins. You have only two months before the big prizes – the Goncourt, Renaudot, Médicis, Femina – are announced, which explains why the market is flooded with nouveautés at this time every year.


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