La Rentrée Littéraire September 2009

September 8, 2009By Heidi EllisonBooks
rentrée littéraire
Therentrée littéraireis a uniquely French phenomenon. This fall, 659 novels, 430 of them by French authors, are being published.

Some writers are even upping the ante: Yann Queffélec will publish an autobiographical novel, Le Piano de ma Mère (L’Archipel), at the end of September, after having already published two other books earlier this year: La Puissance des Corps in February and Adieu Bugaled Breizh in July.

This band of multitasking French speed writers – along with some newcomers and authors who take their time penning new works – hasn’t disappointed us for the 2009 fall season’s rentrée littéraire (mid-August to the end of October), whipping up 430 novels. That’s down from the 463 published in 2008 and 493 in 2007, but French publishers are still bringing out a total of the 659 French and foreign novels this autumn, not as many as last year (676), but 250 more than were published in the fall of 1997.

A whiff of scandal accompanies this rentrée littéraire, brought to us by the indefatigable clubber Beigbeder (still at it at the age of 43), who was arrested for sniffing cocaine on the hood of a Chrysler one evening last year. In his latest autobiographical novel, Roman Français (Grasset), the writer took his revenge on the prosecutor who had him locked him up for two nights. The offending four pages, however, disappeared between the time review copies were sent to the press and the publication of the novel, censored by the lawsuit-shy publisher. While some see the whole affair as a marketing ploy (Beigbeder made his name in advertising), others are finding a little more depth than usual in his new novel, which is already a best seller.

Nothomb’s offering this year, also topping the sales charts, is Le Voyage d’Hiver (Albin Michel), the story of the encounter between an unlikely terrorist and an autistic female novelist. Described by one reviewer as “piquant and psychedelic,” it is considered one of her better literary efforts.

PPDA’s contribution is Fragments d’une Femme Perdue, the story of a “toxic” femme fatale called Violette, told from several points of view. Another recidivist, Philippe Delerm, has his eye on both the literary past and present in Quelque Chose en Lui de Bartleby (Gallimard), about a post-office employee who scores an unexpected hit with a blog advocating passivity.

Among new entrants on the literary scene who are also moonlighting from their day jobs are José Alvarez, 62, founder of the Editions du Regard publishing house and now author of Anna la Nuit (Grasset), already pegged for a literary prize. Actress Anne Brochet is publishing her first novel, Un Tour en Ville (Seuil), this year, following up on last year’s successful book of short stories, La Fortune de l’Homme et Autres Nouvelles (Seuil). Another actor, Daniel Mesguich offers Les Aubes Ecarlates (Plon), while Serigne M. Gueye, better known as rapper Disiz la Peste, has written Les Derniers de la Rue Ponty (Naïve).

An established writer who is attracting a great deal of critical praise this year is Marie NDiaye, the 2001 winner of the Prix Fémina, whose Trois Femmes Puissantes (Gallimard) recounts the struggles of three women in France and Africa. Véronique Ovaldé’s Ce que Je Sais de Véra Candida (Editions de l’Olivier) also looks at the lives of three troubled women, this time in South America. Justine Lévy’s dark novel Mauvaise Fille (Stock) is about the relationship between a daughter and her ailing mother.

Female writers, including but not restricted to those mentioned above, make a strong showing this season, and some commentators are hoping that one of them will win the Prix Goncourt for the first time since 1998.

Not to stereotype, but the offerings of many of the male writers veer far from personal relationships: Laurent Mauvignier’s Des Hommes (Minuit) is about the Algerian War, while Robert Alexis’s U-Boot (José Corti) dives inside the last submarine launched by the Nazis. In Bella Ciao (Seuil), Eric Holder describes what happens to a writer after his wife, fed up with sleeping with a drunk for 33 years, throws him out. Eliette Abécassis’s Sépharade (Albin Michel) is a 500-page epic about the Jews of Morocco, and Patrick Besson’s Mais le Fleuve Tuera l’Homme Blanc (Fayard) is an unsparingly violent novel set in Africa.

A few lesser-known names that are receiving praise for their efforts include Alain Monnier for Je Vous Raconterai (Flammarion), in which an ordinary man loses everything and finds himself in a lucrative but dangerous game of Russian roulette; and Yannick Haenel, whose Jan Karski (Gallimard) is based on the story of the real-life Polish Resistance fighter who revealed the Nazi’s Final Solution to the Allies in 1942, to no effect. La Double Vie d’Anna Song (Actes Sud), by Minh Tran Huy, constructs a story around the tale of a pianist (based on the true story of Joyce Hatto) whose recordings are really the stolen work of other musicians.

Some first novels, 87 of which were published this year, are also attracting attention, most notably Le Club des Incorrigibles Optimistes (Albin Michel) by a 59-year-old former lawyer and screenwriter, Jean-Michel Guenassia, who hits the literary scene with a 750-page epic about Frances postwar generation as seen through the eyes of a youthful narrator.


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