Tag Archives: French Literature

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani

Lullaby Leila SlimaniWinner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt and recently translated from the French by Sam Taylor, ‘Lullaby’ by Leïla Slimani has been one of the most talked-about novels so far this year, partly inspired by a real-life case of a nanny who killed two children in New York in 2012. Paul and Myriam live in a fashionable area of north-west Paris with their two young children, Mila and Adam. Paul works in the music business and Myriam is a criminal lawyer of North African descent who hires a nanny, Louise, to look after the children when she decides to resume her career. Initially, Louise appears to be perfect and indispensable to the family, but her behaviour becomes increasingly concerning. Continue reading


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Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan

Based on a True Story Delphine de Vigan

After a break from Man Booker International Prize shadowing duties last month, I have returned to reading translated fiction with ‘Based on a True Story’ by Delphine de Vigan translated from the French by George Miller. It is about a middle-aged Parisian author, Delphine, who is befriended by a woman known throughout only as “L.” who claims to be a professional ghostwriter. L.’s presence gradually takes over every aspect of Delphine’s life to the point where their close friendship turns into something far more sinister.

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The Man Booker International Prize Longlist 2017

MBIP2017 longlist

The longlist for the Man Booker International Prize 2017 was announced today. The 13 books are:

  • Compass by Mathias Énard (translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell)
  • Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg (translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak)
  • A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman (translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen)
  • War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans (translated from the Dutch by David McKay)
  • The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw)
  • The Traitor’s Niche by Ismail Kadare (translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson)
  • Fish Have No Feet by Jón Kalman Stefánsson (translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton)
  • The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke (translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas)
  • Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou (translated from the French by Helen Stevenson)
  • Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer (translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire)
  • Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (translated from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra)
  • Judas by Amos Oz (translated from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange)
  • Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell)

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The Man Booker International Prize 2017: Longlist Predictions


The longlist for the Man Booker International Prize is due to be announced on Wednesday 15th March. I am on the shadow panel again this year and have been thinking about which books could make the cut.

The pool of fiction in translation published in the UK is smaller than the huge number of books which are eligible for awards like the Man Booker Prize and Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. However, thanks to consistent championing by booksellers, bloggers and publishers helping to steadily raise the profile of translated fiction, it doesn’t actually make the predictions easier (which is ultimately a good thing, of course). I also have no knowledge of which books have actually been submitted for consideration so my choices are purely speculative. Continue reading


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3 French Novellas I Have Read Recently

The End of Eddy Edouard Louis‘The End of Eddy’ by Édouard Louis is a semi-autobiographical novel set in a deprived rural community in Picardy in northern France. Translated by Michael Lucey, it is a coming of age tale about Eddy Bellegueule (the author’s real name) and his life at home and at school in the late 1990s and 2000s. Eddy is gay and struggles to conform to what is widely perceived to be an acceptable type of masculinity in the small village where he is expected to go to work in the factory as soon as he leaves school. His mannerisms are routinely mocked by his peers and his family, particularly his father who even chose Eddy’s name because it sounds American and more “tough guy”. ‘The End of Eddy’ garnered lots of attention in France because Louis published his debut novel in 2014 when he was just 21 years old. However, aside from Louis’s young age and the unflinching descriptions of Eddy exploring his sexuality, ‘The End of Eddy’ also deserves acclaim more generally for articulating the reality of social exclusion in modern-day France so convincingly. Many thanks to Harvill Secker for sending me a review copy via NetGalley. Continue reading


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Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec

Life A User's Manual Georges PerecI first came across Georges Perec’s work at university through his first novel ‘Things: A Story of the Sixties’ which was by far the most interesting book I had to read for one of my French literature modules focusing on consumerism. I’ve had ‘Life: A User’s Manual’ on my TBR list ever since which is probably Perec’s best known novel published in 1978 and translated from the French by David Bellos in 1987. Continue reading


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The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre

The Great Swindle Pierre LemaitreTranslated from the French by Frank Wynne, ‘The Great Swindle’ is something of a departure for Pierre Lemaitre from his crime fiction series of novels featuring detective Camille Verhoeven. Originally titled ‘Au-revoir là-haut’, it won the Prix Goncourt in 2013 which is one of the most prestigious literary prizes in France. In the final days of the First World War, Lieutenant Henri d’Aulnay-Pradelle secretly shoots two of his own men in the back to make other troops believe they were killed by the enemy and provoke a final attack on the Germans, thus establishing his reputation as a war hero. However, Albert Maillard and Édouard Péricourt have witnessed his crime and are gravely injured when Aulnay-Pradelle attempts to kill them too. After the armistice, Édouard assumes the identity of another dead soldier and embarks on an elaborate money-making scheme with Albert. Continue reading


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The Man in a Hurry by Paul Morand

The Man in a Hurry Paul MorandOriginally published as ‘L’Homme pressé’ in 1941, ‘The Man in a Hurry’ by Paul Morand has recently been translated from the French by Euan Cameron and printed by Pushkin Press. It tells the story of Pierre Niox, a Parisian antiques dealer who is permanently in a rush to get things done. His friends, business partner, valet and even his cat can’t keep up with his frenetic pace of life and gradually abandon him. However, when Pierre falls in love with the laidback and easy-going Hedwige, he is forced to adapt his impulsive behaviour to win her over by learning how to settle down and savour the simple things in life. Continue reading


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Zone by Mathias Énard

Zone‘Zone’ by Mathias Énard and translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell tells the story of Francis Mirkovic, a Franco-Croat intelligence officer who is travelling by train from Milan to Rome after missing his plane. He will be delivering a briefcase containing a dossier about war crimes across various parts of the “zone” where he worked – the region around the Mediterranean Sea spanning across Spain, Lebanon, Cairo and Croatia – which he plans to sell to the highest bidder thus ending his career as an agent. During the journey, Francis reflects on his twenty-year career, his future, his family, his relationships with Marianne, Stéphanie and Sashka, his fellow passengers on the train and much more. Continue reading


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Irène and Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

Irene Alex

‘Irène’ and ‘Alex’ are the first two books in Pierre Lemaitre’s series of crime novels set in Paris and featuring Commandant Camille Verhoeven. ‘Irène’ was the first novel in the series originally published in France in 2006 but was the second to be translated into English following the success of  its sequel ‘Alex’ which won the CWA International Dagger for best translated crime novel of the year in 2013.  Continue reading


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The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker

The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair’ by Joel Dicker tells the story of Marcus Goldman, a young author suffering from writer’s block after the success of his debut novel. His former professor and mentor Harry Quebert is arrested and charged with the murder of his fifteen-year-old lover Nola Kellergan who is found buried on his property in New Hampshire thirty-three years after she disappeared. Marcus becomes obsessed with solving the mysteries surrounding Nola’s disappearance and starts investigating what really happened all those years ago. Continue reading


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The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is one of the most interesting literary prizes but is also, unfortunately, one of the more overlooked. It probably hasn’t helped that the announcement of both the longlist and shortlist  has coincided with the announcement of the longlist and shortlist of the higher profile Women’s Prize for Fiction. The jury had a record number of entries to read before choosing this year’s shortlist which was revealed yesterday:

The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim (translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright)

A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard (translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett)

A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli (translated from the French by Sam Taylor)

The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke (translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch)

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder)

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell)
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The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain

Set in France during the mid-1980s, ‘The President’s Hat’ by Antoine Laurain tells the story of, well, François Mitterrand’s black felt hat.  After the French president accidentally leaves it behind in a brasserie, Daniel Mercier takes the hat on impulse and finds that wearing it brings him a great amount of luck.  However, it soon ends up in the hands of a range of other characters… and so begins the eventful journey of the president’s hat which somehow changes the lives of all those who briefly possess it.  Continue reading


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The Devil in the Flesh by Raymond Radiguet

The Devil in the Flesh‘The Devil in the Flesh’ by Raymond Radiguet tells the semi-autobiographical story of an unnamed narrator who begins a tumultuous love affair at the age of 16 with Marthe, a 19 year old married woman whose husband is away fighting at the front during the First World War.  The affair is soon discovered by their families and friends.  Naturally, tragedy ensues. Continue reading

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French Bookshops

French Books

Here’s one way of preventing Amazon’s hegemony over book sales: in France, book prices are fixed by law so they cost the same amount whether you buy them online, in a chain shop like Fnac or in a small independent bookshop.  When I was living in Paris during my year abroad, the stingy student side of me was a bit miffed that it was impossible to get new books at a discount.  On the other hand, it means that there are still a lot of independent bookshops which are managing to stay open (about 400 in Paris) and that can only be a good thing. Continue reading


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Books I Never Finished

I very rarely give up on a book.  Even when I dislike a book, I will usually finish it out of obligation (like ‘The Immoralist’ by André Gide, for a French literature course) or sheer bloody-mindedness just to say I read it (like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen) or simply to get people to stop hassling me about it (like ‘The Hobbit’ by J. R. R. Tolkien).  But occasionally, life is just too short.  Here is a list of the books I have given up on in the last couple of years.

Everything is Illuminated: Jonathan Safran Foer
This was the last book I couldn’t finish a few months ago.   To compare the linguistic experimentalism of this book with ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess is a sin of the highest order.  To try and stretch out an unfunny joke about Ukrainian attempts at the English language over an entire book is completely unforgivable. Sorry, I just didn’t get it. 
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The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq

It’s just as well that I don’t judge books by their covers because let’s face it, this cover of the hardback English language version of Michel Houellebecq’s ‘The Map and the Territory’ is pretty bad.  Happily, the contents are more rewarding as the enfant terrible of modern French literature has produced his most innovative work yet.  Perhaps more subtly provocative than his previous novels, ‘The Map and the Territory’ follows the story of Jed Martin, a French artist who discovers fame by taking photographs of Michelin maps and completing a series of portraits of people and their professions whilst dealing with personal crises such as his father’s illness.  Houellebecq includes himself as a fictional character in the book working on the text of Martin’s exhibition guide and his comical self-caricature is one of the most amusing aspects of the novel. Continue reading

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