Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès: L’Île du Point Némo (Island of Point Nemo)

The latest addition to my website is Jean-Marie Blas de RoblèsL’Île du Point Némo (Island of Point Nemo). Like his earlier work, this is a madcap romp, with adventures, sex and violence, world travel and characters from all over the world. It features amputated feet, a racing pigeon fancying, breast-loving Chinese manufacturer of e-readers, the Bloop, the Battle of Gaugamela and, of course, Point Nemo as well as a character called John Shylock Holmes who is not Sherlock Holmes though he almost is, two women in a coma, Creationist terrorists and the impotent Dieumercie Bonacieux. It is great fun, post-modern and thoroughly unpredictable.

Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès: Là où les tigres sont chez eux (Where Tigers are at Home)

The latest addition to my website is Jean-Marie Blas de RoblèsLà où les tigres sont chez eux (Where Tigers are at Home). This is a massive novel (over a thousand pages) set in Brazil and mixes several stories, including the probably not entirely accurate life of Athanasius Kircher (recently seen in Daniel Kehlmann‘s Tyll [Till]), a paleontological expedition to a remote part of Brazil, involving Paraguayan bandits and shamanistic natives, a corrupt governor, a handicapped man obsessed with the famous Brazilian bandit Lampião and our hero, a Franco-German journalist, who is an expert on Kircher and whose ex-wife is on the paleontological expedition and whose daughter is a bisexual hard drug user. All these various stories more or less intersect. However, while it is certainly an interesting novel, I found it dragged a bit in places

Jean Giono: Pour saluer Melville (Melville: A Novel)

The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Pour saluer Melville (Melville: A Novel), published in French in 1941 but only published this year in English. It was intended, initially, as an introduction to Giono’s translation of Moby Dick into French but was expanded into a short novel, with Giono inventing a fanciful story about Melville. The story, essentially, concerns Melville’s visit to London to get his novel White Jacket published. Once he has handed over the manuscript, he has two weeks to kill, so decides to set off for the (fictitious) Woodcut, near Bristol as a young man said that is what he would do do, if he had the time and money, as his girlfriend lived there. Melville decided to go there himself but, en route, he meets an Irish nationalist woman, helping the Irish during the Great Famine and the two become, briefly, quite close. It is combination of this woman and his guardian angel (yes, really) that inspires him to write Moby Dick. He returns to the the United States but never forgets her. The story is quite untrue but certainly an interesting fantasy.

Jean Giono: Le Moulin de Pologne (The Malediction)

The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Jean Giono: Le Moulin de Pologne (The Malediction). This is not the joyous Giono novel of his early years but, as the English title tells us, a novel about a curse. The Coste family lived in the Moulin de Pologne (Poland Mill), an estate rather than simply a mill. Mr Coste had lost his wife and two sons suddenly and unexpectedly and is determined his surviving daughters will marry men without any family history of disease or disaster. The matchmaker finds two brothers who meet his needs but the curse is still there and it strikes his daughters and their families and subsequent generations, till we get to the last survivor, Julie, a contemporary of the narrator. She seems somewhat unstable so everyone is surprised when she marries the rather gruff new owner of the Moulin de Pologne. They have a son and everything seems to be going well for the family but the curse of the Costes is still there. It is not a bad book but definitely grim and not, in my view, as good as his early work.

Jean Giono: Le Hussard sur le toit (US/UK: The Horseman on the Roof; UK: The Hussar on the Roof)

The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Le Hussard sur le toit (US/UK: The Horseman on the Roof; UK: The Hussar on the Roof). This novel is set in the 1830s during a major cholera pandemic. Angelo Pardi is an Italian revolutionary, fleeing Italy after killing a baron in a duel. He arrives during the cholera pandemic, which is vividly described by Giono. He sees many dead bodies, sees people dying and is also affected by the consequences (towns and villages barricaded, superstitious locals killing people suspected of bringing cholera, difficulties in obtaining food and drink). He does help a few people but ends up in Manosque (Giono’s hometown) where he has to live on the roofs, to avoid the mob. Eventually, he manges to escape, after a series of adventures, with a young but married woman, Pauline. Giono gives a superb portrayal of a country devastated by disease but counterbalanced by the optimism and pragmatism of Angelo and Pauline.

Jean Giono: Un roi sans divertissement [A King Without Distraction]

The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Un roi sans divertissement [A King Without Distraction]. The title comes from a quote by Pascal and is the last sentence of the book. This was Giono’s first book published after World War II, when he had been imprisoned for both pacifism (at the beginning) and possible collaboration (after liberation). It is a change in style for him – less lyrical, darker, more humour and. mockery and set well in the past (1843-1848). It is still set in a remote village in the South of France and tells of the hunt for a mysterious man who is murdering some of the locals, followed by a wolf hunt and concluding with the man leading the man-hunt and wolf-hunt, Langlois, trying to settle down with his new wife. While still a fine book, I did not enjoy it as much as his earlier ones. It has been translated into eight languages but not English.

The French rentrée littéraire 2017

Every year at around this time, publishers in France and francophone Belgium issue a large of numbers of books in all genres, including those originally written in French and those translated from other languages into French. The reasons for this are twofold: firstly, to get them into place and into the shops for the Christmas market and secondly to get them into place and into shops for the various French literary prizes. Apparently, this year there are 577 new books, which should keep most people busy. Here is a selection of some of the interesting ones.

No rentrée is complete without a new book from Amélie Nothomb, who produces a new book every year. In fact, in a recent interview, she claimed that she wrote three books every year but only published one. This year’s offering is called Frappe-toi le coeur, which means Strike Your Heart and is a quote from a poem by Alfred de Musset, called A mon ami Edouard B.. The second verse starts Ah ! frappe-toi le coeur, c’est là qu’est le génie [Strike your heart, that is where genius lies]. The book is a mother-daughter relationship book. Diane is intelligent, loving and generous but Marie, her mother, seems to be jealous of her and reserves her love for her son and for her other daughter. The book has had fairly mixed reviews but has nevertheless sold out and been reprinted. I hope to get round to it shortly.

Kamel Daoud is best-known for his novel Meursault, contre-enquête (Meursault, Counter Investigation), his Algerian response to Albert CamusL’Etranger (UK: The Outsider; US: The Stranger), published in French in 2014 and in English in 2015. He has now written another book, Zabor ou Les Psaumes, which means Zabor or The Psalms and is about a boy whose writing skills may be able to hold off death. I hope to get round to this soon, as well., though it, too, has had mixed reviews.

There are quite a few new books by established by French and French-writing authors, though, in all too many cases, these authors are little known in the English-speaking world.

Sorj Chalandon was born in Tunisia but is a French national. He was a long-time journalist including working for the satircal magazine Le Canard Enchaîné. He is best-known for Le Quatrième Mur [The Fourth Wall], about a left-wing amateur director who puts on Jean Anouilh’s Antigone>, in Lebanon during the war there in the 1980s. Two of his books have been translated into English: Retour à Killybegs (Return to Killybegs), set in Northern Ireland, and Mon traître ( My Traitor), also set in Northern Ireland. His new book is Le Jour d’avant [The Day Before] about the Liévin mining disaster.

Yves Ravey is an Editions de Minuit writer, best-known for his novels Cutter and Moteur. He is also a playwright. None of his books has been translated into English. His new book is Trois jours chez ma tante [Three Days At My Aunt’s House]. Marcello Martini has not seen his rich aunt for twenty years but she summons him to her retirement home to tell him that she is stopping his monthly allowance and disinheriting him.

Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès has been translated into English – Là où les tigres sont chez eux (Where Tigers are at Home) and L’Ile du Point Némo (Island of Point Nemo), which appeared in English from Open Letter last week. His new book is Dans l’épaisseur de la chair [In the Thickness of the Flesh] about an Algerian, son of Spanish immigrants, who looks like the actor Tyrone Power and his complex family history. This one should – eventually – appear in English.

I have read several of Marie Darrieussecq‘s books and quite a few have appeared in English (see links from her page for more info). Her new book is Notre vie dans les forêts (Our Life in the Forests), a dystopia about a woman living the forest with her clone and a group of other women, who have fled the modern world.

Jean-Michel Guenassia is known in English for his Le Club des incorrigibles optimistes (The Incorrigible Optimists Club). His new book is De l’influence de David Bowie sur la destinée des jeunes filles [On the Influence of David Bowie on the Destiny of Girls]. No, it is not a psychological work but a novel about Paul who imitates David Bowie in becoming androgynous.

Véronique Olmi‘s first novel Bord de mer has been translated into English as Besides the Sea though she is perhaps better-known in France for Cet été-là [That Summer] about three couples who get together every year on 14 July but who, this time, meet a mysterious adolescent, Dimitri. Her new book is called Bakhita based on the life of , a Sudanese woman who was abducted by Arab slave traders and sold into slavery, was freed and became a nun.

Fabrice Humbert is perhaps best-known for his book L’Origine de la violence about a teacher who visits Buchenwald with his pupils and thinks he recognises his father in a picture of the the prisoners. It has been translated into English as The Origin of Violence. His book La Fortune de Sila has been translated as Sila’s Fortune. Sila is a waiter in a posh restaurant and is violently struck by one the clients. No-one intervenes to help him, which leads to a novel about the role of money and power at the turn of the century. His new book is called Comment vivre en héros [How to Live as a Hero]. Tristan is the son of a war hero and communist worker. Can he be a hero and what if his children’s heroism opposes his?

François-Henri Désérable is not only a novelist but a former ice hockey player. He is best known for Tu montreras ma tête au peuple [Show My Head to the People], about the last days of the famous figures of the French Revolution. His new books is Un certain M. Piekielny [A Certain Mr Piekielny]. Mr. Piekielny tells his neighbour, Roman Kacew, a child, that when he becomes famous, he should tell the famous people he meets where Mr. Piekielny lives. Roman grows up to become the writer Romain Gary.

Marc Dugain‘s novel La Chambre des officiers has been translated as The Officers’ Ward and tells the story of officers disfigured in World War I. His new novel has the intriguing title Ils vont tuer Robert Kennedy [They Are Going to Kill Robert Kennedy]. It is the story of a professor of history in British Columbia who thinks his parents’ deaths are connected to the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

Alice Ferney is a controversial novelist because of her opposition to gay marriage and assisted procreation. Two of her novels have been translated into English: La conversation amoureuse (The Lovers), about a man in the process of getting divorced who falls for a happily married pregnant woman, and Grâce et dénuement (Angelina’s Children), about a young librarian who wants to teach the illiterate children of gypsies and the opposition that she gets. Her new book is Les Bourgeois follows the story of a family whose name is, indeed, Bourgeois, from World War I to the present day. Not surprisingly, they are very bourgeois.

Kaouther Adimi has been translated into German and Spanish but not into English. His new novel, his third, is Nos Richesses [Our Wealth]. It tells the story of the twenty-year old Edmond Charlot who opens a bookshop in Algiers in 1935 to encourage young writers. Meanwhile, in 2017, Ryad must clear his books out of a building which is to become a coffee-shop. However the temple guardian is watching him.

The Belgian writer Jean-Philippe Toussaint has had most of his books published in English by Dalkey Archive Press. His new book is called Made in China. It tells of a film he made in China.

Two of Tanguy Viel ‘s novels have been translated into English: L’Absolue Perfection du crime (The Absolute Perfection of Crime) and Insoupçonnable (Beyond Suspicion). Another Editions de Minuit writer, Viels’s latest has the decidedly odd title Article 353 du Code pénal [Article 333 of the Penal Code]. it actually refers to Article 353 of the Penal Procedure Code. You can read it in French here. It is about judges using their conscience to decide on proof of guilt or innocence. The book is about a man who has just been arrested for throwing a property developer into the sea and the events leading up to it.

Chantal Thomas is best-known for her novel Les adieux à la reine (Farewell, My Queen) about the final days of Marie-Antoinette, as seen by one of her servants. Her other Marie-Antoinette book, La Reine scélérate, Marie-Antoinette dans les pamphlets has been translated into English as The Wicked Queen : The Origins of the Myth of Marie-Antoinette. Her novel L’Échange des princesses was published in English as The Exchange of Princesses. Her new book is Souvenirs de la marée basse [Memories of Low Tide] about a woman who spends much of her time swimming in the sea. Her daughter is Chantal Thomas and her mother’s behaviour has clearly had an effect on her.

Véronique Tadjo is from Côte d’Ivoire. Several of her works have already been translated into English, such as Le Royaume aveugle (The Blind Kingdom). Her latest work is En compagnie des hommes [In the Company of Men] about Ebola and its effect on individuals.

Charif Majdalani is Lebanese. His novel Caravansérail has been translated as Moving the Palace. His latest novel is L’empereur à pied [The Emperor on Foot], about Khanjar Jbeili, who appears with his sons in the mountains of Lebanon and soon establishes himself but imposes a rule on his descendants that only one child per generation may marry and have children.

Only one of Patrick Deville‘s novels has been translated into English, the charmingly titled Peste et Choléra (Plague and Cholera), His new book also has an odd title – Taba-Taba. It tells the story of the narrator who finds a cache of historical documents, dating back to Napoleon III after his aunt dies, which tell the story of France and its adventures.

Two of Philippe Besson‘s novels have been translated into English, including his first En l’absence des hommes (In the Absence of Men) about a gay love affair in World War I and also about Marcel Proust. His latest novel Un personnage de roman [A Character from a Novel] is a novel about new French president Emmanuel Macron.

The rentrée has a host of foreign novels as well. Here are a few:

Yaa Gyasi: Homegoing, interestingly enough called No Home (in English) in the French
Daniel Mendelsohn: An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and an Epic
Jenni Fagan: The Sunlight Pilgrims (called Les buveurs de lumière [The Light Drinkers] in French)
Nathan Hill: the Nix (called Les fantômes du vieux pays [The Ghosts of the Old Country]
Jaroslav Kalfar: Spacemen of Bohemia
Clemens J. Setz: a translation of his latest novel Die Stunde zwischen Frau und Gitarre [The Hour Between Woman and Guitar], which has yet to appear in English but which I plan to get round to soon.
Sticking with Austria, Christoph Ransmayr has had several books translated into English. His most recent book Cox oder Der Lauf der Zeit [Cox or The The Passage of Time] has previously been translated into Dutch and now appears in French, but not English.
Colson Whitehead‘s The Underground Railroad, dropping only the The in the French title.
Orhan Pamuk‘s Kafamda Bir Tuhaflık which was translated into English as A Strangeness in My Mind is now out in French
Omar El Akkad‘s American War has appeared in French, with the English title used in the French version
The French are ahead of the English speakers with their Han Kang books. Her 희랍어 시간, which means Greek Lessons is coming out with a literal translation, Leçons de grec.
Carsten Jensen‘s: Vi, de druknede (We, The Drowned) came out a couple of years ago in English, his second work in English. Den første sten is his third work in French with the title La première pierre [The First Stone]
Magda Szabó has a few works in English but not her 1970 novel Abigél, which now appears in French

No rentrée would be complete without its scandal and this year it is Eva Ionesco. She is the daughter of the photographer Irina Ionesco. When Eva was a child, Irina took numerous photos of Eva, quite a few of them nude. This traumatised Eva and, when she grew up she sued her mother. She became an actress and director and made a film called My Little Princess on the topic and has now published a book called Innocence whose title needs no translation and is on the same topic.

This is only a small glimpse of what the Rentrée offers. Sadly, most of them will not make it into English. Bonne lecture!

Jean Giono: Que ma joie demeure (Joy of Man’s Desiring)

The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Que ma joie demeure (Joy of Man’s Desiring). This is an unusual book for Giono, as it flirts with fantasy. It is set, as usual, in a farming community in an unnamed region of central France. The region has been affected by a general malaise, making many people unhappy with even the odd suicide. Jourdan, one of the farmers, dreams of someone arriving to heal them and, sure enough, a wanderer, Bobi, turns up. He proceeds to change the general feeling by bringing the community closer to nature – sowing flowers instead of cash crops, feeding the birds with surplus corn, bringing in a tame stag – and generally bringing the community together. Not everyone accepts his views and things do go wrong but the overall message is that we should be closer together and work more together. A worthy message, given the period when the book was written (late 1930s).

Julien Gracq: Un balcon en forêt (A Balcony in the Forest)

The latest addition to my website is Julien Gracq‘s Un balcon en forêt (A Balcony in the Forest). This novel was based on Gracq’s own experiences in World War II and tells of Grange, a young lieutenant, put in charge of a bunker by the River Meuse, near the Belgian border, to stop advancing German tanks. For much of the novel Gracqq and the three men under his command are waiting while nothing much happens. Grange has an affair with a young widow living nearby, the men hunt and, all the while, they feel that the war is unreal, even as we see small signs of it creeping closer. Of course, it eventually does arrive and, for the last few days, they watch the smoke in the distance and see the planes. As we know, it does not end well for the French and Belgian defenders.

Jean Giono: Le Chant du monde (The Song of the World)

The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Le Chant du monde (The Song of the World). This is another superb novel from Giono, something of a Western but with a very French flavour. Sailor, a man of the forest, calls on his friend, Antonio, a man of the river, to help him find his son, Danis, who seems to have disappeared. Danis had a twin brother, who died the previous year. The two men set out and, on the way, come across a blind woman giving birth, a group of cattle herders working for cattle boss, Maudru, and Maudru’s nephew, who has been shot in the stomach. Antonio soon works out that Danis had shot him. They find Danis and Gina, Maudru’s niece, hiding out at Sailor’s brother-in-law and the inevitable Western-style showdown occurs. While the plot is certainly worth following, what makes this book is Giono’s wonderful portrayal of the natural environment and how much the people are in tune with it.