During a recent trip to Paris I indulged my compulsive book browsing and buying by visiting some of my favourite bookshops. They are plentiful and varied since France enjoys a fixed minimum price agreement unlike the UK where the Net Book Agreement was abolished in 1997 leading to the closure of over 500 independent bookshops, along with chains such as Dillons, Borders and Books etc. The success or failure of a book now largely lies in the hands of supermarkets, Waterstones and Amazon.
Here are a few finds for the Francophile literary flâneurs among you.
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Shredded: Life After Terror by Philippe Lançon (Gallimard)
“My book is not a narrative about Islamism or the state of the health service — subjects about which I am not sufficiently well-informed — it is a personal and intimate narrative. It is the story of a man who was the victim of a terrorist attack, who spent nine months in hospital, and who recounts as accurately as possible, and I hope with a lightness of touch, how this attack and his hospital stay changed his life and the lives of those around him; his feelings, his sensations, his memory, his body and his somatic perceptions, his relationship to music, painting, how he breathes and writes.” — Philippe Lançon
The journalist, Philippe Lançon, was at an editorial meeting in the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, on 7 January, 2015. When terrorists attacked, he was critically wounded. He wrote about his rehabilitation in a series of dispassionate articles in Charlie Hebdo and Libération, although Shredded: Life After Terror is not a collection of this journalism. He recounts his life before, during and especially after the attack. His narrative is trauma on the page in all its authentic, gory detail. He balances factual accuracy and stylistic simplicity and avoids the traps of self-pity, hatred and rage. Starting with the evening before the attack, he then recreates the event in slow motion, second by second — a conversation about Houellebecq is cut short by Kalashnikovs, a life is saved by a book about jazz, the rescue team arrives and survivors are taken to hospital . . . pain and suffering are interminable and seemingly endless, endured in a kind of warped time capsule in which the minutes are elasticated. The reader is right there with Lançon, riding tidal waves of emotion — numbing, pain and guilt, disgust and incomprehension, anger and sadness, and, finally, acceptance. Shredded: Life After Terror is a testament of survival and hope.
Read a full review by Diacritik, here >
Le Tour du Monde en 80 Start-up: à la découverte des Français qui changent le monde (Around the World in 80 Start-ups: discover the French who are changing the world) by Cyriac Lefort & Tristan Petit (ediSens)
The W Project was created by Brice de Matharel and Thomas Nanterme in 2012 to encourage young (and less young) French entrepreneurs from all over the world to meet each other and support the development of French start-ups internationally, backed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Cyriac Lefort & Tristan Petit, two childhood friends fresh out of university, were duly despatched in October 2015 to meet those French entrepreneurs who are shaping the digital economy the world over — leading them to the creation of their own start-up. The pair travelled around the world for one year, albeit not in a hot air balloon like Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg! They visited over 20 countries . . . Argentina, Azerbaijan, Berlin, Brasil, Chile, Columbia, Hong Kong, Iran, the UAE, the UK, New Zealand, Las Vegas . . . discovering all kinds of new initiatives in healthTech, legalTech, digital marketing agencies, gaming, greenTech, food, fashion, 3D printing . . . AdCash, Branditt, Carpool Arabia, Criteo, Blablacar, 1000mercis, Sigfox, Maestrano . . . and encountering the young guns of France abroad along with diplomats and opinion formers — Emmanuel Macron among them.
For an interactive experience, QRCodes have been dropped into some of the chapters so that accompanying video clips can also be watched.
Odyssée by Jacques Lob & Georges Pichard (Glénat)
In 1968, screenwriter Jacques Lob and artist Georges Pichard created a massively successful bande dessinée (BD) of Homer’s world-famous book about the adventures of Greek warrior, Odysseus (or Ulysses). Glénat’s much-anticipated reprint combines both volumes in one superb edition. The world of mythology is imbued with a sci-fi vibe, while retaining period costumes. Time warps and objects are transposed. There are drugs against magic, the arrow becomes a laser, the android is a servant, prostheses are tools. The gods of Olympus have also metamorphosed: Athena has a kinky sartorial style, while Zeus is a modern-day pop idol, and Poseidon a mad scientist. The poisonous power of Circe, the seduction of the Sirens, and the romanticism of Jupiter’s gorgeous daughter, the goddess Calypso, are sublimely sexy. The psychedelic artwork resonates with trippy hippy chic. France is famous for its bandes dessinées (BD) — the rock ‘n’ roll of literature — which represent over 12% of the publishing industry. Odyssée is a delicious read for escapist adult-adolescents of mind and body.
Dos au Mur (Back to the Wall) by Nicolas Rey (Au Diable Vauvert)
“I’m writing this because I’m going to die. In a few months, a few weeks, I’m going to die . . .” so begins Nicolas Rey’s fiercely bleak and at times hilarious cathartic confessional about his drug addiction, pancreatitis, financial insecurity, inspiration and dreams, infidelity, cowardice, love and lies, friends and family . . . and most of all, plagiarism. Having pinched twenty pages written by a friend to finish a collection of short stories it is his shame that hobbles him. Given a death sentence by the doctors, he tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
An extract can be read here >
Comment J’écris (How I Write) by Leila Slimani (L’Aube)
“Simone de Beauvoir also spoke very eloquently about women and literary creation. When I write, I always think of all those women, dead or alive, who could not write, who could not create, and were prevented from doing so by their circumstances, by the mere fact of being women. And every time I write, that I talk, and meet readers, to a certain extent I am in mourning for all of those women. Simone de Beauvoir said, “How can women make manifest their genius when they cannot produce masterpieces?” Geniuses or not, we will never know because they were not able to create. That’s what Virginia Woolf said, too. For a long, long time, the point of women was for childbearing; they were immanent; were Nature. Women: here they are, grounded, taking care of the home, and it is men who are transcendent.” — Leïla Slimani
Leila Slimani is best known for her novel Lullaby, about a killer nanny in Manhattan, for which she received the Prix Goncourt. A slim volume of eighty pages, Comment j’écris is in the form of an interview with Éric Fottorino. Slimani describes her creative process and how after being greatly praised but ultimately rejected by a commissioning editor at Le Seuil, she attended a writing workshop at éditions Gallimard under the tutelage of Jean-Marie Laclavetine — who became her editor.
How does she write? What inspires her? What is her relationship with language? When she sits down and gets to work, she says she is, “no longer a woman, I’m no longer Moroccan or French, I’m not even in Paris or wherever, I’m completely free.” She describes her love of Russian literature, Chekhov in particular. And she is eloquent about the sexual life of women in Morocco. Short and to the point, Comment j’écris is in itself a great example of “less is more” — that classic nugget of advice dished out to students on creative writing courses. I could have done with more . . .
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