Vanessa Springora’s memoir, Consent, became an instant, international literary sensation when it was published in France. Her beautifully written, intimate and powerful description of her relationship in the mid-1980s with the French author Gabriel Matzneff, when she was fourteen and he fifty, is a beautifully written universal #MeToo story of power, manipulation, trauma, resilience and healing. Award-winning translator, Natasha Lehrer, captures Springora’s changes in pace and in tone, the voices and the silences, the literary milieu then and now with a sensitive ear and lexical deftness.
The publication of La Familia Grande by Camille Kouchner reveals how incest is everpresent at the highest levels of French society, even among the most glamorous, powerful, bohemian, left wing intellectual Parisian élite, known as “la gauche caviar” (champagne socialists). In France, one in ten people say they are victims of incest according to Ipsos.
Camille Kouchner is the daughter of the late feminist, political scientist and lecturer Évelyne Pisier, and Bernard Kouchner, co-founder of the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs under President Nicolas Sarkozy, having previously been a minister during Mitterand’s presidency. In 2010, the Jerusalem Post considered Bernard Kouchner the fifteenth most influential Jew in the world.
Look who’s back! Vernon Subutex: DJ guru of the nineteenth arrondissement. He is still homeless in Paris and more Peter Pan than ever. We first met him at the turn of the millenium as he was losing his record shop, flat and material possessions after his friend and benefactor, the rock star Alex Bleach, died of a drug overdose in a hotel bedroom.
Film producer turned sex predator, Laurent Dropalet, is desperate to find compromising videos revealing the truth about the death of his porn-star mistress recorded by Alex Bleach. He hires the Hyena, a tech whiz and ravening lesbian to track down the tapes (and therefore Vernon who has them); she switches allegiances to join the DJ and his cohorts.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I grew up in England, worked as a journalist on The Observer for eight years, moved to France and wrote four novels, then translated my first novel (Laurent Binet’s HHhH) in 2010. Two years later, I moved to the US, where I now divide my time between writing and translating.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
The Lord of the Rings is the first book I remember loving. I was a big Italo Calvino (tr. William Weaver) fan as a teenager, Baron in the Trees in particular. I’ve always been attracted to fairytale-like stories that have aspects of the real world but also some magical difference.
How did your career as a translator come about?
Around 2009, I realized I could no longer make a living as a novelist, so I tried to think what else I could do to support my family. I was living in remote rural France, so journalism was out, but by then I could speak French fluently. So I asked my agent how I could become a literary translator. She put me in touch with editor Rebecca Carter (then at Harvill Secker), who advised me to write reader reports on French novels for UK publishers. The first one I wrote, luckily, was about HHhH. Continue reading Interview | Sam Taylor, translator
“So many books have been written with Paris as a character and there are so many clichés about its seductive beauty, as a writer you need to find your Paris and step away from the great dark magnet that it is. Often the dark Paris is what is most interesting.” Alicia Drake
The vision of Paris as an intellectual’s city with writers and artists chain-smoking on café terraces, arguing about literature, art and Existentialism has been consigned to the attic by most contemporary novelists at work today who are worth reading. Tatiana de Rosnay and Alicia Drake are two such writers whose vision of the City of Light is anything but a picture postcard. They graced the stage at this year’s Beyond Words French Literature Festival at the French Institute in South Kensington.
There is, of course, some superb non fiction on offer which gives a genuine, riveting, and rather more leftfield take beyond the usual stereotypical reads – my favourite being the memoirs of late, great John Calder who I was lucky enough to know. The Garden of Eros: The Story of the Paris Expatriates and the Post-war Literary Scene is essential reading for anyone curious about visionary entrepreneurs operating in the publishing industry of yesteryear, and the Paris-London-New York golden triangle.
A forgotten Paris is described by the late Lesley Blanch in her memoirs On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life (Virago) in which she describes Russian Paris of the 1920s with theatre director, Theodore Komisarjevsky, and the beleaguered capital in 1945 when she was there with her younger husband Romain Gary, ambitious and unknown. “Romain developed a hunger for the atmosphere of the studios where a circle of newer artists worked. Long evenings would be spent trudging along the icy ill-lit streets and interminable boulevards. Public transport was scarce, very few people had cars then, and we had no money for taxis, which were rare.“ Continue reading Spotlight | Tatiana de Rosnay, Alicia Drake & Daughters of Simone de Beauvoir | Beyond Words French Literature Festival 2019