I was delighted to be invited along to some of the key talks held at this year’s Beyond Words French Literature Festival at the French Institute in South Kensington. Beyond Words has become ‘The Big Event’ in London for the promotion of French books translated into English. The festival features bilingual live literature events, writers’ talks, musical performances, screenings of recent literary adaptations, staged readings and books galore – both classic and contemporary.
This is the first of two posts about just some of what was up for discussion at the #BeyondWordsFest
The Governesses by Anne Serre | Translated by Mark Hutchinson | Les Fugitives
Published 25 March, 2019 | PB 120 pages ISBN 978-978-0993009396
“Experience had shown you, however, that no pact lasts forever. You knew that the members of the household would once again be shuffled together like playing cards, and that when the next hand was dealt the alliances would fall out differently.”
The Governesses is a most unusual erotic fable about sex and power, illusion and eroticism, beautifully translated from the French into supremely elegant, languid prose. Its atmosphere is reminiscent of Alain Fournier and Julien Green.
Inès, Laura and Eléonore are governesses, responsible for four boys. The “mistresses of games and pleasure” they radiate a wild and frisky innocence, and have the run of the upstairs salons in the country house of Monsieur Austeur and his wife, Julie. “The excessive silence of the households they wait upon” may be “conducive to reading thinking and raising little boys who are champion hoop rollers, and to the elderly gentleman’s repose, and the waning love of Monsieur and Madame Auster,” but it is stultifying. Their employers’ home is “a boundless void.” The young women have nowhere to go, and there are no distractions.Continue reading Book 2 Review | The Governesses, Anne Serre & Now, Now Louison, Jean Frémon | Les Fugitives
New year, and news could be better from France. Over 600 small businesses have been destroyed or damaged in Paris alone since the yellow vests protests at the end of last year. President Macron’s open letter to French citizens seems to have done little to quell dissent; ditto for his tour of the regions in an attempt to get Mayors and their communities to share what’s on their mind. The EU’s political landscape is set to change after the elections in May 2019. Thank goodness for books, films and music offering an essential breath of fresh air!
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. @AuDiableVauvert @ediSens_edition @EditionsdelAube @Diacritik @Gallimard @GlenatBD @_WProject_
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 LançonContinue reading BookBlast® France | Top 5 French Reads June, 2018
Originally a fringe experiment dreamed up by novelist Neil Griffiths, and now in its second year, The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses 2018 is making waves and highlighting the superb and genuinely original writing being published by diverse independent publishers.
“Most writers make less than 600GBP per year from writing and the average sales of a literary fiction title is 264 copies, so literary fiction is a super niche area of the arts,” according to Griffiths. “An award points readers towards overlooked gems with a specialized appeal.” This echoes what was expressed to me back in February 2016 by publishers and punters when I launched the BookBlast® celebrates independent publishing promotion online via The BookBlast® Diary, and the inspiration outlined in the piece: Why Independence Matters.
“The books shortlisted include one turned down by almost every mainstream publisher and one that was too experimental to even be considered . . . the Inpress roster of 60 small presses shows how small presses do something else, something different, and something all-important. There are no artificial bestsellers here. This is the age of small presses,” declared Griffiths from the stage in the University of Westminster’s oak-pannelled Fyvie Hall. The screen behind him flashed up the shortlisted authors, book covers and publisher logos.Continue reading Spotlight | The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses 2018
Intellectuals have never had a more important contribution to make to culture and to democracy than now, in our age of post truth politics, trumpery and newspeak. We need to recreate a public sphere in which intellectuals and the general public can talk to each other in more profound ways than tweeting soundbites.
Intellectuals are a rare breed however there have been a number of sightings in past months. Some of these controversial individuals are likely to be found in South Kensington next Tuesday 20 March at 6.30pm since Pascal Bacqué will be at Librairie La Page, 7 Harrington Road, London, SW7 discussing his epic and hallucinatory novel just published by Massot éditions.
Of War, Mankind and Planet Earth is a madly ambitious, hypnotic 440 page novel; the first of five volumes. Fifteen years of research and five very different drafts took Pascal Bacqué on a journey through his life and that of the world. Taking in 6000 years of history, he travels through the centuries to create a pot pourri of people, places and events, telling the never-ending story of war through the ages.
« You can get totally immersed in this book, play mind games, dream, admire and disagree . . . It is a book to be read aloud, a book on which to meditate, to be listened to with the third ear, to be read in one sitting, backwards, fast, or on edge of your chair . . . It is an extraordinary book, an addictive narrative which cannot be put down and which, once read, possesses you. » Bernard-Henri Lévy
World War Two and the Holocaust take centre stage. 1945: the end game is being played out. Ian Bute and Tolkien travel East with Churchill, and as they do so the secrets of ancient, millennial, old Europe emerge from the rubble. On their journey they encounter seventy archetypal men from through the ages, and rub shoulders with all the major world figures of literature, music and politics. A parallel narrative gives an added Tolkienesque dimension to this odyssey from West to East, culminating in a dramatic showdown in a clash of empires.
The event at Librairie La Page has been arranged in collaboration with the Hexagon Society, a centre for French and English cross-cultural exchange that facilitates encounters between thinkers and artists and the general public.
@EditionsMassot @BHL @LIBRAIRIELAPAGE
Pascal Bacqué is a poet, a writer, and artistic collaborator and a devotee of the Talmud. He has worked as director of the collection « Libelles » for L’âge d’Homme, as a member of the editorial board of the magazine La Règle du Jeu, and as director of the French Talmudic College with René Lévy. His works include Imperium (L’âge d’Homme, 2007), The Legend of Elijah (L’âge d’Homme, 2011), Ode to Armageddon (L’âge d’Homme, 2014).
New year, new in from France: here is our list of top 5 reads in French creating a buzz across the Channel for all of you Francophiles out there . . . Special thanks to our friends in Paris for their recommendations.
The books reviewed are listed alphabetically by author surname. @EditionsGrasset @beigbedersays @robert_laffont #francoisjonquet @olivierguez @jschnerf
@robert_laffont @EditionsduSeuil @EditionsZulma
I, Self, Me: social media and the human condition in the digital age
59 million people die every year. But Beigbeder refuses to submit to such a fate, and sets off instead to discover the secret to eternal life. His journalistic investigation morphs into a work of literature – “a book of ‘non-fiction science’; a novel in which all the scientific developments have been published in Science or Nature.” Beigbeder is as irreverent and rebellious and original as he was twenty-three years ago when I first read him. He has lost none of his self-deprecating humour and mischievous attitude underpinned by an eclectic body of knowledge; quite the contrary, he has matured and honed his skills. Twenty years ago he despaired of making love last – today he despairs of making life last. “To publish your photo is now more important than your signature on a cheque, or on a marriage contract.” A radio-TV host celebrity in France, Beigbeder’s relationship with image and selfies is paradoxical: he is delighted when fans ask to pose with him, yet is intensely irritated by the one-upmanship involved. When Robert Pattinson a.k.a. Harry Potter is promoting his new film Maps to the Stars at Cannes, he signs a photo for Romy, one of Beigbeder’s two daughters. She is disappointed not to have snapped a selfie with her hero to post online for all her friends to see. Her father is hurt that his daughter has never asked him for a selfie (while other kids do, as he’s on TV).
“In this beautiful memoir of a life lived in and through translation, Mireille Gansel defines the process of bringing words from one language to another as a kind of seeking, tied to the land. Transhumance refers to the seasonal movement of a shepherd and his flock to another land, or humus. It is the opposite of settling and farming: it is a form of nomadism, a search for richer grass, and it provides an apt image for her own trajectory as a translator.” From the foreword by Lauren Elkin
Translation as Transhumance is a rich and resonant read. The lucid, concise prose of award-winning translator, Ros Schwartz, brings alive an exceptional life dedicated to translation as activism. At the book’s launch in Caravansérail, the French-English bookshop and gallery near Brick Lane in the East End, Mireille Gansel spoke to a packed audience about the adventure of translation, of how “it gives you something – a perception of the other,” and of how “Langue natale is not mother tongue, it is a native language. For me it means the language where you come to the world, where you are born to yourself, discover yourself – you are inside intimacy.” A powerful, humanitarian empathy lies beneath Gansel’s narrative. “You end up translating the spirit and the sense of what is underneath the words . . .” said Ros Schwartz, “This book articulated so many things for me that were half-formed ideas, thoughts, about what I do.”Continue reading Review | Translation as Transhumance, Mireille Gansel | Book of the Week
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself. My mother was a reader. Of modern classics mainly. She used to go with her father to the local library in our small home town. There weren’t hundreds of books in the house as I grew up, but enough to spur my interest.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start? Yes, I wanted to work in publishing, and in England, after obtaining my degree at Sorbonne Nouvelle. I had no connections whatsoever, I was a complete outsider. My MA tutor told me right away it’d take me 10 years to get anywhere in that milieu. I didn’t believe him but he was right. After 10 years, even after I had somehow managed to get hired by the venerable John Calder, Judy Daish and Clive James, I was nowhere near a proper start in publishing. Having said that I was never really good at holding down a job! Working for Clive James was obviously a unique experience with a long-lasting influence on me.Continue reading Interview | Cécile Menon, founder, Les Fugitives | Indie Publisher of the Week
La rentrée littéraire is a curious phenomenon: hundreds of new books of all genres flood French bookshops and the review pages of the literary press between the end of August and the beginning of November. It is a way for publishers to capitalize on the awards season, and at Frankfurt Book Fair in October – at which France is the guest of honour this year – as well building up a buzz leading into the Christmas period when the most books are sold.
Anglophile French friends in Paris send recommendations. And then there are wonderful talk shows about books like La grande librairie (France 5) or Jérôme Garcin’s Le Masque et la Plume (France Inter) and of course, radio France Culture – all are streamed on the web.