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