paris is still a world away


This year in France, the “rentrée littéraire” – the publishing equivalent of going back to school – is bigger than ever; some 727 literary novels have been published since August. The rentrée is a peculiarly French phenomenon which turns on the fact that the big literary prizes (Goncourt, Renaudot, Interallié, Femina, Académie Française, Médicis) are awarded between October and November. Of this year’s novels, 234 are translations from another language, mostly English or, to be precise, American. This is an astonishing figure, especially when compared with the small number of translated works published in Britain, but it still leaves nearly 500 French novels to choose from.

The problem with this tidal wave of new novels has been that only the most powerful publishing houses and the biggest names are heard; the few French writers who are known in the United States or the United Kingdom – Michel Houellebecq, Amélie Nothomb, Marie Darrieussecq – are the stars of the French scene as well. And yet the rentrée does ensure that literature remains at the heart of French cultural life; it is discussed and dissected at length in the press and on radio and television. It may take only two hours by train from London, but Paris is still a world away.

more from the TLS here.