Nobel award restores French literary pride

From The Guardian:

Nobel The cult French writer JMG Le Clézio yesterday won the Nobel prize for literature, lifting Paris out of its depression over the nation’s cultural decline. Le Clézio, known as France’s “nomad novelist”, lives mainly in New Mexico in the US, in near seclusion, and is the opposite of Paris’s current trend for writers’ navel-gazing accounts of their sex lives.

The Swedish jury hailed his scathing critiques of urban western civilisation and the “poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy” of his stories of native populations in Africa and Latin America. His novels, whose settings range from the Sahara to Mauritius, are expected to see a massive sales boost in Britain, where he is currently out of print and barely known. Le Clézio, 68, last year signed an open letter with other writers appealing for French literature to be more open to the wider world. Last night he batted off talk of French cultural stagnation. “I deny it,” he said. “It’s a very rich, very diversified culture. There’s no risk of decline.”

In Paris Le Clézio is seen as one of France’s greatest living writers. He says his work is defined by his mixed roots. He was born in Nice but most identifies with the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, where his Breton ancestors fled in the 18th century and lived for generations before returning to France. He has joint Mauritian citizenship and calls the island his “little fatherland”, describing himself an “exile” who grew up steeped in its mixed culture and traditions. His father, a Mauritian doctor with British citizenship, moved the family to Nigeria when Le Clézio was a child, before returning to Nice. Le Clézio studied in Britain, taught at universities in the US, Mexico and Thailand and travelled extensively with his Moroccan wife, writing about mixed relationships, and postcolonial and indigenous cultures.

Le Clézio, who publishes books at a rate of around one a year, shot to fame in France as a 23-year-old with his first novel, Le Proces-Verbal (The Interrogation), a portrait of a young man’s mental illness. It won critical acclaim and a major literary prize, and his looks saw him dubbed French literature’s Steve McQueen. Yesterday French media still referred to him as a blue-eyed “elegant cowboy”.

More here.