Monday, November 2, 2009

Un Rite Identitaire

So the Goncourt and the Renaudot have been awarded. Marie N'Diaye says she was "surprised," but if so, she was the only one. Meanwhile, the Renaudot also went to the favorite--though Lord only knows why--Beigbeder, the unspeakable, whose chief gift seems to be self-promotion.

So we have here another French identity test. The literary prize season is another rite identitaire, but I wonder how many French can name the winners of this year's Goncourt and Renaudot? Of last year's? Of any year's? Or even the names of the prizes themselves? If Beigbeder and Houellebecq represent the fate of literary production by Français de souche, then M. Besson has some work to do.

To be sure, there is Pierre Michon, who won the Prix du Roman de l'Académie last week, but, having read half of Les Onze (named for the members of the Comité de Salut Public), I find myself wondering if the conceit of describing an imaginary painting isn't all too representative of the state of French culture today: one is enclosed in a rather airless museum, the surface of which is rendered in impeccable detail in a highly polished style. But no heart beats within, even though the ostensible subject of the painting is the Revolution, the Terror, the very inception of the Republic, here encased in shimmering aspic.

7 comments:

Passerby said...

Alain Fournier was very disappointed not to get the prix Goncourt, moreso because he got so close. Who knows who the winner was that year? (this is a rhetorical question, Google cloud answer me right away).

"Les prix littéraires" are just good to sell books; they can't decide on posterity. I only read a few of these books with "le bandeau rouge". Honestly I can't remember being moved by any of them.

Some get the Goncourt. Seldom for writing anything like "Le Grand Meaulnes".

Anonymous said...

Yes the state of our literature is astonishingly bad. But who still believes in Goncourt and Renaudot apart from the marketing departements of Galli-Gra-Seuil?

kirkmc said...

People who don't buy books who buy books. I was a bookseller for three years in a French city, and at Christmas time, we'd get _tons_ of people buying books as gifts. Since they didn't know what to buy, they'd just ask for whatever books won prizes that year.

Passerby said...

I agree. The few "bandeaux rouges" that I mentionned were mostly christmas or birthday gift from relatives.

MYOS said...

The Goncourt novels usually are heads above the type of "best selling books" you find in your random B&N. Let us not be snobs here. You can buy the Goncourt, the Renaudot, the Medicis even, in your basic supermarket - when was the Pulitzer last sold at Walmart, if ever?

As for Marie N'Diaye, her novel is both topical and literary. I rarely appreciate the jury's choice and Beigbeder winning is astonishing, reeks of old-buddy-network, but there's something comforting to the very fact France has a literary season.

As for people who don't know books buying books: well, that's good news. I mean, here you have people who read little but have enough appreciation for novels that they find them suitable gifts. I can assure you there are families where the idea that a book would be a gift is just unfathomable.

Here's a debate: is the "red banner" on a book a better prediction of interest and quality than a figure indicating how many volumes were sold?
How do you choose a book that will be appreciated when you yourself know very little about what makes people like a book?

Arthur Goldhammer said...

I completely agree with MYOS. The anti-prize snobbery is worse than the prizes themselves. Many very good books have been honored. N'Diaye is a fine writer (though I haven't read the book for which she won the prize). It wasn't my point to denigrate her by noting that, as expected, she won the Goncourt. If prizes can help to sustain interest in literature, more power to them.

MYOS said...

Mediapart ran the first 15 pages of the novel this summer as one of their favorite novels. Another one they picked was "le choeur des femmes" which is on no book-prize list that I know of.