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The literary season is beginning in France !

En français | In English

During September in France, it’s not just children who are starting their school year, it’s books too! French bookstores will be swamped with a total of 589 books by French and foreign authors from now until October. Despite a small drop in new releases compared to previous years, the publishing industry seems to still be faring well.

The tradition

“Literature is a serious matter for a country, it is, after all, how it is perceived”, says French poet Louis Aragon. In any case, it is a serious matter in France! 

Between mid-August and late October this year, 589 French and foreign novels will be published in France, according to the data established by Livres Hebdo using the bibliographic database Electre. Of this number, 393 are French - 68 of which will be debut novels - and 196 are foreign. A small decline of 3% has been recorded compared to the previous year, when 607 books were published in the same period. In 2012, the number of new releases in bookstores was 646!

This tradition of a literary season can be explained by the series of French literary awards that are mostly awarded between late October and early November. Each year, the same question is on every one’s mind: which of the many novels published at the beginning of the literary season will win a prize and therefore be a success?

Literary prizes

France has roughly 200 national literary prizes! The winners gain better exposure and a cheque. However, only around 10 prizes truly equate to a significant boost in sales for the victors. These include the Prix Goncourt, the oldest and most prestigious; the Prix Femina, awarded by an exclusively female jury; the Prix Médicis, given to new talent; the Prix Renaudot, awarded by a jury of journalists and literary critiques; and lastly the Prix Interallié. The Prix Goncourt guarantees 380,000 sales on average for each prize-winning book, whereas the Prix Médicis only guarantees 42,000.

The Grand Prix du Roman can also be added to that list. Created in 1915, it is awarded each year in October by the French Academy. Traditionally it opens the season of French literary prizes.

This year, some important prizes have already been awarded, such as the Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman (for a first novel), presented to Mersault, contre-enquête (“Mersault, Counter-inquiry”) by Kamel Daoud; the Prix Goncourt de la Nouvelle (for a short story), to Première Personne du singulier by Patrice Franceschi; the Prix du Livre Inter 2015 given to Jacob, Jacob by Valerie Zenatti; the Prix du Quai des Orfèvres 2015 won by Maryse Rivière for Tromper la mort; and lastly the Prix des deux-magots awarded this year to Serge Joncourt for his book L’écrivain national.

The most anticipated French books

This year, evil is one of the big themes being tackled by novelists, a theme that occurs often in literature generally. “That which cannot be put into words must be written about”, says French author Nathalie Sarraute.

Amongst the most anticipated books of this season, here are some titles to remember!

In fiction:
-    Le crime du comte de Neuville by Amélie Nothomb
-    Petit Piment by Alain Mabanckou
-    La septième fonction du langage by Laurent Binet (which has just received the Prix du roman Fnac).

In historical novels and autobiographies:
-    Profession du père by Sorj Chalandon
-    D’après une histoire vraie by Delphine de Vigan
-    Un amour impossible by Christine Angot
-    Vladimir Vladimirovitch by Bernard Chambaz
-    Re-vive l’Empereur! by Romain Puértolas
-    La dernière nuit du Raïs by Yasmina Khadra
-    Un papa de sang by Jean Hatzfeld

Lastly, in a separate category, we find Conversations d’un enfant du siècle by Frédéric Beigbeder in which the writer interviews the great contemporary authors to understand their working style. Among other French authors the book features Catherine Millet, Françoise Sagan, Simon Liberati, Alain Finkielkraut, Michel Houellebecq, Jean d’Ormesson, Bernard-Henri Lévy. What a great opportunity to learn more about literature! 

And who do you want to read this season?

Adèle Bouet
For the Alliance Française de Melbourne

Translated from French by Rosie Gregory, a student in the Master of Interpreting and Translation Studies at Monash University