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French Fiction Fridays #14

Two first novels are brought to you this week to venture into the everyday lives of not so ordinary people. Discover underlying fears of the unsaid in these stories about writing and the difficulty of building and keeping relationships.

Black Boar, Pink Peonies(Sanglier noir, pivoines roses)by Gaëlle HeureuxPublisher: La Table ronde


Houses with lozenge-shaped shutters and gardens with meticulously tended flowerbeds. On the balcony, two large black poodles stand so motionless they seem made of porcelain. Elsewhere, a woman hangs her laundry, making sure the clothespins match the clothes. In the fifteen short stories that make up this collection, Heureux creates minimalist sets, in which she places ordinary people, drawn from life: a retired accountant who builds boats out of matches, a little boy at his great-grandmother’s bedside, a haberdasher with a loyal customer, a monk learning to swim… Then she slips into their skin. Her vast imagination and great empathy make every twist believable: the strange phobia of the haberdasher, afraid of finding a severed head in his kitchen trash, the cello trapped in the great-grandmother’s belly, the monk’s secret passion for the beautiful Magali, who tries to catch fish in her swimming pool. Recurring themes link the stories—the fragility of family ties, the metamorphosis of the body, the wearing down of relationships—so that the unusual world of Black Boar, Pink Peonies strangely resembles our own.

Gaëlle Heureux was born in 1970. She has degrees in law and psychology and lives and works in Bourg-en-Bresse. Her short stories have appeared in the review Harfang. Sanglier noir, pivoines roses (Black Boar, Pink Peonies) is her first book.

Read excerpt (English) translated from the French by Jeanine Herman

Read excerpt (French)

Blotter(Buvard)by Julia KerninonPublisher: Le Rouergue


Who is Caroline N. Spacek, really? At thirty-nine, the sultry, reclusive author lives in the English countryside, far removed from the literary world. Despite the tremendous success of her first novel, she has chosen to live in isolation. But one summer afternoon she agrees to meet with a student, Lou, an admirer of her work. He stays for nine weeks while she tells him about her unusual trajectory as a woman and a writer. From a provincial, impoverished background, with an alcoholic father and obese mother, the combative and precociously sexual eighteen-year-old Caroline meets Jude Amos, a well-known poet, who will teach her about everything, most of all, words. A year later, she publishes a first novel that fully conveys the violence of her childhood, and is considered fascinating and disturbing. Literary fame is immediate but also controversial and scandalous. With Lou, also from the margins of society, there will be an exchange fueled by secrets and revelations. After several marriages and many scrapes and escapes, Caroline, a woman of fierce and intimidating beauty, is like her books—a minefield. Why has she chosen to live in isolation in Devon? With Buvard, Julia Kerninon displays her mastery as a storyteller, in a debut novel deepened by intelligent reflections on the creative process and the ambivalent relationship between writing and life.

Born in 1987 in the Nantes region, Julia Kerninon is currently a graduate student in American literature. The Paris Review, the literary magazine, is the subject of her doctoral research. Buvard is her first novel.

Read excerpt (English) translated from the French by Jeanine Herman

Read excerpt (French)