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Gilles Leroy

Gilles Leroy was born in Bagneux, France in 1958. After studying experimental science in high school, Leroy went on to study literature, eventually obtaining a master’s degree. He then took to learning through travel and immersing himself in American and Japanese literature. The American novel became a major influence for Leroy and influenced his decision to begin writing. He took on a range of odd jobs in the day, writing at night, and eventually became a journalist. Leroy published his first novel Habibi in 1987, and eventually left journalism in 1991 in order to focus fully on writing fiction. Among his most notable works are L’Amant russe (2002), Grandir (2004), and Champsecret (2005). He was awarded the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary prize, for his novel Alabama Song (2007), which tells a story from the view of Zelda Fitzgerald, American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife. The book takes on a mix of biographical and fictional elements, examining the struggles and tragic fate of Zelda’s life.

Gilles Leroy’s novels hold autobiographical influences and often touch on themes such as paternal and maternal relationships, the difficulties of love, homosexuality, and social mobility. His characters are often gravitating in a world that is tender but also violent. He has been commended for the high quality and flamboyant style of his writing.

Bibliography

In FrenchLe Monde selon Billy Boy, 2014Nina Simone, 2013Dormir avec ceux qu'on aime, 2012Zola Jackson, 2010Alabama Song, 2007Champsecret, 2005Grandir, 2004L’Amant russe, 2002Soleil noir, 2000Machines à sous, 1998Les Maîtres du monde, 1996Les Jardins publics, 1994Madame X, 1992

NINA SIMONE: A NOVEL

“Eunice was my real name. Now I’ve forgotten. Fifty years in the skin of Nina Simone made me forget my name. And that’s a funny thing in the end…”

 

In many ways, Nina Simone’s life was structured like a classic, character-driven novel. How a little girl born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina went on to become the monolithic Nina Simone is itself a story worth every turned page, but for Gilles Leroy, to understand Simone’s life is to start at the end. After a star-studded career filled with peaks and chasms, we enter her life nearly ten years after she has stopped singing. Leroy imagines her final three years as periods of intense suffering, loneliness, and abuse as a lifetime of being Nina takes its final jabs at a vulnerable Eunice. A fictional retrospective, but by no means a stretch of poetic license, Leroy brings us under Simone’s skin: her life as a child prodigy, her immense dejection after being refused entry to the prestigious Curtis Institute and subsequent bitterness that followed her into adulthood; the influences on her ubiquitous contralto voice, and the decades of volatility that lead to her expatriation and death. At once an examination of her extraordinary talent and an attempt at understanding the internal and external factors that worked to destroy her, Nina Simone: A Novel positions Leroy as a master of imagining the story behind a portrait. Her internal landscape comes to the forefront of the narrative in terms of how she feels, what she sees, how she reacts, but most importantly, how the world’s obsession with Simone causes Eunice to forget and eventually lose herself.

 

ALABAMA SONG

Alabama, 1918: A young lieutenant named Scott Fitzgerald meets a southern belle named Zelda, vows to become a famous writer, and sets off a perpetual motion machine that runs on success, chokes on failure, and smashes into every pothole along the ride. The lovers move between New York and Paris and hobnob with the luminaries of the Jazz Age. Beneath the surface of their relationship, however, are the creaking foundations of jealousy and abuse. In the spaces between public and private, Leroy crafts a fictional autobiography of Zelda Fitzgerald as an obsessive and freewheeling wit. From her early life as a scandalous girl in polite Montgomery society to the well-recorded histrionics that surrounded her haywire relationship with Scott, we read Zelda through her own eyes and spirit. She goes through periods of intense boredom and isolation as Scott toils with The Great Gatsby, and we witness her deteriorating mental state as she grows obsessed with the idea of becoming a ballerina at age 27, as well as her eventual revolving door of psychiatric check-ins. The party line usually blames Zelda’s instability for Scott’s alcoholism and failed potential, but Leroy portrays Zelda on her own terms: equal parts the center of attention and the second party in a mutually assured destruction. Scott commands respect, but Zelda commands rooms. Her personality puts her at odds with Hemingway and New York socialites alike. Still, she writes, publishes, dances, paints, and comes across as the ultimate member of her zeitgeist; in some ways still lost when the Lost Generation of writers find acclaim. Alabama Song depicts a woman whose own desires to create and be respected go unrecognized in the shadow of the names that surround her and, even if imaginary, gives life to the situations usually only mentioned from other points of view.

 

 


If you would like to invite this author to speak at your university or bookstore, please fill out the application form and email it to Marine Baudoin at marine.baudoin@diplomatie.gouv.fr

 

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