French Fiction Fridays #11

May 9, 2014 | By Book Department

French Fiction Fridays is Back!

In the next following weeks, explore 16 captivating works of French fiction published during the winter literary season known as La rentrée littéraire in France. This selection will take you to Granada, Exeter, Barcelona, Lisbon, and the many corners of France.

From a great rendering of the frenzy that surrounded Nadia Comaneci‘s career to the chilling encounter of an interpreter confronted to her former torturer; from an arresting baby delivery to stories of sexual awakening; from a grand sea odyssey to scenes of ordinary violence; from a fabulous literary encounter to murder at Notre Dame…this might be our most varied selection-to date. We hope these 16 excerpts by up-and-coming and seasoned writers will grab your attention.

In our first installment of the season, we’ll start with two fabulous protagonists' stories of escape: A retreat à la Thoreau in a forest of Quebec in Hélène Frédérick’s Forêt Contraire and a breaking away story from "provincial hell" in En Finir avec Eddy Bellegueule by Edouard Louis, whose book received raving reviews in France.

We are delighted to bring you this selection thanks to the translation work and editing of John Galbraith Simmons, Edward Gauvin, Jeanine Herman, Jane Kuntz, Youna Kwak, Donald Nicholson Smith, and Alyson Waters.

“Bonne lecture!”

We hope you enjoy reading these stories and excerpts.


Doing Away with Eddy Bellegueule
(En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule
)

by Édouard Louis
Publisher: Le Seuil

Brought up in a working-class family in Picardy, Eddy is not like other children. His delicate mannerisms and way of speaking earn him insults and humiliations from his classmates as well as from his alcoholic father and ill-tempered mother. Labeled before feeling any desire, he wonders about homosexuality. Doesn’t real persecution come from social conditioning? His escape from these crushing surroundings lends his story a Zolaesque quality as he asserts his personality by studying theater in Amiens, far away from the familial and provincial hell. This psychologically striking novel offers a compelling portrait of a brutal and archaic working-class world. The author, who is also a sociologist, skillfully sets the family drama in a social context. How does one escape social determinism? How can each of us invent our own freedom? A first novel by a young author of exceptional strength and maturity. 

Édouard Louis is twenty-two years old and a student in philosophy and sociology at l’École normale supérieure. En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule is his first novel. He edited the proceedings of a symposium on the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu for PUF and participated in a documentary about Michel Foucault for Arte.

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

Read excerpt (French)


Forest of Adversity
(Forêt contraire)

by Hélène Frédérick
Publisher: Verticales

Three years after La Poupée de Kokoschka, a novel based on the ambiguous relationship between the painter Oskar Kokoschka and the puppeteer Hermine Moos (which takes place in 1918 Munich) Hélène Frédérick decided to set Forêt contraire in the present, as a sort of existential diary of a young woman like herself. Sophie, who will soon turn thirty, has just left Paris to recalibrate her life in her native Quebec.  A former student, deeply in debt and without sufficient means to pay the rent on her Paris studio, Sophie leaves behind the anonymity of the city to reconnect with Nature.  She settles into the dilapidated family cottage in the Inverness Forest, where she finds herself alone, almost a squatter, having told not a soul about her sudden return to the country.  In the heart of the forest, haunted by memories, ghosts, and silence, but at the same time teeming with plants and animals, the young woman rebuilds her body, conceals her past under a false name, and finally constructs a calm refuge, following in the footsteps of Thoreau’s “solitary rebellion” in Walden.  With André, a former actor, Sophie also finds renewed pleasure in sensuality and seduction.  In language that is spirited and expressive, steeped in Quebec culture and her experience of exile, Hélène Frédérick sensitively transcribes Sophie’s ambivalent inner life.  In this paean to the body and to pleasure, especially sexual enjoyment, Frédérick scrutinizes the misunderstandings and taboos that disfigure the relations between men and women.

Hélène Frédérick was born in Quebec and currently lives in Paris.  After receiving a degree in literature, she was a bookseller, then a press attaché, and today she works in publishing.  She has written fiction for French radio and in 2010 published her first novel, La Poupée de Kokoschka (Éditions Verticales).

 

Read excerpt (English) translated from the French by Alyson Waters

Read excerpt (French)

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