The Safe House

Written by Christophe Boltanski | Translated by Laura Marris
Translated by Laura Marris
Chicago University Press
November 1st 2017

In Paris’s exclusive Saint-Germain neighborhood is a mansion. In that mansion lives a family. Deep in that mansion. The Bolts are that family, and they have secrets. The Safe House tells their story.

That house (and its vehicular appendage) are at the heart of Christophe Boltanski’s ingeniously structured, lightly fictionalized account of his grandparents and their extended family. The novel unfolds room by room—each chapter opening with a floorplan— introducing us to the characters who occupy each room, including the narrator’s grandmother--a woman of “savage appetites”--and his uncle Christian, whose haunted artworks would one day make him famous. “The house was a palace,” Boltanski writes, “and they lived like hobos.” Rejecting convention as they’d rejected the outside world, the family never celebrated birthdays, or even marked the passage of time, living instead in permanent stasis, ever more closely bonded to the house itself.

The Safe House was a literary sensation when published in France in 2015 and won the Prix de Prix, France’s most prestigious book prize. With hints of Oulipian playfulness and an atmosphere of dark humor, The Safe House is an unforgettable portrait of a self-imprisoned family.

About the author: Christophe Boltanski

Christophe Boltanski is the director of the French review XXI. Previously, he has worked for the daily le Progrès Egyptien, and the weekly L’Obs. He is the author of Minerais de sang, Chirac d’Arabie: Les mirages d’une politique française and Les Sept Vies de Yasser Arafat (all published by Grasset). In 2000 he received the Prix Bayeux-Calvados attributed to war correspondants for his report "The Minors in Hell" ("Les mineurs de l'enfer") on the exploitation of mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was more recently the recipient of the 2015 Prix Femina for his novel La Cache. In this work he explores creatively his personal history, using each room of the family home as a pretext to recall anecdotes, atmospheres of this unusual family.

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