French Books USA: Week in Review

February 9, 2016 | By Amy Martin
Muriel Barbery's new novel

The Life of Elves

In Muriel Barbery’s new book, The Life of Elves (Europa Books, 2016), two young girls with elfish parents and powers fed by earth and music must fight against an overwhelming evil. The author, lamenting that modernity is disconnected from enchantment, has found inspiration for her tale in the contrast between Japanese and French garden styles, and in books on herbal remedies and medicinal plants. She has blended faery with fantasy and “a kind of literature of the land,” in which harmony, nature and the animal world are all important elements. The Life of Elves is now on sale in the U.S. in a translation by Alison Anderson, and Barbery will be discussing the book at Albertine Friday, February 12 at 7 p.m.

Empty Seats at the Académie Française

The Académie Française consists of forty members, each chosen to succeed an author or intellectual designated by the number of his/her "armchairm," a system begun in the 17th century. When Algerian novelist Assia Djebar passed away last year, she left vacant "chair number five," which she occupied at the Académie since 2005, to be filled. Chair 37, previously held by René Girard, is also currently empty. This week, four new aspirants were added to the growing ballot of candidates to take Djebar’s place. The Russian-born author and Goncourt award-winner Andreï Makine was among them and is viewed as a strong candidate in part because he is a francophone author, as was Assia Djebar. Makine will be on tour in the U.S. this April.

Digital Firsts

As part of Digital Week in Bordeaux, the city will host the first international EPUB Summit, where professionals will discuss the role of this increasingly standard format in electronic publishing. Another first: Book prizes are becoming digital, with the recently selected Booktubers’ Fantasy Prize. This award, available to a self-published fantasy novella, grants services from the prize’s sponsor, self-publishing platform Bookelis, and a dedicated space for the book at their stand at Livre Paris 2016. Four “Booktubers”—with thousands of followers on YouTube who take their advice on what to read— made up the jury. After three finalists were chosen by author-editor Laurent Bettoni, the Booktubers presented their reviews and debated the books until they decided on a winner—all online.

And Digital At Last

With over 900 issues since its 1908 debut, La Nouvelle Revue Française (or NRF) launched an online archive this week, where every issue is available, including the most recent. The influential literary journal has been under the direction of famous intellectual figures, including André Gide and Gaston Gallimard, the eponymous founder of the publishing house that distributes the journal today. Early contributions, which readers can buy individually, were authored by such well-known writers as Apollinaire, Saint-John Perse, Paul Claudel, Jacques Rivière, and Paul Valéry.

The Proust Book Club

Hannah Gersen, novelist and contributor to The Millions is blogging her one-woman one-novel book club, but her choice of novel is the weighty seven-volume, three-thousand-page In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. Hannah's blog will highlight her enjoyment and challenges while reading the novel bit-by-bit, book-by-book. The almost-38-year-old is the same age as Proust when he began to write; no longer a college student, she now experiences the lost time of youth in the way the author had when he wrote his famous lines about tea and madeleines—at a distance and with introspection.

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