Seasonal Literary Prizes

December 19, 2012 | By Marie-Camille Alban

The time-honored season of French literary prizes has come to an end.  This year, the competition was fiercer than ever! We have chosen seven winners that we think are particularly outstanding. The style and stories of these authors will surely win over new readers for years to come.

We hope you will enjoy our selection!


1 Le Prix Goncourt 

France's top literary award, the prestigious Goncourt Prize, went to Jerome Ferrari for The Sermon on the Fall of Rome (Le Sermon sur la chute de Rome).  The book tells the story of a young idealistic man who packs in his philosophy studies to open a bar on an island with an old friend, hoping to turn it into a haven of peace and friendship.  But things take a radically different turn as drink, sex, corruption -and the violence for which the island has become known- cast their shadow over the young idealists' plans. The story was inspired by the career of the writer himself.  Jerome Ferrari, former philosophy student at la Sorbonne, became a philosophy teacher.  He began his career in Corsica, before setting off to Algeria and Abou Dabi. 


2 Le Prix Renaudot des Lycéens  and  Le Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française 

The 27-year-old Swiss writer Joel Dicker received these awards for a crime novel openly inspired by the US master Phillip Roth. La vérité sur l'affaire Harry Quebert (The Truth About the Harry Quebert Case) tells of a young writer’s endeavours to clear the name of his old mentor, accused of murdering a teenager 30 years earlier. The book received ecstatic reviews in France and elsewhere.  It is often compared to Truman Capote’s novels and is celebrated as a tribute to Roth's classic work The Human Stain.  Dicker makes plain his debt to Roth - whose name he gives to Quebert's lawyer in the novel. This fantastic thriller is a major success of the new literary season.


3 Le Prix Renaudot

Scholastique Mukasonga, a Rwandan author living in France, has won this year's Prix Renaudot, a prestigious French literary award, for her breathtaking novel Notre-Dame du Nil.  The book had already won the Prix Ahmadou Kourouma (for novels or non-fiction dedicated to Africa).  Set long before the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis, it tells of life in an isolated elite girls school ”Notre-Dame du Nil,” a Sartrian “huis-clos” which exacerbates the tensions between Hutu and Tutsi pupils.

Scholastique Mukasonga and her family were victims of the pogroms against Tutsis of the late 1950s and early 1960s.  In 1973 Scholastique fled to Burundi and settled in France in 1992.  During the Genocide, she lost 27 family members, including her mother. She is currently a social worker in Normandy.


4 Le Prix Femina

In his superbly written Plague and Cholera, Patrick Deville takes inspiration from the real life of an exceptional disciple of Pasteur and cosmopolitan traveller.  Patrick takes us into an epic and eventful journey through the world of the 19th century.  As a young doctor belonging to the first team at the Institut Pasteur, Alexandre Yersin quickly left for Asia, became a sailor and then an explorer.  He happened to make an unprecedented discovery:  the bacillus responsible for the bubonic plague in 1894 in Hong-Kong. In this exciting narrative, Patrick Deville conveys the atmosphere of Robert Stevenson’s adventures and the mystery of Jules Verne’s novels.  It is no surprise that the novel was also nominated for the Goncourt and Renaudot Prizes.


5 Le Prix Cazes 

Shortlisted for the Prix Interallié and winner of the Cazes prize, Successive Fidelities by Nicolas d’Estienne d’Orves received very good reviews. It tells the story of Guillaume Berkeley, English and French, collaborator and Resistance worker, coward and hero, he oscillates between lies and truth in Paris under the Occupation.  Like his older brother Victor, he is in love with Pauline, their half sister. His life moves along to the rhythm of his “successive fidelities.”  With sensitivity and lucidity, this romantic fresco explores the amorous ambiguities and political commitments of a complex personality, half shadow and half light, a man who is a victim of his inner demons struggling to deal with circumstances that are beyond his control.  Nicolas d’Estienne d’Orves is a music reviewer and a columnist for Le Figaro.  He has written numerous books, including Les Orphelins du mal, translated into 13 languages. His novel Un Eté en Amérique (One  Summer in America) was inspired by his experience in United States living with the American side of his mother’s family.


6 Le Prix Interallié


Awarded by journalists, the Interallié Prize went to popular French writer Philippe Djian for his novel “Oh…”. This is the first award for this author, known for his famous novel adapted to film: Betty Blue (1986). “Oh…”, the last word of the heroine, tells the story of a raped woman who spirals downwards into a dark obsession with sex and death. Thirty days of an oppressive life where memories, sex and death constantly intrude.  A prolific writer translated into several languages and a popular icon since the international success of Betty Blue, Philippe Djian, son of the beat generation, is now a name in literature.


7 Prix Medicis

Féérie Générale written by Emmanuelle Pireyre won the Medicis Prize this year. Based on a few samples extracted from the media, her book mixes humour and erudition to broach inter alia the role of money, the demilitarization of Europe and the issue of the Islamic veil. She does all that through a modern, written and oral language, inspired by Internet forums: “Writing this novel, I often felt like I was borrowing stock phrases as you would rent a car just for the pleasure of returning it completely battered at the other end of the country”, the author explained. In this dazzling pastiche of scholarly, advertising and sociological speeches, Emmanuelle Pireyre twists clichés and continues her reflection on today’s era. She addresses commonplace assertions with a communicative exultation and offers a X-ray of the European consciousness in the early 21st century.


 

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