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Rentrée Littéraire: 2020, an Unprecedented Year

A "Unique" and "Uncertain" Rentrée Littéraire

French publishers have been struggling to redefine the current rentrée littéraire—the late summer and early fall period when over 500 books by both favorite and first-time authors are published in France. The closing of bookstores in the spring has upset their initial program and many of the works that were scheduled between March and July are being published between August and October. These changes, even if they only marginally affected the overall volume of production, did have an impact on its content.


Overview of an Unprecedented Event

With 511 publications (all genres) between mid-August and October, the 2020 rentrée littéraire is a little less dense than previous years: In comparison, 524 books were released at the start of the 2019 school year.

Driven by numerous postponements due to the lockdown in France, the number of novels has increased, from 336 to 366 titles, many by confirmed writers and best-selling authors, to the detriment of first novels. The 2020 rentrée littéraire sees the emergence of 65 first-time novelists against 82 a year prior. “We preferred to highlight more armed writers in order to give first novels all their chances in January”, explains Gallimard’s Literature Secretary General, Karina Hocine. Among these, we are seeing a rise of the proportion of female writers: 37 were penned by women 28 by men.

This year, foreign literature has lost ground in the rentrée littéraire, with 145 titles translated into French compared with 188 last year.

Some small publishing houses have bet on first-time novelists like La Manufacture de livres with Laurent Petitmangin or La Contre-allée with Lou Darsan. Meanwhile, L'Herne programmed its main title for October: an unprecedented novel by no less than Simone de Beauvoir (The Inseparables, to be published at Ecco/HarperCollins in 2021)!


Sure Values in the Spotlight

Amongs the heavyweights: Gallimard gives pride of place to novels from Camille Laurens, Carole Martinez, Eric Reinhardt and Marie Nimier. Actes Sud welcomes Muriel Barbery (previously at Gallimard) alongside Lola Lafon and Alice Ferney. In October, the Arlésienne relies on Mathias Enard. And Grasset associates established authors Grégoire Delacourt and Metin Arditi with two-times novelist Isabelle Carré. Flammarion relies on Philippe Djian, Serge Joncourt and Alice Zeniter, just as Albin Michel aligns Franck Bouysse and Véronique Olmi. P.O.L defends some sure value novels with Emmanuel Carrère and Jean Rolin.


No Rentrée Littéraire Without Prix Littéraires

All of these have and will be reviewed by an assortment of literary prize boards. Each year, lucky writers are awarded by the most famous prizes, Prix Fémina, Prix Renaudot, Prix Médicis, Prix de l'Académie Française and of course Prix Goncourt. These will assure the winners a good media coverage and good sales for the upcoming year.

A few authors are considered favorites in this game, but prize season is always full of twists. For instance, Emmanuel Carrère’s Yoga (P.O.L) has been removed from most of the lists whereas he was seen as a frontrunner. Lola Lafon, whose Chavirer (Flammarion) is selected for the Prix Fémina, has been strongly plebiscited by the press. L'anomalie by Hervé Le Tellier (Gallimard) is still in the running for Prix Médicis, Prix Renaudot and Prix Goncourt. And, Chloé Delaume’s Le Cœur synthétique (Seuil) is on the Prix Médicis' shortlist…


Prix Goncourt on the Balcony: The Most Famous Prize Will be "Exceptional" This Year

Now chaired by screenwriter and writer Didier Decoin, the Goncourt academy will announce on November 10 the name of Jean-Paul Dubois' successor from the windows of the famous Parisian restaurant Chez Drouant. The second selection has surprised a lot of people, removing two of the favorite of the rentrée littéraire, Emmanuel Carrère and Lola Lafon, from their list. Suspense is at its peak!

Our colleagues at Albertine Books have announced their "coups de coeur" of the rentrée littéraire, available here. We thought we could point to a few additional notable books. May it inspire you to rush to your favorite indie bookshop to get them!


Fiction

La petite dernière by Fatima Daas (Notabilia, August 2020, Other Press 2021)

In the feverish confines of the book, we learn about Fatima's upbringing in the Paris's outskirts, of how her parents wanted a son instead of a daughter, of her difficulties in school, of institutional racism and misogyny, of her relationship with Islam as a woman, and of her realization of her own homosexuality–all of this and more in direct unmediated terse prose.

Read Adam Hocker's Albertine coup de coeur here.

Histoire du fils by Marie-Hélène Lafon (Buchet Chastel, August 2020) - US rights available

A sensitive four generation saga in Rural France: Between Figeac, in the Lot, Chanterelle or Aurillac, in Cantal, and Paris, Histoire du fils probes the heart of a family, its ordinary happiness and its deepest dizziness.

Shortlisted for the Prix Renaudot and the Prix Femina

Les impatientes by Djaïli Amal Amadou (Emmanuelle Collas, September 2020)

Three women, three stories, three linked destinies. This polyphonic novel traces the fate of young Ramla, torn from her love and forced to marry Safira’s husband, while her sister Hindu is forced to marry her cousin. Patience! This is the one and only advice offered by those around them, since it is unthinkable to go against the will of Allah. As the Fulani proverb says: "At the end of patience, there is heaven. " But the sky can become hell. How will these three impatient women manage to free themselves?

Winner of the Orange Book Prize in Africa 2019 / Shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt

Histoires de la nuit by Laurent Mauvignier (Minuit, September 2020) - US rights available

An enthralling thriller by the author of The Wound. There is hardly anything left in La Bassée, a village of a few hamlets, including the one where Bergogne, his wife Marion, their daughter Ida, and the artist Christine live. They are getting busy and ready for Marion's 40th birthday celebration. But as the party looms, strangers prowl around the hamlet.

La trajectoire des confettis by Marie-Ève Thuot (Herbes Rouges, August 2020) - US rights available

A captivating story covering several generations of men and women who played the lottery of love and desire and wound up with vastly different urges, to put it mildly. In this novel, written from multiple points of view, end of the world and feminism concerns merge to put present day quirks and miracles under the microscope.

La tannerie by Celia Levi (Tristram Editions, August 2020) - US rights available

Jeanne just finished her studies and left her native Brittany to live in Paris. She found a temporary job as a receptionist at "La Tannerie", a new cultural institution, installed in a disused factory in Pantin, Paris. With this novel which recalls Madame Bovary by Flaubert and which strikes as much by the sensivity of its descriptions as by its critical force, Celia Levi portrays an era and a generation prey to fictitious ambitions and impostor speeches.

Shortlisted for the Prix Médicis and the Prix Décembre

Graphic Novels

Radium Girls by Cy (Glénat, August 2020, Iron Circus Comics 2021)

Cy tells us about the terrible fate of the Radium Girls, these young women unjustly sacrificed on the altar of technical progress. The journey of women in the turbulent America of the 1920s where, behind the luminous recklessness of youth, a real tragedy of modern times is played out.

Anaïs Nin : Sur la mer des mensonges by Léonie Bischoff (Casterman, August 2020)

Beginning of the 30's. Anaïs Nin lives in the Parisian suburbs and struggles against the anguish of her life as a banker's wife. Several times uprooted, she grew up between 2 continents, 3 languages, and struggles to find her place in a society which relegates women to supporting roles. She wants to be a writer, and since childhood has invented an escape: her diary.

Children

La grande école by Nicolas Mathieu (Actes Sud Junior, October 2020) - US rights available

A father and son discover life together, just the two of them, following a divorce. The summer goes by and they enjoy the little pleasures in life. But then the little boy’s first day of school comes and the father watches helplessly as his son grows up, unable to stop time… A touching picture book, ending with the father declaring his love for his son.

L'ennui des après-midi sans fin by Gaël Faye (Arènes, September 2020) - US rights available

In praise of boredom, a book penned by the author of Small Country. A text that we listen to like a story, a slideshow of images and memories beautifully illustrated by one of the greatest report comic book authors Hippolyte.

À quoi rêvent les étoiles by Manon Fargetton (Gallimard Jeunesse, September 2020) - US rights available

Titouan no longer leaves his room. Alix dreams about theater. Luce remains inconsolable since the death of her husband. Gabrielle values her freedom too much to attach herself. Armand has built his entire life around his daughter. Five characters, five solitudes that everything separates. However, an unknown number displayed on a telephone will suffice for their lives to intertwine ...

Élénor by Odette Barberousse (Monsieur Ed, September 2020) - US rights available

Elénor doesn't like to sleep. She prefers to have fun. Her mom tells her about dreamland, a magical place where anything is possible. But Elénor does not believe in it. The land of dreams does not exist! However, one evening, she meets a strange creature. Elenor is not sleeping, she is going on an adventure ...

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