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Week in Review: October 9, 2020

by Erin Bronner

The Success of Nathalie Léger

Author Nathalie Léger has encountered many successes this literary season. This year marked the translation of two novels in what the publisher, Dorothy, a publishing project, refers to as Léger’s “triptych” of books, connected by the thread of three influential women who “transform their lives into a mystery” (Elle): Exposition and The White Dress. There was much anticipation for these two translations, following the critical acclaim of Suite for Barbara Loden, published in 2016. The New Yorker called Suite for Barbara Loden “a remarkable new book that does everything—biography, criticism, film history, memoir, and even fiction, all at once.” Indeed, a variety of notable outlets shared notes on what makes Exposition and The White Dress two must-reads. Expressing admiration for Léger's unique style, a recent Wall Street Journal review remarks that “The tone is impassioned and ferocious, and sometimes the weight of cumulative anger collapses into lines of hard, poetic beauty.” Buzzfeed News’ “38 Great Books To Read This Fall, Recommended By Our Favorite Indie Booksellers” concurs about The White Dress: “told in Léger's agile, exploratory, and gorgeously labyrinthine prose,” the reviewer writes, the book is “to be consumed in one sitting and mulled over forever.” The review of Exposition in Publisher’s Weekly echoes this sentiment:  “Léger’s vigorous work consistently satisfies, with ideas crystallizing with the clarity of a photograph.” These books should undoubtedly join the titles in all current feminist reading lists.

First Selection, Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie française

The ten novels in the first selection of the Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie française were announced this past Thursday, October 1. Established in 1914, the prestigious literary prize is awarded to the novel that the Académie Française deems the best of the year. Among the novels selected is Saturne by Sarah Chiche (Seuil), which was also in the first selection for the Prix Goncourt, the Prix Médicis, and the Prix Femina. Also selected was Héritage by Miguel Bonnefoy (Rivages), which narrates the multigenerational saga of a family in Chile. Le Monde expresses its admiration for Bonnefoy’s style, comparing it to the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Liv Maria by Julia Kerninon (L’Iconoclaste) appears on the list as well. The eponymous protagonist is a woman whose entire life we see, from her childhood in Brittany, to her formative adolescence in Berlin, to new beginnings in Latin America, to her marriage in Ireland—all while keeping an enormous secret. The Centre national du livre praises Liv Maria, “a dazzling exploration of feminine feelings, of the games between appearance and truth.” The 2020 laureate of the Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie française will be announced on October 29.

Second selection of Prix Femina and Prix Renaudot, Finalists of the Prix Médicis

Halfway into this year’s French literary season, a number of prizes have recently announced their next rounds of selection. On October 1, the Prix Renaudot announced their shortlist, consisting of nine novels and four essays. Notably, the jurors added the novel Les Démons by Simon Liberati (Stock), which did not appear in the first selection. The winner of the Prix Renaudot will be announced on November 10. On October 2, the second selection for the Prix Femina was revealed (our coverage of the longlist can be found here). Ten French novels remain in the running, the winner of which will be announced on November 3. Finally, the finalists of the Prix Médicis were also selected this past Friday. Ten novels remain, including Comédies françaises by Eric Reinhardt, Thésée, sa vie nouvelle by Camille de Toledo (Verdier), and L’Anomalie by Hervé Le Tellier. On November 6, the jury will disclose the winner of the Médicis.

Unsustainable Inequalities: Social Justice and the Environment

Lucas Chancel's Unsustainable Inequalities: Social Justice and the Environment (Harvard University Press, tr. Malcolm DeBevoise) examines sustainability measures' central challenge: the idea that helping the environment often hurts those in poverty, and vice versa. The book provides insight into the intersection between economic inequality and climate change. Chancel names several instances of this phenomenon, such as how people living in poverty are drastically more exposed to the pollutants, and how measures to reduce these often result in job losses and higher prices for these same people. At the same time, Chancel highlights that policymakers are now recognizing this, and he argues that world leaders must step forward and enact policies that will end this inequality. Science Magazine, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, calls Unsustainable Inequalities a “sobering but essential” read and appreciates Chancel’s dedication to the goals established at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.