Friday, 30 April 2010

Bookish Bits & Bobs: Livres Très Recherchés

Whenever I visit an Anglophone bookshop - whether in Britain, the US or elsewhere - I never seem to struggle to find things that look interesting and turn out to be good reads. My bookshelves are positively groaning under the weight of contemporary English works (by which I mean books written in English) as well as classical English novels, drama and poetry.

However, my search since arriving in France has not been so fruitful. While France is certainly not short of fine authors, such as Marcel Proust, Victor Hugo, Henri Troyat, Raymond Queneau and Françoise Sagan, there is one problem: many of these are long dead. So where is all of the contemporary talent? I'm convinced it must be somewhere, but have so far not had much luck, having spent a while in French libraries and bookshops browsing and just not finding much of interest. When I have found something of interest, I've started reading it only to find that it is too rubbish to bother continuing with (such as Stéphanie Janicot's Dans la tête de Shéhérazade ). My French fiancé verifies that French contemporary literature offers little to nothing of merit, so perhaps it's not just the fact that I'm not a native speaker, but then again, his tastes are quite highbrow, so he may be more selective than I am.

So where exactly is the problem?

The sought-after books of my title are perhaps overshadowed for three main reasons. One is the idea that all French culture (whether books, films, theatre or miscellaneous) is so greatly lauded in the country's press that accolades, or deeming things to be good, perhaps lose all meaning (this was brilliantly expressed in a BBC Magazine article that I can no longer find thanks to the inadequacies of the website's search function). Secondly, there doesn't seem to be much shortage of French translators who have English as one of their languages, meaning that French readers rely heavily on translations of English works (walk into the bookshop round the corner from my flat and you'll find a French copy of Hugh Laurie's Everything is Under Control; The Elegance of the Hedgehog is also a novel that has enjoyed great popularity) rather than on their country's own talent for their literature. Finally, the price of new books is often prohibitive; even on Amazon, the price of the new paperback by Anne-Marie Garat exceeds €20, and the same bookshop located in close proximity to my flat, which sold me a handsomely bound and illustrated hardback Moroccan cookbook for a mere €12, is trying to flog recently released paperback novels for (again) in excess of €20.

Despite all of this, though, this is not to say that my search for half decent LIVING French novelists has been a total failure. I have recently discovered Tatiana de Rosnay, for instance, and Werewere Liking, though Cameroonian in origin, also writes in French and is an author whose work I enjoy. Pascale Kramer's work is also worth a look, as is that of Jean-Louis Fournier and Erik Orsenna. In short: in spite of the problems with which the contemporary French literature market is so obviously fraught, there ARE gems out there. You just might have to look a bit harder for them, that's all.

No comments: