published an overview of some new, untranslated literature coming out of France, but they might have shed some of the stereotypical baggage . . ." />

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • [[there.]] by Lance Olsen December 15, 2014
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    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
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  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
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  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
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    Yes, I think people are not comfortable anymore to write in this straightforward, traditional way, especially the younger, more progressive writers. So it’s interesting—you have social commentary, and you also get a little bit of structural experiment. You have themes that are very, very Thai. I’m actually very interested to see what new writers will come up […]
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  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
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  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
    Luiselli’s first novel, Faces in the Crowd, translated into fluid English by Christina MacSweeney, is the perfect illustration of this attitude toward fiction writing. Narrated in short sections spanning multiple storylines and the better part of one hundred years, it uses "[d]eep excavations" to expose the empty spaces in two lives, those of a you […]

On Stereotypes Surrounding French Lit

It’s cool that the LA Times published an overview of some new, untranslated literature coming out of France, but they might have shed some of the stereotypical baggage:

Until the 1980s, more common literary topics were “man and nature, the writer in Montmartre,” said novelist Jean-Pierre Ostende, whose new book about an audit firm, “Et voraces ils couraient dans la nuit” (Voracious, They Ran in the Night), is another example of the shift. “You were not supposed to write about telephone poles or the decorations in an airport.” Instead, French fiction focused on creating literary forms and “literature for literature’s sake” and avoided stories with the so-called nouveau roman (new novel) or honed in on the inner world of the writer.

“It was a little hard to talk about reality,” said Dominique Viart, who teaches at the University of Lille 3. “Literature of the ’60s and ’70s talked about itself,” he said.

But increasingly visible today, “the story is back,” said Viart. “French literature is no longer self-absorbed at all. It talks as much about the problems of Rwanda, globalization, the great questions of society. And not just the little world of Paris and the little world of writers. François Bon was one of the first to write about the world of the worker, and since then it hasn’t stopped.”

As I’ve mentioned before, New Novelists tend to have plenty of “story” in their books. I also disagree with drawing a line between talking about “reality” and talking about yourself. Are you (the writer) not a part of reality too? And, as Enrique Vila-Matas has demonstrated so well, does talking about yourself not bridge over to the rest of the world around you?

Of course, the reality that Vila-Matas discusses isn’t the “reality” as Dominique Viart construes it, which it seems would comprise something vaguely journalistic and highly moralistic. But that only brings me right back to Robbe-Grillet, whose Jealousy is, among other things, very much a postcolonial story. Of course it’s not a dumbly postcolonial story (which, I fear, is the kind that Viart wants to read).

But anyway, for me it all gets to be a little too much at this line:

French literature from Baudelaire to Balzac, Zola and the surrealists has a lofty tradition of focusing on the subject of contemporary society.

That would be the same Baudelaire who attempted to defend himself from charges of obscenity under the argument that his poetry was art for art’s sake, which, yes, the Times article decries about half a page up.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. The Rise of Daily Life in French Lit The new Words Without Borders blog has shot out of the box with their ongoing Perec coverage. The latest piece is an excellent, lengthy interview...
  2. Is French Literature Dead? Nice to know we American's aren't the only ones who can ask trivial questions about the death of things. This time it's an unnamed French...
  3. French Writing Dead? I'm very pleased to see this article in Prospect giving some more recognition to two recent French novels in translation that Ive been praising over...
  4. Nabokov on Beckett's French From a nice essay on Beckett in the Boston Review: This thought coalesced into a conviction. Thereafter, Beckett, who so valued control over his work...
  5. Vila-Matas Website Javier Moreno of Hermano Cerdo points out to me that Enrique Vila-Matas now has a website, all in Spanish, obviously. There’s some useful stuff there,...

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