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TALES OF THE ALARM CLOCK

Michel Bussi, illustrations by Éric Puybaret

(Delcourt, 320 pages, 2018)


*** TRANSLATION SAMPLE AVAILABLE ***

Corentin is different from other people. While others can speak several languages, or maybe even speak to animals, Corentin cannot. He is an awkward little boy who does not always know how to communicate with the people around him, and he has a secret: He can speak to objects. With this skill, Corentin’s world expands to places others only dream of, and makes the ordinary extraordinary.

 

Throughout his adventures, Corentin encounters objects of all different shapes, sizes, personalities, and opinions. When his uncle asks him to paint a ladder, Corentin tries to appease six differently colored ladder rungs who do not appreciate the order in which he arranges them, concerned that their arrangement proves one colored rung superior to the other. When he writes letters to a girl he loves, he confides his feelings in his loquacious and gossipy mailbox. He encounters an atlas who has knowledge of every place in the world yet does not have the ability to travel to any of those places. He reigns over The Valley of Tears as king, meets a small family of flowers, and listens to their familial disputes, fears, and hopes. Corentin’s adventures are a source of inexhaustible imagination, and the objects he meets are more inventive than you might expect.

 Famous for his wildly successful thrillers, Michel Bussi’s love for childhood’s dreamlike wonders and vivid imagery occupies a significant place in his novels, and Tales of the Alarm Clock is no exception. Through Corentin’s adventures, Bussi dives directly into the mind of a little boy whose imagination and fantasy have captivated him for years, displaying Bussi’s characteristic fantasy, humor, and irony: “Corentin is a childhood dream. He has been with me for a very long time. Corentin is melancholic and joyful in a cruel and fantastical world. He is a dream for children, even children who have since become parents.”

 

Michel Bussi is a celebrated French crime author whose work has been translated in thirty-five countries. He is a professor of geography at the University of Rouen, as well as a French political commentator. Tales of the Alarm Clock is his first book for children.

Éric Puybaret is the 1999 Bologna Ragazzi laureate, awarded to him at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. He is known for Cache-Lune (Gautier-Languereau, 2002), written and illustrated by himself, and Graines de cabanes. His American audience knows him for his work on Puff, the Magic Dragon (Sterling Publishing, 2007).

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HIND’S FOOL

Bertille Dutheil

(Belfond, 400 pages, 2018)


*** TRANSLATION SAMPLE AVAILABLE ***

Lydia’s father, Mohsin, dies on December 9, 2011, in a retirement home in Saint-Ouen, France. To Lydia, Mohsin was a quiet and isolated old man who loved plants and quoting poetry, particularly the Persian love poem “Layla and Majnun.” But when Mohsin dies, he leaves a letter for Lydia in which he confesses to murdering an innocent young woman thirty years before—along with a mysterious box of photos of himself and a young girl that predate her birth, exposing a life Lydia didn’t know Mohsin had lived.

 

Having immigrated to Créteil, France, in the late 1970s from Algeria, Mohsin lived in Le Château, a decrepit mansion turned communal home, with three other families. Lydia seeks out the members of Mohsin’s former “family,” both living and dead, to discover the truth of her father’s past life. With the help of Mohammed, a florist; Ali, a financial analyst; Luna, a neurosurgeon from Seattle; Sakina, Mohsin’s old friend; and the old diary of a man named Marqus, Lydia meets Hind, Mohsin’s first “daughter.” As their stories unfold, each “family member” testifying to Mohsin’s past—and their own lives as immigrants conforming to French culture—Lydia uncovers more and more of Mohsin and Hind’s relationship, and the reasons for Hind’s notable absence.

 Brilliant and shocking, Hind’s Fool is a force to be reckoned with. Through the voices of several characters, whose memories are shrouded by their emotions and prejudices, Bertille Dutheil elegantly paints the story of an absent and voiceless heroine, exploring the questions of immigration, diaspora, and assimilation into an adopted culture while preserving your own.

 

Bertille Dutheil lives in Paris. Currently a graduate student of history at Université Paris 1, she has also lived in Beirut to conduct her research. Hind’s Fool is her first novel.

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HOTEL WALDHEIM

François Vallejo

(Viviane Hamy, 340 pages, 2018)

 

***SHORT LISTED FOR THE 2018 GONCOURT PRIZE***



Jeff Valdera starts receiving mysterious postcards from Zurich. They are inscribed with cryptic messages, and while he does not know who sent them, he immediately recognizes their provenance. They were offered for free in the reception area of Hotel Waldheim in Davos, the Alpine resort where he used to spend his summer vacations with his aunt Judith. Now forty years later, he is compelled to revisit this formative period of his life that may not be as an innocent and innocuous as he likes to remember.

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Alice says

“An original and riveting tale involving Stasi spies, GDR dissidents, habitues of an old world Swiss hotel and a man who is facing a competing version of his adolescent memories. A clever reflection on memory and the slipperiness of Truth.”

The first postcard triggers an instant flow of memories: the arousing sight of girls undressing in the night train to Davos, the ritualistic welcoming plate of sliced Grisons meat offered by Herr Meili, the hotel’s owner, and the stiff politeness of the hotel guests. There are those Jeff remembers well, and those who only left a vague impression. When Jeff finally meets the sender of the postcard, a woman obsessively searching for answers, he is caught into a spiral that will lead him to question the person he thought he was. Based on the evidence she retrieved from the recently digitalized Stasi archives, she claims that Jeff must know something about the disappearance of her father, a German Democratic Republic dissident who was last seen at the hotel. Will she succeed in convincing Jeff that he is hiding something from her, and from himself? And can youth alone absolve him from the consequences of his actions?

 Set against the backdrop of Swiss neutrality, 1970s Cold War intrigues, and the shadow of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Hotel Waldheim unfolds with the suspense of a spy thriller. François Vallejo unravels his hero’s confrontation with the past with lapidary precision, and, along the way, offers an astute reflection on the workings of memory, its forgetting mechanisms, and the many ways it can be instrumentalized.

 

François Vallejo is a French professor of literature, and a writer. He has published a dozen novels, including Madame Angeloso (long-listed for the Prix Goncourt and selected for the Femina and the Renaudot Prizes, 2001), Groom (Libraries’ Prize, 2003), Ouest (Livre Inter Prize, 2007), and Un dangereux plaisir (2016). All his books are published by Editions Viviane Hamy. 

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THE PERFUME OF MERMAIDS

Gisèle Pineau

(Mercure de France, 256 pages, 2018)

 

Siréna Pérole is a free spirit who lives by her own rules. In the close-knit Guadeloupean village of St. Robert, her eccentric behavior and captivating beauty fascinate men and arouse envy in women. On Bastille Day, Siréna’s cousin, Ida, discovers her lifeless body with Siréna’s two-year-old son, Gaby, playing in a pool of her blood. The vivid and gory details of Siréna’s death make it worthy of the murder scenes in the American detective series Ida avidly watches on TV. The community receives the news of her death with hidden sorrow and malevolent glee. Many wish to forget Siréna, but the passing of time will not erase the void—and the secrets—she leaves behind.

 In the wake of Siréna’s death, her family must reconcile themselves with the permanent mark she left on their lives. Set against the backdrop of their land—a lush and bountiful paradise invaded by squatters and devastated by hurricanes—Gisèle Pineau paints a richly textured portrait of the Pérole family. She traces their history from the hardworking ancestors who secured the family’s fortune in the 1910s, to the siblings scattered in France and Canada, and to those who stayed at home, like Gaby, now a gentle and idle Rasta haunted by his mother’s memory.

Pascale says

“Like a lingering perfume, the Sirèna's death haunts her relatives. A poetic and intoxicating novel down to its cathartic conclusion.”

 In The Perfume of Mermaids, Pineau returns to some of her favorite themes: the plight of women, the conditions of exile, and all the things we carry with us, consciously and unconsciously, when we leave home. In this novel, not even the younger generations born abroad can escape their ancestors’ legacy. Pineau’s poetic writing captures her love for the exuberant tropical nature of her ancestral island. Her appreciation for its diversity and beauty mirrors her ever-attentive respect for human diversity, which, like that of nature, is always under threat.

 

Gisèle Pineau is a French-Guadeloupean novelist and writer. She has published numerous critically acclaimed novels translated into several languages. Among those translated into English are A Taste of Eternity: A Novel (Texas Tech University Press, 2014), Devil’s Dance (Bison Books, 2003), and Exile According to Julia (University of Virginia Press, 2003).

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ALL MEN BY NATURE DESIRE TO KNOW

Nina Bouraoui

(JC Lattès, 256 pages, 2018)

 

*** SHORT-LISTED FOR THE MEDICIS PRIZE ***


All Men by Nature Desire to Know is the story of the nights of my youth, of my wanderings, my alliances and my heartaches. It is the story of my desire, which became an identity and a struggle.

                                                                                    —Nina Bouraoui

 

From Algeria, where she spent her childhood, to Brittany, the birthplace of her mother, and Paris, where she came of age as a mixed-race gay woman, Nina Bouraoui retraces the source of her desire, and love, for women. A source that she knows can never really be found. What matters is the journey toward self-discovery and self-acceptance that she now shares with us through the gift of her luminous language.

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Alice says

“The quest for the self never ends for Bouraoui. Luminous and poetic, intense yet subtle, writing is her true home…”

Bouraoui interweaves fragments of family history, recollections, and memories into brief chapters loosely labeled “Remembering,” “Knowing,” and “Becoming.” Most vibrant, sensual, and foundational are her memories of her Algerian childhood and adolescence. It is in Algeria that her appreciation of beauty was formed, where she first learned about violence—the violence of history, and the violence directed toward women. Bouraoui already knew that she was different. The expansiveness of those years in Algeria contrasts sharply with the constricted and prejudiced world of her maternal grandparents in Rennes. Violence is present there, too, but of a different kind.

Her family finally resettles in France in the early 1980s. A few years after their arrival, she discovers the Kat, a Parisian lesbian nightclub. Four times a week, and barely eighteen, she goes there alone, waiting, and searching for love. With poignancy but without sentimentality, Bouraoui evokes the women she encounters, so different from the ones she knew in her childhood, and her awkward first attempts at sexual intimacy. During this pivotal period of her life, still ridden with guilt, shame, and unfulfilled longings, she becomes a writer.

With All Men Naturally Want to Know, Nina Bouraoui continues to build on her critically acclaimed autofictional body of work. She sees herself as an architect who, book by book, gives form to a world of exquisite, painful, and deeply personal experiences that she knows are not just her own. Her self-quest remains open ended, beyond labeling, fluid like her prose.

 

Nina Bouraoui is the author of sixteen novels, including Forbidden Vision (Barrytown Press, 1995), which won the Prix du Livre Inter, Mes mauvaises pensées (Stock, 2005), winner of the Prix Renaudot, and Tomboy (Bison Books-University of Nebraska Press, 2008.) Her works have been translated into fifteen languages, and she has been named an Officier des Arts et des Lettres. After spending the first fourteen years of her life in Algiers (her father is from Algeria and her mother from Brittany), Bouraoui lived in Paris, Zurich, and Abu Dhabi before settling permanently in Paris. She is also known as a songwriter, composing for artists such as Céline Dion.

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BABYLON EXPRESS

Mathilde-Marie de Malfilâtre

(Le Dilettante, 250 pages, 2018)

 

***SHORT LISTED FOR THE PRIX DE FLORE 2018***

Luna is well on her way to a brilliant future in the service to the nation. A dutiful daughter with an impeccable CV, she is a lieutenant and political analyst in the elite Counterterrorism Bureau at France’s National Gendarmerie. Her specialty: ultra-left and eco-terrorism. Luna is more than ready for a career change when she encounters Marco Von Z, veteran drug dealer and vegan animal rights activist. From Berlin to Milan and Paris to Marrakesh, the two partners in crime embark on a frenetic drug-fueled ride spiced up with mind-blowing sexual ecstasies.

The lovebirds’ master plan is to gather a bundle of cash to start a new life in Morocco—one that Luna wishes would be of true benefit to society. Her ideal includes juice bars and naturotherapy for all. Operation #1 (and there will be more): Flood the City of Lights with top-quality Moroccan hash. From underground caves, music festivals, seedy nightclubs, and temples of the electro-trash scene, the Bonnie and Clyde of the new millennium zigzag across Europe to liquidate their merchandise. Luna relies on Marco’s professionalism and on her good star.

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Pascale says

“Brilliant, transgressive, and at times ferociously funny, de Malfilâtre’s explosive first novel is trippy in every sense of the word.”

Babylon Express is part transgressive initiation journey, part lyrical love story, and part sardonic portrait of the underground with, as a bonus, an impressive Michelin-like guide of psychoactive substances. Delivered with a breathless rhythm, and an astonishing prose bristling with a mixture of Italian, Rom, and Arabic slang, this dazzling first novel by Mathilde-Marie de Malfilâtre is already establishing her as a new voice to be reckoned with.

 

Mathilde-Marie de Malfilâtre was born in Normandy, and grew up in Japan. In 2008, she obtained a double degree in International Relations and Commerce. A graduate of the University of Bradford, England, she also holds a master’s degree in International Politics and Security. Like her heroine Luna, Mathilde-Marie then joined France’s National Gendarmerie in the Counterterrorism Bureau. Babylon Express is her first novel. 

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NINETY SECONDS

Daniel Picouly

(Albin Michel, 272 pages, 2018)

 

*** LONG LISTED FOR THE 2018 GONCOURT PRIZE ***

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Pascale says

“A baroque and suspenseful tale: Picouly is a masterful storyteller, and his portrait of a known tragedy unlike any other.”


Ninety seconds: the time it took for Mount Pelée to erase the port of Saint-Pierre of Martinique, in one of the most deadly volcanic eruptions of the twentieth century. On that fateful day of May 8, 1902, more than 30,000 residents of the city perished under rivers of lava and clouds of burning ash. In Daniel Picouly’s evocation of this dramatic event, it is the mountain itself that tells the story and contemplates from above the city, and the many lives, it is about to destroy. Who will be spared the fury about to be unleashed?

 Saint-Pierre may be proud of its cathedral, its theater, its banks, its cobblestone streets, and elegant stone houses with red-tiled roofs. But viewed from above, it is nothing more than a crescent of land stuck between the sea and the mountains. Mount Pelée hates Saint-Pierre, and its pretension of being The Little Paris of the West Indies. The mountain surveys all that it is about to wipe away: the Guérin sugarcane factory, the enchanting botanical garden, the bridge under which all the dirty laundry of the town is being washed, the animals, and, of course, the humans. Do they all equally deserve to die, the innocents and the scoundrels, the masters and the laborers? What is certain is that all, for one reason or another—greed, vanity, cynical political machinations, or blissful indifference—ignore the warning signs so thoughtfully offered by the volcano.

The eruption of Mount Pelée, like the sinking of the Titanic, is a real-life drama that has stirred the collective imagination, and inspired novelists and filmmakers. Daniel Picouly has family roots in Martinique, and it is now his turn to reimagine the last days of Saint-Pierre. With his characteristic baroque verve, he offers us, with Ninety Seconds, a riveting tale that plays on our human desire for miracles, and a flamboyant portrait of a lost city.

Born in France as one of thirteen children of his French Caribbean parents, Daniel Picouly is a prolific author whose books include the autobiographical Le champ de personne (Flammarion, 1995), winner of the Prix des lectrices d’Elle, and Paulette et Roger (Grasset, 2001), winner of the Prix populiste. He was awarded the 1999 Prix Renaudot for The Leopard Boy (University of Virginia Press, 2016). He has been hosting various cultural programs on French television and is also the well-known author of numerous children’s books.

The Heart of the Matter

Christian Oster

(Éditions de l’Olivier, 188 pages, 2015)

 

                                        *** Sold in Italy to Clichy ***

 

Simon’s first reaction to finding the body of a dead man sprawled across his living room floor is annoyance. He next notices that the banister from the upstairs landing is broken, and so most likely the man was pushed. Finally, he wonders if his companion, Diane, is home. Christian Oster’s seamless and humorous prose makes The Heart of the Matter a page-turner of great literary quality.

 

How annoying to find a body in your living room! A man, Simon observes, most likely pushed from the upstairs landing. But where is Diane? Her car isn’t outside, so she probably isn’t home. Best to check upstairs anyway. And there she is in the tub. In response to his questions, she ducks her head underwater. Okay, he thinks, there must be a connection between Diane and the dead man. He hands her a towel, and she emerges from the tub, but only to silently dress and pack a bag. Then she speaks, saying she can’t deal with it, and leaves. Goes and leaves Simon with the body.

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Marine says

"A mesmerizing portrait of one man's descent into hell, with beautiful language and unexpected humor."

Standing in the living room, over the man— Diane’s lover?—Simon notes that the man is dressed. But still, her lover? Phone calls to Diane go to voicemail. What next? What should he do with the body? He googles how long it takes a body to begin to decompose and then leaves it until the next evening, after dark, to bury it in the vegetable garden beneath the tomato plants.

 Becoming friendly with a retired police officer and his wife helps his loneliness, but increases his paranoia about the body beneath the tomatoes. Because he can’t stand being in the house alone, Simon agrees to a week away at the officer’s widowed sister’s house in the country, and then begins to think that the officer suspects him of something and the invitation is just a trap to get him to confess. But what could or should he confess to? Diane decides to come back and tell her story to the police . . . but is it too little too late to help Simon?

 

Christian Oster is the author of several novels, among which Mon grand apartement (My Big Apartment, University of Nebraska Press, 2003; Éditions de Minuit, 1999) won the Prix Médicis 1999. Two others of his novels have been translated into English: In the Train (Object Press, 2010) and The Unforeseen (Other Press, 2007). His novel Une femme de ménage (A Cleaning Woman, Other Press, 2003; Éditions de Minuit, 2001) was turned into a film directed by Claude Berri.

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Beekeeping According to Samuel Beckett

Martin Page

(Éditions de l’Olivier, 87 pages, 2012)

*** Translation sample available ***

*** Winner of a French Voices translation grant ***

Martin Page . . . restores to Beckett his author’s rebelliousness and his political revolt.

Le Monde

 

Beckett's work offers an outlook on human existence that is bleak and tragic, often coupled with dark humor. Absurd, minimalist work.  We know Beckett and his writing.  Or do we? In this ingenious short novel, Martin Page combines humor and fantasy to reflect on the relationship between life and art and on the ways the canonization of great artists can obscure the key thrust of their work.

One summer in Paris, an impoverished doctoral student of anthropology is offered an unusual job: to assist the Irish poet and playwright Samuel Beckett in sorting through his archives, and mailing them to eager beneficiaries around the world. Aware of his luck, knowing that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the young man decides to keep a journal. The Beckett he discovers is a mischievous, hot-chocolate-loving beekeeper with a colorful wardrobe—very different from the austere and pessimistic man known to posterity.

Pascale says

"A witty and delightful novel that made one want to rediscover Beckett."

The first day on the job, the assistant is charged to find four large cardboard boxes, and, not least, to pick up an octopus sandwich at the Greek café. The job is completed well before the end of the initially agreed upon ten-day contract. A scrupulous Beckett, in search of a fair solution, comes up with a plan—why not fabricate some additional archival material since “archives is what they want.”

The two accomplices step out in the city in search of improbable objects and documents to confound and disorient future researchers. Beckett, facetiously but also mindfully, selects plastic handcuffs, language textbooks in Quechua, an X-rated movie adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, and train tickets for strange destinations. At the same time, Beckett finds himself advising from afar the idealistic director of a Swedish prison production of Waiting for Godot. The project is a resounding success but Beckett, ever realistic, has no intention of becoming a hero of good intentions. And, when a journalist compares his celebrity to a prison, he is particularly outraged on behalf those who find themselves behind actual rather than mental walls.

In Beekeeping According to Samuel Beckett, Martin Page slips deftly between fiction—the handcuffs—and reality—the Swedish prison production. He purposefully defies the views that have come to define the personality and work of Beckett. With this delightful and clever novel, he stirs the reader to rediscover Beckett’s writings beyond the iconic Waiting for Godot and Beckett’s personality beyond the clichés.

 

Martin Page grew up in the Paris suburbs. His first novel, How I Became Stupid (Penguin Books, 2004) was a commercial success and won the Euroregional schools’ Literature Prize, an award given by Belgian, Dutch, and German students. He has written half a dozen other novels, eight books for children and young adults, as well as essays and short stories. In 2010, Penguin Books published The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection: A Novel. Martin Page’s books have been translated into over twenty languages.

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Rookies

Marie Talvat and Alex Laloue

(Plon, 320 pages, 2018)

 

A murder. A complicated investigation involving a young police officer and a young journalist. They are part of Generation Y, and despite their lack of experience, they will go after the murderer and . . . fall in love.

 

A pregnant woman has been killed, her fetus thrown in the toilet. Arsène Galien, the latest recruit of the prestigious Judicial Police in charge of the investigation, is eager to show his skills, and thus win his superiors’ trust.

 Conducting interviews in the building where the murder occurred, he meets Pauline Raumann, a neighbor of the victim. The attraction between them is immediate. Pauline is a journalist working for a media outlet that is not liked by either the government or the police. Taking in the fact that the victim is the daughter of a star of the bar, and the next elections are approaching, the press is under fire.

Alice says

"A new take on the thriller genre."

Arsène and Pauline are full of ideals and doubts. But they behave like who they really are: rookies. Arsène is manipulated by someone he can’t suspect, and Pauline ends up being a suspect in the case. This fast-paced and original thriller leads the reader to several clues before the surprising end.

 

Marie Talvat and Alex Laloue are both twenty-eight years old. They live and write together. Rookies is their first novel. Alex, after a stint as an actor, spent several years as a cop inside the Judicial Police of Paris responsible for investigating and fighting serious crime. He now dedicates his time to writing. Marie Talvat has a degree in cultural management and journalism. She is a writer, a tattoo artist, and a videographer, and is known for her Youtube channel L’instant inutile (The Unnecessary Moment).

The Sound of the World

Stéphanie Chaillou

(Les Éditions Noir sur Blanc, 165 pages, 2018)

 

“There are traces of Duras or Annie Ernaux in the style of Stéphanie Chaillou…” — Le Figaro Littéraire

 

Marie-Hélène Coulanges, also known by her nickname Marilène, grew up in Brigneau, a small hamlet in rural France. As a young child, her future seemed as wide open as the fields surrounding the family farm. But the fields are heavily mortgaged. Marilène is born poor and she does not know it yet. That awareness, latent at first, will slowly find its way into her consciousness —a convergence of images, sensations, and feelings that she experiences but cannot name. When she leaves her family behind to step into a new world full of promise, she cannot find her place in it. Not until she realizes that her story, all of it, Brigneau included, is worth telling.

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Pascale says

"A novel which aptly captures the internal journey and struggles of a woman's coming to writing."

After having lost their farm, Marilène’s parents move to town and find solace in the relative security provided by steady, if meager, salaries. They are proud when Marilène, a good student, is offered the chance to study in a prestigious prep school. She is excited even if she stumbles on that word, chance. “To those who already have it—she can’t help think—it is not necessary to give it.” Her confidence is soon shattered in an environment in which she feels invisible and lacking. Nothing will ever compensate for her cultural backwardness, the books she did not read, the museums she did not visit, and the travels she did not experience. Locked into silent suffering, Marilène retreats back home, and resumes the motions of a life more attuned to her family’s expectations. But it is too late. Marilène cannot deny the part of herself that led her in the first place to move beyond the social milieu in which she was born.

 Written in a pared-down and poetic style, The Sound of the World tells of the secret wounds, self-doubt, and shame—and the shame at being ashamed—of a young woman venturing on a path of upward mobility. It is a novel about the courage to be oneself, and the redemptive virtues of literature. Through writing, Marilène can at last make sense of her life, but she also realizes that her story is not hers alone.

 

Stéphanie Chaillou is a novelist and the author of three books of poetry. Her first novel, L’Homme incertain (Alma Editeur, 2015), was selected for the RTBF Première Prize and the Fnac literary season, and adapted for the stage. Le bruit du monde is her third novel after Alice ou le choix des armes (Alma Editeur, 2016.)

Deep End

Élodie Llorca

(Payot & Rivages, 144 pages, 2018)

 

When Per leaves Norrland in Sweden to live in France, his mother’s friend Ivar helps him settle in. By saying that Per was his nephew, Ivar got him a job as a janitor at the municipal pool where he worked, then helped Per pass the exam to become a lifeguard, like Ivar himself.

 

Alice says

"A pure touch of tenderness."

When Ivar unexpectedly dies, Per finds a piece of jewelry that used to belong to his own mother among Ivar’s personal effects. That raises questions in Per’s mind: Who exactly was Ivar? Did he know Sven, Per’s father, who disappeared in the Baltic Sea years before when Per was still a little boy? That’s when the young man makes a disconcerting decision: From now on, he will go by his mentor’s name.

 As Per-Ivar’s French gradually improves, he starts to feel more at home at the pool, where both his supervisors and the customers appreciate him. He maintains a faux relationship with an older woman, and makes friends with one of his customers’ granddaughters, who lost her parents. As he becomes more confident in both his personal and professional lives, he gets into the habit of collecting items lost by swimmers. This strange hobby will lead him through the icy Scandinavian landscape onto the trail of both Ivar’s past and his own memories.

 With power and insight, Élodie Llorca turns Deep End’s quest for an absent father into an exploration of the meanders of filial love.

 

A playwright, actress, and screenwriter, Élodie Llorca won the 2016 Stanislas Prize for her first novel, La Correction. Deep End is her second novel.

Black Butterflies

Caroline Gutmann

(JC Lattès, 288 pages, 2018)

 

Black Butterflies is the story of middle-aged Caroline, who has been recently diagnosed with cancer. The diagnosis comes as a frightening surprise, in the figurative form of hundreds of black butterflies that flutter around her as she sleeps, and that scare her as she wakes up to them in the morning.

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Alice says

"A subtle novel about illness like no others."

Divorced and with two near-adult sons, Caroline has an on-again, off-again lover, but she is scared to tell her loved ones about her diagnosis. She doesn’t know how they will react, and she does not want to inconvenience them with her illness. Although her cancer is surprising, Caroline wonders if it is the result of treatment she received for Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a nineteen-year-old—if her past illness has come back to haunt her, albeit in a different form.

 Despite the seriousness of her condition, Caroline remains calm and relatively good-humored. She distracts herself by reading her late father’s notebooks, from which she gleans important information about her family history. She discovers things about her father’s family and friends that she never knew, which contribute not only to her relationships with her late parents and ancestors, but also to her own understanding of self. These discoveries—in addition to the people she meets during her hospitalization—contribute to her ability to fight her illness and its brutal monotony.

 Based on the author’s experience with her own cancer, Black Butterflies gives a quirky and original testimony on sickness, explores how sick people fit in our society and how they affect the lives of those around them, and ultimately shows what one can learn from oneself and others through illness.

 

Caroline Gutmann works in the publishing industry and has written several books, including Le syndrome Nerval, Le testament du Dr Lamaze (published in English by St. Martin’s Press), and Secret de Robert le diable.

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the color of air

Odile d’Oultremont

(Édition de l’Observatoire, 222 pages, 2018)

For more than ten years, Adrian has led a well-regulated life centered on his job at Aquaplus, the city water management company. He is a compliant employee, courteous to a fault but with no meaningful human contact aside from his demanding mother. During one of his professional visits, he meets the endearing and whimsical Louise, a painter for whom daily life is the source of endless enchantment, and never a dull routine. They marry and share nine years of happiness under the guidance of Louise’s radiant disposition and exuberant creativity. But is imagination enough to counter the weight of reality?

Pascale says

"An ode to the power of imagination."

When the novel opens, Adrian is sitting in the dock in a courthouse. It is not clear what offense he might have committed, but there is no doubt that he has lost Louise. As he waits for the judge to interrogate him, he reminisces about his wife and their life together:  How he threw himself without hesitation into Louise’s magical universe, where the dog is called The Cat, where morning rituals are turned into joyful performances, and the most mundane objects are transfigured by the power of Louise’s fanciful mind. Thanks to Louise, the unadventurous Adrian learns to master “a new keyboard from which he has replaced the keys one after the other,” and on which even “unexpected new functions have appeared.” 

 Following a corporate downsizing, Adrian is retained but relegated to, and then forgotten in, an obscure cubicle at the end of a ghostly corridor. Adrian bears the alienation of this Kafkaesque administrative decision, because since he can still continue to act as the “sponsor of Planet Louise.” And when she is diagnosed with cancer, his invisibility in the office allows him to devote himself fully to her care.  No one even notices his absence.  

 Louise’s descent into illness and the way she faces it makes for some of the most moving passages of this book. Far from being just eccentric or childish, she is above all “a qualified worker of the imaginary.” Thanks to her endless curiosity, she faces the medical apparatus and the slow deterioration of her body with lucidity, courage, and resolute cheerfulness.

The Art of Unreason has been compared to Boris Vian’s masterpiece, The Foam of the Daze. They are both poignant love stories haunted by death and infused with poetry, and in which the surreal elements do not prevent the reader from experiencing an authentic and emotionally convincing world. But in this first novel, d’Oultremont has found her own unique voice. Her dazzlingly original prose never ceases to surprise us at every turn, whether she evokes the dehumanized environment of twenty-first-century corporations or the intimacy of true love.

Odile d’Oultremont is a screenwriter and filmmaker. Les Déraisons is her first novel.

THE STRANGE CASE OF BENJAMIN T.

Catherine Rolland

(Les Escales, 352 pages, 2018)

 

Benjamin Teillac’s wife has left him, and his only son has rejected him, and now epileptic seizures may make it impossible for him to continue as a paramedic. His neurologist offers him an opportunity to participate in a clinical trial of a revolutionary new drug, and he accepts. The side effects are immediate: He is assailed by vivid, life-like hallucinations. The year is 1944.  He is in a small village in the French Alps plotting to blow up a bridge. And then he is back in the present day. We are all somewhat more than one person, but Benjamin really lives two lives.

Alice says

"Uplifting and suprising."

The Strange Case of Benjamin T. starts with a description of Benjamin T.,  the  antihero, and his less than exciting life. But the tone changes in unison with the increasing pace of his dramatic seizures. Rolland is a fine storyteller who  skillfully guides the reader through the intricacies of the plot making us  empathize with Benjamin’s confusion and fear. She draws a believable picture of a man who has lost control over his body, and whose mind is invaded by the deeds and emotions of another life. 

As the novel progresses, Benjamin’s visions become more frequent and coalesce into the storyline of a life as real as his own.   He is living two lives at the same time:  In one, he is called Benjamin Teillac and, in the other Benjamin Sachetaz. The second Benjamin fights bravely alongside his brother in the French resistance, and the first avoids confrontation at all cost. As Benjamin S. he falls in love with Mélaine, who loves him back; BenjaminT. however, continues to long for Sylvie, who no longer loves him.  The Benjamin of 1944 knows the future, while the Benjamin of 2014 remembers the past. In each case, these lines across space and time have dangerous consequences for both of them. In the midst of his distress and confusion, Benjamin is presented with a rare opportunity to alter—much for the better—the course of destiny.  To do so, he may have to decide which of these two Benjamins he is to be.  

Catherine Rolland is an emergency doctor and a writer. Originally from Lyon, she has been living in Switzerland for a few years. The Strange Case of Benjamin T. is her fifth novel.

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Brisa

Bénédicte Martin

(JC Lattès, 150 pages, 2018)

*** Nominated for the 2018 Françoise Sagan Prize ***

Bénédicte Martin lives with her son in the Parisian apartment that belonged to her grandparents, Pierre and Brisa. She inhabits the very same rooms, pushes the same doors, and opens the same windows as they did. But Martin’s intimate connection with her family history goes deeper than the tangible legacy of these walls. There is another, more elusive inheritance that she feels compelled to explore and claim as her own in order to come to terms with the woman she has become.

Alice says

"Sulfurous and provocative. A family memoir like no others."

Martin’s family memoir begins with a woman who, although not a blood relative, played a central role in the life of Pierre and Brisa. Born in the Mediterranean harbor of Toulon at the turn of the twentieth century—Eleonore Madame Yvonne as she was later known— was the illegitimate daughter of an heir and a laundress. She came into a large inheritance, which she immediately used to settle in a luxurious Parisian hotel and throw herself into the dazzling nightlife of the capital. There, at last, she could live openly as a woman who loves women. After World War II, she became a madam, the informant and friend of Pierre, a former resistance fighter turned police chief. Madly in love with his idle wife Brisa, she inserted herself permanently into their lives.

As she retraces the past, Martin interposes reflections on her life. She does so seamlessly and without warning. Martin finds inspiring, yet also disquieting, similarities between the singular lives she reimagines and her own, and her exercise in uncovering points of multiple identifications feels at times like a form of exorcism. Inheritance is, for Martin, much broader than blood alone. It has a moral dimension that is transmitted not just through our family histories but also through our collective past.

Martin’s language is impassioned when she invokes the right, but also the suffering and challenges, of living differently. It is merciless when she speaks of unreciprocated desire, raw when she depicts the sadness of bought sex and lucid when it comes to the dirty money upon which Madame Yvonne’s largesse is built upon. With Brisa, Martin has written an incandescent and corrosive family memoir with a subversive absence of sentimentality.

Bénédicte Martin is a writer and a journalist. Her first book, Warm Up (Flammarion 2013), a collection of erotic stories, received the Counterpoint Award and was translated into Spanish and Portuguese. Another of her books, La Femme, was a finalist for the Renaudot Prize (Editions des Equateurs, 2014). She is a specialist of Colette and has also written a book on Simone de Beauvoir (Nouvelles Lectures, 2016.)

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THE FAKIR’S NEW ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF IKEA

Romain Puértolas

(Éditions Le Dilettante, 298 pages, 2018)

"“[A] comic strip of a novel. . . . Strewn with laugh-out-loud jokes.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A philosophical odyssey. By turns slapstick and serious.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Entertaining and original.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A delightfully silly confection.” —The Seattle Times

“Combines farce worthy of Laurel and Hardy with socio-political satire.” —The Washington Times

“Who would have thought that a comedy that mixes flat-pack furniture with magic could tackle some of the biggest subjects of our time? With a big heart, a brilliant sense of humour and an excellent translator, that’s what French writer Romain Puértolas achieves.” —The Independent

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Marine says

"Another joyful romp across Europe with the endearing Fakir. Laughter guaranteed."

Two years after his adventures in The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe, Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod is no longer that tall, thin man, gnarled like a tree, with a huge mustache running across his face. He is clean shaven, has put on a little weight, and wears polo shirts with little crocodiles on the chest. He lives with Marie in a comfortable apartment in the affluent 16th arrondissement, and is sinking slowly into a cushy, insipid routine. And then one day adventure again knocks at his door . . .

Romain Puértolas takes the reader on a ride in the fast lane from France to Sweden. The story alternates from the fakir’s turbulent childhood at the school for fakirs in the heart of Rajasthan and his present life, thirty years later, as he searches in Viking territory for Hertzyorbac, the mythical bed of nails. But Ajatashatru is not just looking for that bed of nails; he is also searching for a subject for his next book. The deeply entertaining farce is filled with comedy and confusion; it’s a silly and serious philosophical consideration of flat-pack furniture and other modern-day sociopolitical concerns.

Romain Puértolas is the best-selling author of The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe, which was sold in thirty-eight languages and will soon be released as a film. It was published in the United States by Knopf/Vintage in 2015/2016.