Monday, November 06, 2006

A Big One

The Prix Goncourt, France's most prestigious literary prize has been won for the first time by an American writing in French. Jonathan Littell's Les Bienveillantes, a 900-page doorstopper narrating in first person the tale of an unrepentant SS officer, has already been the literary sensation of the rentrée, selling a phenomenal 200,000 copies, despite being rejected by most of the big Parisian publishing houses before Gallimard picked it up. Though Littell, who grew up in France, is perfectly bilingual, his feat at writing the novel in a second language is remarkable and the reviews have also noted the strange disjuncture of a French novel written in a style that is so different to the floridly circumlocutious French norm. I have yet to read it and it is unlikely I will tackle it before Christmas but it looks interesting.