Tuesday, August 24, 2010

An annual avalanche of fiction

It's that time of the year again in France. La rentrée, the start of the school year, is just around the corner - and with it comes the annual avalanche of new books known as la rentrée littéraire.

This frenzy of publication never fails to amaze me. Coming from a third-world country where publishers' lists of new books are counted in tens, not hundreds, I find it astonishing that French publishers can produce hundreds of fiction titles in a single month. In September 2010 there are no less than 701 novels on offer. Yes, you read correctly - 701 novels. These 700 new books do not include non-fiction or biographies, children's literature or poetry, cook books or travel books or beautiful coffee-table books. We're talking novels, only novels, nothing but novels. Now isn't that something?

And among these 700 novels, only about 200 are translated from other languages, the rest are as French as the Eiffel Tower. Well, not quite. Some are from other francophone regions in Africa, Europe and elsewhere. In fact, the best-selling French author is the Belgian Amélie Nothomb, who has been coming up with a novel each September, as regularly as clockwork, for more than a decade. Her 2010 offering, Une forme de vie (A Form of Life) has the highest print-run of all the rentrée's novels (220 000 copies), followed by the British Ken Follet's Fall of Giants (150 000 copies in France, but simultaneously published in 13 other countries) and the French enfant terrible Michel Houellebecq's La Carte et le Territoire (The Map and the Territory), which has an initial print-run of 120 000 copies.

Among the 200 odd translated novels there are some Big Names too. South African Nobel Laureate JM Coetzee's L'Eté de la vie (already published in English as Summertime) is the eagerly awaited third book in the series of 'auto-fiction' starting with Boyhood and followed by Youth. French fans of American fiction can look forward to Vice caché, the translation of Inherent Vice, a comic-noir crime thriller featuring ukulele music by that infamous Invisible Man, Thomas Pynchon, as well as works by Bret Easton Ellis (Imperial Bedrooms) and my own American favourite, Don DeLillo. Although I'd prefer to read the inimitable DeLillo's Point Omega in the original English, of course.

But the best thing about la rentrée littéraire, I've always found, is the surprise element. The unexpected and unpredictable hits by authors who are still completely unknown, but might just be, who knows, among the Big Names by the time the next fictional avalanche hits France in September 2011. Watch this space. I'll keep you posted.


  1. Marita - ek toer tans deur die hele Frankryk (die regte tour de vin grand) en het al verskeie boekwinkels regoor die land besoek. Die twee boeke wat ek saam gebring het is lankal reeds klaar gelees en ek is dus op soek na iets nuut om te lees. Tot my verbasing (en frustrasie!) kan ek nerens 'n Engelse boek kry nie. Eers het dit my gefrustreer tot ek in 'n boekwinkel in Bordeaux gestaan het en vir die eerste keer moes erken: respek vir die Franse Uitgewers. Hoe groot is ons Afrikaanse boekrak in Exclusive Books? Hier het hulle 'n hele boekwinkel in Frans!

  2. Marita, dilemma: do I write in Afrikaans or English? LOL, as they say.

    I've just finished your novel "Dis Koue Kos, Skat", and enjoyed it very much. Then I went to the Internet to find the infamous (?) "correspondence" between you and Riana. Another laugh for me. Your topic is hardly original. I mean, adultery and divorce is so common now, they should outlaw marriage and settle for 5 year contracts instead.I found your style as fluent as always, so WHAT if there also happened to be a film with Meryl Streep, with the same storyline? It was almost inevitable, ROFL!

    You made me laugh out loud -- and the only other writer who makes me laugh out loud is Bill Bryson.

    As a (former) writer, I could "review" your novel, but I will not. I know the toil and loneliness of the longtime writer, and to read any negative criticism in the media after all that is painful (well, my skin is easily abraded).

    An enjoyable book is a good book. I live by that.

    Ek is plat Afrikaans, maar nouja, mens skryf maar sodat almal kan verstaan. Sterkte!

  3. Wow, Zuretha, this is a HUGE compliment. My biggest ambition with this novel was to make the reader laugh out loud at least once. (Much more difficult than to make a reader cry, isn't it?) Delighted to hear I succeeded with you. Why are you a 'former' writer? I thought once a writer always a writer?

  4. Nikki, ja, respek, ek stem saam - but don't you think 700 novels all in one month is too much of a good thing?!?

  5. Is ook een van die vele wat hul storie in jou stories lees. Met die lees van " Dis Koue Kos, Skat" het ek gehoop dat daar bietjie aanvaarding daarmee saam sou kom, maar die eggo's is soms te hard.Die kassies en die kissies wat ons so noukeurig pak en toesluit, word oopgeruk en alles daarbinne val op jou voete. Miskien maak dit weer so seer juis omdat dit so naby aan die waarheid is. Ek het ook sulke geskrifte op my rekenaar gebere, maar nooit gedink ander sou kon baat vind by sulke naarword woorde nie. Jy wys net weer om verby alles ook die hardop lag raak te sien en sommer doelbewus daarna te soek. Groete MSM

  6. Dankie, MSM. Wat kan ek verder sê behalwe lank lewe humor?

  7. Ex South African living in the vaucluse, have just been given Griet skryf 'n sprokie in afrikaans which I requested and am busy reading it. It is great. Will look into your recommended books too.

  8. Hi Anonymous, not many SA expats in this part of France, so good to hear from you. Glad you're enjoying 'Griet.' Now you should also try to get hold of 'Dis koue kos, skat'. Also available in English as 'Just Dessert, Dear'. Et bonne lecture!