XCiTés: The Flamingo Book of Fresh French Writing

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9780002259392: XCiTés: The Flamingo Book of Fresh French Writing

The literary counterparts to Zidane and Desailly, to Air and Daft Punk, in an exciting collection of the fifteen best new writers in France under 40.

Ah, la belle France – Brie and baguettes, cafes and calvados, Sartre and Satie, easy existentialism and casual infidelity, Matisse and merlot, chateaux and chic little poodles… Well, yes, certainly, that’s still part of what France is about, but it’s by no means the whole story any more. Rather as Britain did in the 1980s, France has in the 1990s seemingly begun to accept and analyse, rather than resist and deny, the irrefutable fact that it is now a bubbling bouillabaisse of cultures, attitudes, faiths, languages and traditions – the increasing confidence of the beurs and all the children of immigrants has begun to make its mark culturally. For the first time since, ooh, the beginning of time, France now puts out some credibly cool and interesting pop music; its World Cup-winning national football team now has more exotically surnamed, fantastically loose-limbed players than any other; its film directors are getting less cerebral and more visceral (viz Kassovitz’s La Haine), all the great Theoreticians have been toppled from their pedestals and a political philosopher is no longer the only thing any self-respecting bright young French thing yearns to be… And all this alteration is, of course, being reflected and refracted in its literature, which – like its music – has woken from decades of barren formalism and joyless experimentalism to new life, new energy and new subjects. In short, the friendly enemy across La Manche is not the creature it was, and it’s time to take stock of that in literary terms.

So, here’s the very crème de la crème of the rising young stars of French literature, from the brutal post-feminism of Virginie Despentes via the brutally perpendicular tendencies of Michel Houllebecq to the noir thrills of Tonino Benacquista. This is a bulletin direct from the literary barricades: these are the hottest French writers now at work , but as yet unknown and unpublished in English.

Twenty-first century French literature: a sneak preview

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Review:

To anyone whose knowledge of 20th-century French literary culture is circumscribed by the grand figures of Marcel Proust, Andre Gide or Jean Paul Sartre, or by certain well-assimilated traditions of the avant-garde, this book will come as a shock: the diversity of Georgia de Chamberet's much-needed collection reflects that of modern French life, multicultural, iconoclastic, energetically variegated, shot through with attitudes of resistance and rebellion.

The witty angst of Marie Desplechin and Agnes Desarthe, the virtuoso misanthropy of Michel Houellebecq, the brutal vivacity of Virginie Despentes, the mythically inflected landscapes of Abdourahman Waberi--these, among others, demonstrate the range and vitality on current French writing. The last three pieces are, however, odd choices. An admittedly excellent extract from a film script by Mathieu Kassovitz, director of La Haine; DJ Tov's somewhat breathlessly written account of French rap and club culture, which nevertheless serves as useful background to several of the other texts; and the rather lame interview with footballer Marcel Desailly which rounds off the collection--all of which indicate an attempt to smuggle in the new writing via the Trojan Horse of popular culture. Given this perhaps over-insistence on current gallic "cool"--the implied conjunction of sex, football, and clubbing, the attitudes of rebellion and cynicism, the seeming insistence on a rupture with past literary traditions (though de Chamberet's introduction is more even-handed)--the fact remains that the most interesting selections here are those which seem to inherit and develop the radical linguistic invention of writers such as Georges Bataille, Antonin Artaud, or Pierre Guyotat, or which resonate with the thought of, say, Helene Cixous or Gilles Deleuze.

The pieces by Lorette Nobecourt and Mehdi Belhaj Kacem are quite simply extraordinary: visceral and highly inventive. Kacem's "Anteform" is probably the best account of drugged-up clubbing yet written, deliriously interfacing music, chemicals, and language in an LSD-filtered philosophy of the body.

One can only hope that this collection succeeds in persuading publishers to translate more contemporary French writing--on the evidence herein, it puts much modern British fiction to shame. --Burhan Tufail

From the Back Cover:

The very, very 'chic'est young writers from France, literary revolutionaries and recidivists alike, are gathered here to inflame you, to interrogate you and to inspire you

• Antoine de Caunes on the love-hate affair between the French and the British
• Christov Ruhn aka DJ Tov on the spirit of French club culture
• Mathieu Kassovitz’s cult film script La Haine, excerpted in English for the first time

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