Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
Jemma Birrell, event organiser, Shakespeare and Company, Paris
After Virginie Despentes won the Renaudot literary prize for her juicy punk novel Apocalyspe Baby, Michel Houellebecq’s La Carte et Le Territoire won the Goncourt hiphooray and the French literary world can’t stop talking about it.
In his new book, Houellebecq is a drunken writer whose head is chopped off, and even before the prize announcement the book had sold 200,000 copies. Michel almost won this most prestigious of prizes a few times before but seemed doomed to failure. He was with French house Flammarion, strayed to Gallimard (still no prize) and then returned to the fold at Flammarion with editor Teresa Cremisi. It is also the first Goncourt Flammarion have won since 1980.
Michel has been the outcast writer the French love to hate. It was always Houellebecq the racist, Houellebecq and his mother, Houellebecq and his bad poetry. Unappreciated by his countrymen he went to live in Ireland some time ago. When his new book came, Les Inrocks magazine was the only French publication he granted an excusive interview to and its critic Nelly Kaprielian got the scoop (Nelly is the chain-smoking vixen of the Paris literary world whose book reviews are among the most respected. Read her recent piece on celebrating with Houellebecq in the Paris Review.
Now, for the first time there is only praise from the French media – Libération calls him ‘Sacre Houellebecq’. Le Monde says ‘Enfin! Finally!’ and from Les Inrocks a not so subtle word play ‘Houellebecq marks his territory’.