NewsFrance’s Main Literary Juries Award Prizes in a Yr...

France’s Main Literary Juries Award Prizes in a Yr of Scandal


PARIS — In its first award since a pedophilia scandal revealed deep-rooted collusion inside its ranks, one in every of France’s high literary juries averted the looks of any potential conflicts of curiosity on Monday by crowning the novel of a little-known feminine writer from a small publishing home.

Judges of the Renaudot gave the prize for finest novel to Marie-Hélène Lafon, an outsider of France’s clubby literary circles. Her ebook, “Histoire du fils,’’ was printed by Buchet-Chastel, an organization with an annual catalog of about 50 works and the first-time winner of a serious award.

The jury of the Renaudot has been underneath intense scrutiny since members acknowledged rewarding the pedophile author Gabriel Matzneff within the essay class in 2013 to assist revive his profession and cheer him up. Its fierce resistance to vary has come to embody the tight grip of a longtime elite on France’s literary establishments.

This yr, like many earlier than it, the brief checklist for the prize was made up of literary insiders whose novels had been printed by main firms and whose ties to a number of of the jurors had been extensively identified. So the selection of Ms. Lafon was a secure one for a jury girding itself for criticism.

“I’m conscious that there are moral stakes at work behind all this,’’ Ms. Lafon stated after the award was introduced over Zoom due to coronavirus restrictions. “The scenario is perilous. We’re strolling on a tightrope.’’

However the selection of Ms. Lafon’s novel was applauded as a recognition of literary high quality by consultants and literature followers on social media. The saga spans a century and appears at a household secret that the principle character tries to unravel by reconstructing the family tree of his household.

The novel is “a fantastic piece of labor” from a author whose rural background has lengthy impressed her books, stated Marie-Rose Guarnieri, a bookstore proprietor and a critic of France’s main literary juries, on which jurors normally serve for all times. 20 years in the past, Ms. Guarnieri established the Wepler, a literary prize with a jury that adjustments yearly.

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However Ms. Guarnier stated she didn’t imagine the selection mirrored a profound shift within the Renaudot’s outlook. Over time, the jury has tried to deflect occasional criticism by rewarding an unknown writer from a small writer, she stated.

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“Once they start to appreciate that we will see how they work,” Ms. Guarnieri stated, “and particularly the large conflicts of curiosity that come up from this manner of choosing books, they make a giant swing within the different course.’’

Reached by cellphone, Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, the president of the Renaudot, declined to remark.

Dominique Bona, the one girl among the many Renaudot’s 9 jurors and a member of the French Academy, instructed the Agence France-Presse that her jury had change into a “scapegoat.’’ The jurors, she stated, are “genuinely impressed by the love all of us have for literature.’’

Following many years of custom, the Renaudot introduced its winner instantly after the Goncourt, France’s high prize, made its selection identified.

The prize for finest novel went to Hervé Le Tellier, a former journalist, for “L’Anomalie,” a science-fiction thriller that revolves across the double lives of passengers aboard a Paris-New York flight. It was printed by France’s most prestigious publishing home, Gallimard, which has now captured 38 Goncourt awards for the reason that creation of the prize in 1903.

Early this yr, a tell-all ebook about Mr. Matzneff led to unsettling revelations about collusion contained in the Renaudot jury. The author’s editor, Christian Giudicelli, and mates — all members of the jury — awarded him the prize for finest essay in 2013. The entire Renaudot’s present 9 jurors had been a part of the jury that yr.

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Mr. Giudicelli has been questioned in an ongoing police investigation into Mr. Matzneff’s pedophilia and has drawn criticism for the position he performed in furthering his buddy’s profession. Activists within the metropolis of Vichy have pressed him to step down from a literary jury financed by the native authorities, the place he has additionally lengthy been a juror.

“So long as Mr. Giudicelli just isn’t suspended, town is formally contemplating suspending our monetary participation within the prize,’’ Frédéric Aguilera, the mayor of Vichy, stated in a cellphone interview Monday.

The highlight on the Renaudot has additionally raised questions concerning the legitimacy of France’s different high prizes, together with the Goncourt.

Jurors serve for all times — or till age 80 on the Goncourt — and choose prize winners in a course of rife with conflicts of pursuits. None adhere to the strict requirements of Britain’s Booker or the Pulitzer in america, whose juries change yearly and whose jurors recuse themselves over potential conflicts of curiosity.

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Nonetheless, variations exist among the many high prizes, and the Renaudot suffers from probably the most potential conflicts of pursuits, with 4 of its 9 present jurors working for publishers whose books had been amongst award candidates this yr.

The Goncourt is taken into account — in France at the very least — the cleanest jury. Alone amongst high prizes, the Goncourt has carried out reforms, in 2008, that barred jurors from working at a publishing firm and created a compulsory retirement age of 80.

“What’s extraordinary is {that a} reform was essential,’’ stated Pierre Assouline, a author and juror on the Goncourt since 2012. “A battle of curiosity on this planet of enterprise is condemned straight away. However not right here.’’

The Renaudot by no means thought-about selecting up any of the Goncourt’s adjustments, longtime jurors stated. Over the previous 20 years, potential conflicts of curiosity have solely elevated on the jury.

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From 2010 to 2019, on common, practically three of the Renaudot jurors shared publishing ties with a laureate for the novel class — up from barely one between 2000 and 2009, in line with an evaluation by The New York Instances.

Although the Goncourt’s reforms had been wanting the requirements on the Booker or Pulitzer, they’d a direct affect on the composition of the prize winners. Earlier than the overhaul, prizes had been monopolized by large publishers with robust ties to the Goncourt jurors.

Actes Sud, as soon as a small writer that — on precept — has lengthy refused to permit its editors to serve on juries, had been virtually utterly shut out of the large awards for many years. However for the reason that 2008 reforms, Actes Sud has scooped up 4 Goncourt prizes, together with in 2012 for Jérôme Ferrari’s novel, “The Sermon on the Fall of Rome.’’

The monetary windfall was speedy: Solely 9,700 copies had been offered earlier than the novel made the Goncourt’s first checklist. Inclusion on the checklist helped gross sales rise to 52,000, after which they skyrocketed to 370,000 after the award.

“It’s simply reworked into a straightforward Christmas current,’’ Mr. Ferrari stated in a latest interview, referring to the recognition of prize-winning books as vacation items.

Different high juries, just like the Femina, debated emulating the Goncourt, however in the end determined towards any change, stated Christine Jordis, a Femina juror since 1996 and a longtime editor {and professional} reader at Gallimard.

Ms. Jordis stated she had led the struggle towards barring jurors from working at publishing firms, believing that her years as an editor gave her experience.

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