Vive la France! Some Reading for Bastille Day

What better way to celebrate 14th of July, the Day of the Fall of the Bastille, than with some French fiction? I’ve picked three very different French writers for you, who are perhaps not quite household names (yet), especially outside their home country.  Each one has a very different style and approach to literature and life in general. Their books have been translated into English, but there are many more I could have recommended who are not yet available in translation. More’s the pity!

DelphineEng1) Delphine de Vigan: Nothing Holds Back the Night – Bloomsbury (transl. George Miller)

This is perhaps the closest to what you might expect from French fiction – moody, complex, eloquent and philosophical. It is somewhere between memoir and fiction: the autobiographical account (with embellishments and multiple interpretations) of the author’s childhood and, in particular, a portrait of her beautiful, fragile and troubled mother. A book that explores not just mental health issues and depression, family history and myth-making, but also whether we can ever truly help someone, as well as a meditation on the nature of memory, of how we construct our lives, our truths and semi-truths. Infused with some of Colette’s lyricism, yet analytical and even clinical at times, it is a book which startled, shocked and moved me deeply. I’ve reviewed it in the context of ‘bad mothers’ earlier this year. Currently available as an e-book, the paperback version will be published on the 31st of July.

Nicolas2) Goscinny (text) and Sempé (illustrator): Nicholas (Le petit Nicolas) – Phaidon (transl. Anthea Bell)

Absolutely enchanting, nostalgic trip down memory lane, when classrooms still had blackboards and chalk and children were allowed to play outside on a vacant lot. Goscinny( of Asterix and Obelix fame) captures the voice of a seven-year-old with great accuracy and charm. Nicolas and his merry band of friends set out with the best of intentions, but somehow always end up doing something naughty. A mix of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Just William, set in 1950/60s France, there are plenty of witty subtleties which will appeal particularly to adult readers. However, my children loved the books too, as well as the cartoon series and films. Unpretentious, laugh-out-loud fun with a minimum of moralizing, the books in the original language are also great for improving your French.


3) DaviBielberg-Project_cover_200x300d Khara: The Bleiberg Project – Le French Book (transl. Simon John)

Are you afraid that French literature is too ornate stylistically, too obscure or quirky in subject matter? Here is something refreshingly punchy and action-filled, but thought-provoking, to whet your appetite. It’s hard to do justice to the complex storyline, but this thriller blends memories of World War II atrocities with an account of a present day menace and manhunt. Many of the usual elements of international conspiracy are added in: an all-powerful global team, ruthless killers, betrayal of the principles of science… there are even sci-fi elements and biological experiments.  Yet the cocktail is served in a fresh and exciting way. I’ve written a review of this book on the Crime Fiction Lover website, as well as conducted  an interview with this popular young writer. The book will now be available in paperback from the 15th of July, courtesy of the hard-working independent publisher Le French Book. Since this is the first book in a trilogy, we hope that the next two translations are on their way soon


As for me, after a rain-soaked first week of the holidays, I just hope this weekend stays dry for the multiple planned fireworks displays! Bonne fête!

14 thoughts on “Vive la France! Some Reading for Bastille Day”

  1. Nothing Holds Back The Night is a fantastic read…v powerful. It was one of my books of 2013. I read it in French but bought it for my daughter in English ….she was bowled over by it . Vive la France !!!

    1. Oh, good to hear it’s got fans in both English and French – I haven’t read it in English, so can’t vouch for the translation, but hope it does justice to the very clear, yet delicate style. It was quite painful to read at times, but also luminous.

  2. Marina Sofia – Oh, those are wonderful suggestions for good reads. I have to say I really like that Le French Book is making some fine French fiction available to a wider audience.

  3. And that is why we need these independent small publishers – they are not so much under pressure to find the ‘next big bestseller’ and can offer a wider variety of work to us readers. (Although I’m sure they wouldn’t mind having a big bestseller occasionally!)

  4. I’ve just finished reading Nathan Filer’s novel, ‘Shock of the Fall’ which stylistically is very different from ‘Nothing Holds Back the Night’ but from what you say covers very similar territory. I must try and get hold of a copy of the de Vigan and see how it compares.

    1. That is on my reading list as well, and I’ve recently read ‘All My Puny Sorrows’, which is about a depressive sister – and more clearly a novel, albeit with autobiographical elements. It’s a subject I’ve had some dealings with in ‘real life’, endlessly fascinating, though desperately sad.

      1. I was searching for that in my local library catalogue only this morning, but they haven’t yet ordered a copy. It sounds so exactly what I want to read that I think I am going to have to live on bread alone this week and buy a copy:-)

  5. Nothing Holds Back the Night is fantastic. I also recommend her Underground Time.

    Philippe Besson is another wonderful French writer.

    1. I haven’t read anything else by Delphine de Vigan, but am very willing to read more. And thanks for the recommendation of Besson – I saw the film ‘His Brother’ based on his book, but haven’t actually read anything by him.

  6. I love your reviews Marina…the problem is I now have far too many of your posts saved in my ‘must read’ folder – so much to read, so little time! Enjoy Bastille Day…you’ll see my usual poem revised and rolled out again on the day 😉

    1. I know what you mean – my TBR list is endless… And I never get a chance to read all of the blogs I like. Don’t worry, I’ll be much quieter soon, when I go on holiday.

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