Women In Translation – Eight French Recommendations
Seeing as it’s Women in Translation month, we thought we’d bring you something a little different.
Being aficionados of all things French at Gallic, here are our top eight French Women in Translation, with the added bonus that they are all translated by women too. We’ve compiled a list of our favourites and are delighted to present a diverse and exciting selection. Trailblazing, subversive, unmissable, French women are the unsung heroes of powerful, provocative fiction, and a must for any bookshelf.
THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG BY MURIEL BARBERY
TRANSLATED BY ALISON ANDERSON
Muriel Barbery’s second novel has sold over ten million copies worldwide, and is one of Gallic’s most iconic releases. The Elegance of the Hedgehog tells the story of Renee, the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, who hides a passionate, cultured and intellectual side, and her relationship with twelve-year-old Paloma, who plans to escape her dreary bourgeois life by suicide on her next birthday. Charming, eccentric, and intelligent, Hedgehog has captured the hearts of audiences worldwide, and is the perfect treat for anybody who has felt that they had to pretend to fit in. As you can see, The Elegance of the Hedgehog has a brand new look and will be the first in a brand new collection from Gallic Books. Watch this space!
BONJOUR TRISTESSE BY FRANCOISE SAGAN
TRANSLATED BY HEATHER LLOYD
Perhaps the ultimate French holiday read, Bonjour Tristesse is the story of seventeen-year-old Cécile and a summer in the sun-drenched French Riviera, where she enjoys the carefree attitude of her father and the beginning of her first love affair with the older Cyril. But when a woman from her past arrives and begins a relationship with her father, everything starts to change. Ultimately, Cécile’s actions will have tragic consequences. Written when Françoise Sagan was just eighteen, Bonjour Tristesse firmly cemented its author as an enfant terrible. A dazzling portrait of a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, you may not like Cécile, but you won’t forget her in a hurry.
SEGU BY MARYSE CONDE
TRANSLATED BY BARBARA BRAY
Based on actual events, Segu follows the fate of the eponymous African kingdom. In 1797, when the novel starts, Segu is vibrant and flourishing, but is soon swept up in the battle for the soul of Africa. From the East comes Islam, from the West comes the slave trade, and huge changes begin to ripple through the kingdom. The novel follows the King’s political advisor and his four sons, as their family is torn apart in the wake of the turning tides in African history. Deeply moving and thoroughly researched, Segu is a stunning feat of francophone literature from Guadeloupe’s most iconic writer.
INDIANA BY GEORGE SAND
TRANSLATED BY SYLVIA RAPHAEL
Amantine Aurore Dupin is often reduced to being the lover of Chopin, but, as her nom-de-plume George Sand, she is one of France’s standout 19th Century writers. Her most famous work, Indiana, tells the melodramatic, impassioned story of a young woman, married to a much older man, who strives against her circumstances and dares to follow her own will in a time when wives were little more than property. While modern day readers may find the absurd plot and cut-out characters off-putting, the novel functions as an emphatic plea to change the French marriage laws at the time, and George Sand’s conviction and passion remain as resonant as ever.
THE LOVER BY MARGUERITE DURAS
TRANSLATED BY BARBARA BRAY
The fifteen-year-old Duras first appears in The Lover on a boat crossing the Mekong Delta, destination Saigon. The autobiographical story unfolds as the young narrator begins a love affair with a wealthy Chinese businessman who is much older than her, bringing about irrevocable changes to both the girl and her family’s life. It is a hazy collection of memories, feelings, sights and sounds, coming together in a unique story that depicts not just a love affair, but also a picture of colonialism and the complex power relations between the young Duras and her older lover. Though it is hard to know how much of The Lover actually true, seeing as Duras herself claims ‘The story of my life doesn’t exist’, the memoir won the Prix Goncourt and has been translated into 43 languages. It is evocative, at times disturbing and thoroughly wonderful.
HAPPENING BY ANNIE ERNAUX
TRANSLATED BY TANYA LESLIE
Happening is the devastating, autobiographical tale of a 23 year old, unattached Ernaux as she desperately tries to secure an abortion at an increasingly escalating cost. In 1960’s France where the procedure is illegal, Ernaux is forced to seek desperate measures, and recounts the dangers she faced, and the trauma that resulted. Ernaux recounts her own experiences with a clinical precision that can be confronting, but this chilling memoir reminds us of the experiences of the individual that are so often forgotten in the political tug-of-war over reproductive rights.
MONSIEUR VENUS BY RACHILDE
TRANSLATED BY MELANIE HAWTHORN
Written by the notorious Rachilde, Monsieur Venus (sometimes translated to Venus as a Boy) is a highly salacious reversal of the Pygmalion story, in which a bored, high-born girl engages in a bizarre, gender-subverting love affair with a poor but beautiful boy who makes flowers for a living. Its publication in 1884 caused such a scandal that Rachilde was sentenced to two years in prison for pornography. Infamous for wearing men’s clothing, engaging in numerous love affairs, and publicly portraying a fluid, often conflicted, gender identity, Rachilde’s salacious and highly provocative work is not an easy or comfortable read, but it is certainly fascinating.
PRETTY THINGS BY VIRGINIE DESPENTES
TRANSLATED BY EMMA RAMADAN
Virginie Despentes is most famous for her Booker International listed Vernon Subutex series, but Pretty Things is a perfect introduction to her style. This darkly comic novel sees a twin tragically lose her identical sister… then decide to take over her glamorous life. A thoroughly modern take on a long-trodden trope, Pretty Things examines the traps that femininity sets for itself, and casts a scathing eye over a society that demands artificial beauty, only to punish those who cultivate it.