It’s no secret on these pages that OVID loves French literature for it gave us Voltaire and Stendhal and Zola and Balzac and Flaubert and Sartre and the list goes on. OVID believes the world should read more of French lit and thus, starting with the top 10 French novels recently published in English, OVID brings the running list of great reads by French authors.
Jump to any of the top 10 French novels OVID recommends:
Painting Time by Maylis de Kerangal
In Maylis de Kerangal’s Painting Time, we are introduced to the burgeoning young artist Paula Karst, who is enrolled at the famous Institut de Peinture in Brussels. Unlike the friends she makes at school, Paula strives to understand the specifics of what she’s painting―replicating a wood’s essence or a marble’s wear requires method, technique, and talent, she finds, but also something else: craftsmanship. She resolutely chooses the painstaking demands of craft over the abstraction of high art.
With the attention of a documentary filmmaker, de Kerangal follows Paula’s career, which is punctuated by brushstrokes, hard work, sleepless nights, sore muscles, and long, festive evenings. An enchanted and atmospheric coming-of-age novel, Painting Time is an intimate and unsparing exploration of craft, inspiration, and the contours of the contemporary art world.
In His Own Image by Jérôme Ferrari
From Goncourt Prize-winning author Jérôme Ferrari, a bewitching story of passion, death, and love, and a powerful reflection on the ambiguous relationship between art and reality
Born in a small town in Corsican countryside, Antonia grows up in a place of deeply-rooted traditions and strong family ties. When she’s fourteen, her uncle, a priest, gives her a camera—suddenly changing the way she looks at the world and igniting a passion that will prompt her to become a photojournalist.
Human Nature by Serge Joncour
As France prepares to see in a new millennium, the country is battered by apocalyptic storms. But holed up on the farm where he and his three sisters grew up, Alexandre seems less afraid of the weather than of the police turning up. Alone in the darkness, he reflects on the end of a rural way of life he once thought could never change. And his thoughts return to the baking hot summer of 1976 when he met Constanze, an environmental activist who fell for the beauty of the countryside and was prepared to use any means to save it.
Serge Joncour’s impassioned, ambitious novel charts three decades of political, social, and environmental upheaval through the lives of a French farming family, as the delicate bond between the human and natural worlds threatens to snap.
Birth of a Bridge by Maylis de Kerangal
A fascinating story of a handful of men and women of various backgrounds and classes, who assemble around the construction of a giant suspension bridge in Coca, a fictional city somewhere in a mythical and fantastic California.
Told on a sweeping scale reminiscent of classic American adventure films, this Médicis Prize–winning novel chronicles the lives of these individuals, who represent a microcosm of not just mythic California, but of humanity as a whole. Their collective effort to complete (or oppose) the mega-project recounts one of the oldest of human dramas, to domesticate – and to radically transform – our world through built form, with all the dramatic tension it brings: a threatened strike, an environmental dispute, sabotage, accidents, career moves, and love affairs. Here generations and social classes cease to exist, and everyone and everything converges toward the bridge as a metaphor, a cross-cultural impression of America today.
Not Everybody Lives the Same by Jean-Paul Dubois
Dubois’ novel, which won the Prix Goncourt, is a captivating tale of a man reflecting on his life while serving a two-year sentence in a Montreal prison. The protagonist, Paul Christian Frederic Hansen, is a middle-aged apartment building superintendent in a luxury apartment building who has been incarcerated for an unspecified crime. His cellmate is Patrick Horton, a member of the Hells Angels awaiting sentencing for murder. While chronicling Horton’s struggles with various issues, such as toothaches, rats, bowel movements, and fear of haircuts, Hansen reflects on his own past. He grew up in Toulouse, France, with his Danish Protestant pastor father, Johanes, and his French mother, Anna, who owned an independent cinema. Following his parents’ divorce after Anna screened “Deep Throat” in 1975, Hansen joined his father in a small Quebec mining town. Hansen soon then moves to Montreal, where he takes the superintendent job and meets his wife, who is a float plane pilot. Despite bland interactions with building residents and small talk on topics like subprime mortgages, the novel builds towards the revelation of Hansen’s crime. Not Everybody Lives the Same Way is a remarkable and unconventional book that features a troubled protagonist and raises questions about the meaning of leading a dignified life.
And Their Children After Them by Nicolas Mathieu
Winner of the 2018 Goncourt Prize, this poignant coming-of-age tale captures the distinct feeling of summer in a region left behind by global progress.
August 1992. One afternoon during a heatwave in a desolate valley somewhere in eastern France, with its dormant blast furnaces and its lake, fourteen-year-old Anthony and his cousin decide to steal a canoe to explore the famous nude beach across the water. The trip ultimately takes Anthony to his first love and a summer that will determine everything that happens afterward.
Nicolas Mathieu conjures up a valley, an era, and the political journey of a young generation that has to forge its own path in a dying world. Four summers and four defining moments, from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to the 1998 World Cup, encapsulate the hectic lives of the inhabitants of a France far removed from the centers of globalization, torn between decency and rage.