Help me find enjoyable contemporary French language fiction
July 15, 2009 5:20 AM   Subscribe

I live and work in France, but I almost never read for pleasure in French. Help me find enjoyable contemporary French language fiction, please.

After years of French classes, I’m fairly well versed in the classics but know next-to-nothing about contemporary French fiction or authors.

In English, I recently read and loved The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and I’ve enjoyed Jonathan Safran Foer and Salman Rushdie’s novels. Neil Stephenson, S. M. Stirling, and William Gibson's books are like candy to me. I tend to like speculative fiction, but I’m completely flexible when it comes to genre.

Given the (brief) overview of my tastes, could you recommend some French fiction that I might enjoy? Also, please let me know if you know of a good French book recommendation site – I like browsing for English-language books, but given my complete lack of knowledge about contemporary French fiction, is overwhelming rather than helpful.
posted by cimton to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps The Possibility Of An Island, Michel Houellebecq's speculative fiction novel from a couple of years ago.
posted by ninebelow at 5:28 AM on July 15, 2009

I've also heard good things about Truismes by Marie Darrieussecq but the reviews on are mixed (although I can't actually read them).
posted by ninebelow at 5:40 AM on July 15, 2009

If you like detective fiction I've heard a lot of good stuff about Fred Vargas lately.
posted by handee at 6:31 AM on July 15, 2009

I enjoyed Autoroute.
posted by mkb at 6:34 AM on July 15, 2009

Les particules élémentaires is Houellebecq's most famous novel. Another plus is that it was a huge sensation when it came out in 1998 so a lot of people you know have probably read it.
posted by dfan at 8:23 AM on July 15, 2009

I'm a big fan of Béatrix Beck. Also, if you like police procedurals, Fred Vargas knocks my socks off.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:16 AM on July 15, 2009

Based on the English translations I've read, I third Houellebecq, The Elementary Particles or Platform, and also recommend Television by Jean-Philippe Toussaint. Neither of those writers is similar at all to the favorites you list, though, at least the non-SF ones, whose common stylistic thread (to my mind) is a focus on beautiful or otherwise interesting language, arguably at the expense of accuracy and/or clarity of language, though accuracy of representation (in some sense) and clarity in communication (in some sense) are important literary "values" to all of them. I can't think of any contemporary French writers like that -- no surprise as I know very little about French literature -- but, as I imagine cimton would, I'd be really interested to hear about any that are, and also who their influences were.

As to the second part of your question, simton, I don't know French, so unfortunately I can't suggest any French-language book review sites, but there are a few English-language ones you might find useful:
  • The Complete Review, a review aggregation website with international scope: its French literature page offers a letter-graded list of mostly contemporary stuff;
  • Three Percent, a blog about literary translation: it's not very well organized, but if you do searches for "France" and "French" and browse tags like "french literature," you can find a lot of stuff
  • LibraryThing: if you sign up for an account here and enter contemporary French literature into your "library" as you read it, it'll give you recommendations on what to read next; I think Goodreads may function similarly, although I haven't used it
Best of luck finding stuff, and I hope you'll follow up here if you discover anything good!
posted by Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh at 3:37 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Solaris is the oldest French language SFF magazine. They have reviews.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:38 PM on July 15, 2009

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