Du vin, du pain & a whole lot of books please.
November 28, 2005 12:36 AM   Subscribe

Good french books by good french authors?

I have this thing where I try to read books in the language in which they were originally written. While this is fine for some languages, I find that my contact with french culture is too little to know what the good stuff is. Which means I hardly ever read french, which in turn means my french is rapidly detoriating. Action needs to be taken! Can you recommend some (preferably historical, but this is by no means a restriction) novels by modern french authors?
posted by Skyanth to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Camus - Le Premier Homme. My parlayance of the tongue has also atrophied, but I can recommend that much.
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:46 AM on November 28, 2005

Historical? How about the Napoleon books by Patrick Rambaud?

Otherwise, there's always Proust...
posted by maledictory at 12:46 AM on November 28, 2005

Best answer: 'Le Comte de Montecristo' by Alexandre Dumas. Best plot ever. See also: Oldboy' (sick but great adaptation of book).
posted by NekulturnY at 12:50 AM on November 28, 2005

If comics are cool, there's Asterix.
posted by Gyan at 12:59 AM on November 28, 2005

I'll take Camus for thirty, Alex ... but gimme "La Peste", instead of Smart Dalek's choice.

/seems pretty timely these days and I'm shocked no one ever made a movie version that caught on here.
posted by RavinDave at 1:08 AM on November 28, 2005

Best answer: Just a shout out to Raymond Queneau, especially Zazie dans le métro and Exercises de Style. Not so much on the historical side of things, but funny, funny stuff -- and the French language is his plaything.
posted by trip and a half at 1:13 AM on November 28, 2005

Madame Bovary. It's really screwed up. I also always liked Hugo, especially his short stories. As for modern, hell, don't ask me...
posted by Brittanie at 1:18 AM on November 28, 2005

(Why not just read any of the wide range of online French magaines and/or newspapers? I don't wanna discourage you from great classics, but if your purpose to to maintain a working vocabulary ... it's no contest.)
posted by RavinDave at 1:21 AM on November 28, 2005

Not historical, but a marvelous book - LE MATOU, by Yves Beauchemin. (It's Quebecois, but that's only a bonus.) Maria Chapdelaine is a classic of Quebecois historical fiction - rather depressing, but it stays with you in a compelling way.
posted by Marquis at 1:49 AM on November 28, 2005

Response by poster: Just to clarify: I'm not looking for the great classics. Good contemporary books by good contemporary authors is what I'd like, and if these books are historical fiction that's a bonus. Thanks!
posted by Skyanth at 2:37 AM on November 28, 2005

Why not read contemporary books that were translated into french?
A friend read (actually re-read) Harry Potter - it was written for around the 4th grade level...his spanish improved and it held his interest.
posted by filmgeek at 3:14 AM on November 28, 2005

Best answer: Off the top of my head:

20th century lit:
Camus (especially La Peste, but anything, raelly)
Margurite Yourcenar (esp. Memoirs de Hadrien)
Jean Cocteau
Claude Simone

Madame Ba (Senegal)
Patrick Chamoiseau (Martinique)
Michael Tremblay (Canada)
George Simenon (Belgian)
Amin Maalouf (Lebenon)

Wikipedia French Lit Portal
Mme Martin
Le Monde: Livres

More popular stuff:
Marc Levy (cute stories, not at all hard to read)
Louis-Ferdinand Céline (okay, he's a classic, but read him anyway)
Anna Gavalda

I'd also suggest checking out amazon.fr to see what other people are reading right now. I see you're in Amsterdam, so I imagine there are some international newspaper stands where you could pick up Le Monde (or your paper of choice) too.
posted by asnowballschance at 3:25 AM on November 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to clarify that Yves Beauchemin is a contemporary writer (Le matou came out in the 80s). The book takes place in Montreal IIRC, following a couple, an adopted boy, a restaurant, and a rich and sinister figure who takes an interest in their lives.
posted by Marquis at 3:32 AM on November 28, 2005

Second vote for Raymond Queneau and Zazie dans le Metro.
posted by fire&wings at 4:48 AM on November 28, 2005

L'Amant, by Margeurite Duras.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:54 AM on November 28, 2005

Dare I suggest Le Petit Prince by Antoine de St-Exupéry. Comme traduction je te suggère L'histoire de Pi par Yann Martel, another Québecois author.
posted by furtive at 6:02 AM on November 28, 2005

Oooh, Duras. I didn't think of her. More good Duras: Hiroshima mon amour and Modereto Contible (sp?), both of which are among her more accesible novels. If you're into the Nouveau Roman thing, Michael Butor's La Mondification is written entirely in the second person.
posted by asnowballschance at 6:19 AM on November 28, 2005

Second vote for Raymond Queneau and Exercises de Style. One of the most enjoyable books in any language, and you can put it down and pick it up later without worrying about having forgotten the plot.

Some people seem to be ignoring the poster's very first statement, " I have this thing where I try to read books in the language in which they were originally written." No translations please!

Oh, and Simenon is gripping and highly readable.

Is anybody still into the Nouveau Roman thing?
posted by languagehat at 6:44 AM on November 28, 2005

Fourth for Raymond Queneau -- Zazie and Exercises. Also Georges Perec's Things/A Man Asleep and Life.
posted by drobot at 7:02 AM on November 28, 2005

Ah, Georges Perec! "Quel petit vélo à guidon chromé au fond de la cour?" And of course: 'La vie. Mode d'emploi'. It's historical, alright. I third 'Zazie dans le métro'.
posted by NekulturnY at 7:52 AM on November 28, 2005

Best answer: I've read all of Dany Laferriere's stuff (but only in translation -- life's too short for me to struggle through french prose.)

My favourite, Comment faire l'amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer, was written in the mid-80s shortly after he escaped his native Haiti -- he was a journalist and he decided that finding his best friend, another reporter, dead in a ditch was a sign that Papa Doc was not for him -- and emigrated to Montreal. The book is an alternately hilarious and sobering look at life as a poor black man in Montreal.
posted by docgonzo at 7:57 AM on November 28, 2005

I would like to heartily second the Simenon recommendation. He was written loads of interesting mysteries (the Maigret books) and other fiction as well (M. Monde Vanishes, Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, the Bells of Bicetre).
posted by dame at 7:59 AM on November 28, 2005

if you'll stand good french books by good czech authors, kundera wrote several (many?) of his books in french. i picked up a couple of them earlier this year, except they're in translation, and i haven't even read them, but hey, who doesn't love the unbearable lightness of being?
posted by soma lkzx at 8:16 AM on November 28, 2005

Never read it myself, but continuing a topic opened above - 'La Disparition' by Georges Perec is a 300-page novel written without using the letter 'e' - even harder in French than it is in English.

sorry, this might not be relevant to the 'historical fiction' request, about which I shall think more. Modern isn't my strong point. Second the recommendation for Kundera - he had been living in France for so long that at some point he decided to write in French.
posted by altolinguistic at 8:32 AM on November 28, 2005

Best answer: Oh, I just remembered the wonderful historical novels by Amin Maalouf: I've read Léon l'Africaine and Samarcande, as well as the nonfiction Les Croisades vues par les Arabes (I read it in English, I'm afraid), and I highly recommend him. (For anyone who doesn't read French: read the translations!)
posted by languagehat at 8:45 AM on November 28, 2005

Oops, that should be l'Africain, of course.
posted by languagehat at 8:46 AM on November 28, 2005

If comics are cool, and you want something a little hipper than Astérix, I'd really recommend Michel Rabagliati's Paul series. He's got a great style, and I find comics are useful for increasing vocabulary, learning some interesting slang, etc.
posted by ITheCosmos at 9:28 AM on November 28, 2005

Another recommendation for Georges Perec- both La Disparition and "Life: A User's Manual" (don't know the French title), and really, anything else by him... and Queneau- I haven't read Zazie but I've read a bunch of his other stuff- Le Chiendent is fantastic. Also, Jacques Roubaud and Raymond Roussel, Boris Vian, and Louis Aragon.
posted by hopeless romantique at 9:48 AM on November 28, 2005

Jacques Prevert is someone I found amusing when I was in college.

And of course, there are the classics like Voltaire's Candide.
posted by ilsa at 10:03 AM on November 28, 2005

I'll throw in another vote for Marguerite Duras.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:09 AM on November 28, 2005

Graphic novels by Lewis Trondheim.
posted by matildaben at 12:47 PM on November 28, 2005

Michel Houellebecq (guardian article).

Oh, and Romain Gary/Émile Ajar (la vie devant soi). Promise at Dawn is a memoir/bio that is quite good, too.

Of course, as mentioned above, I second Camus (La Chute!), Duras, and Hugo.

Also a nod to the rec. stating "Why not read contemporary books that were translated into french?"
posted by shoepal at 1:14 PM on November 28, 2005

Response by poster: Why not read french translations?

Because it's not a question of finding material to read. I can read french any time I want, as some people suggested, by getting Le Monde or some magazine. It's just the idea of reading writers in their original languages that I like. Part of the country's/language's culture. If I read a french translation of a book I could have been reading in its original language it would feel like a waste. I've been doing great with English, Dutch and Swedish. I'd like to add French to that list. I'll read Harry Potter in English thank you very much. :) I'd read Asterix in French but I still have all of them in dutch from when I was a kid and it would just feel a bit stupid to get them again in another language...

Please note that this does not mean that I don't read writers that write in other languages. Translations are great! I just like to do them by myself if I can.
posted by Skyanth at 1:57 PM on November 28, 2005

I second the Houellebecq, and add
_Between Life and Death_ by Nathalie Saurraute
(I've only read them in translation)

If you like the Saurraute, try Alain Robbe-Grillet. Awesome stuff, amazing.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:04 PM on November 29, 2005

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