10 French Novels to Read Now – New York Times

THE MEURSAULT INVESTIGATION, by Kamel Daoud. Translated by John Cullen. (Other Press, $14.95.) In “The Meursault Investigation,” Daoud, an Algerian journalist, retells the story of Albert Camus’s classic, “The Stranger,” from the point of view of the brother of the nameless man Camus’s protagonist, Meursault, shoots on a beach in Algiers. In the process, Daoud gives the murdered man a name, Musa, and forces the reader to reassess Camus’s story in the context of French colonialism in Algeria and current religious politics.

THE END OF EDDY, by Édouard Louis. Translated by Michael Lucey. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.) Our critic Jennifer Senior saw a “Hillbilly Elegy of France” in this autobiographical gay coming-of-age story set in a French village in the throws of industrial decline. Louis spares his reader nothing of the brutish physical violence of young Eddy’s father and tormentors along with the relentless violence of poverty. Education is Eddy’s ticket out of this rural hell but it also seals his estrangement from those whose love and acceptance he still craves.

LADIVINE, by Marie NDiaye. Translated by Jordan Stump. (Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95.) In “Ladivine,” psychological trauma haunts the lives of three women: an immigrant black grandmother named Ladivine who works as a housekeeper, her daughter Clarisse who marries a white Frenchman and, ashamed, keeps her mother’s existence a secret from their daughter, also named Ladivine. Uncanny events, fractured memories and the constant slippage of selves unmoored by the violence of race and class twisted up in undeniable love keep the pages turning. In the end, the possibility of redemption comes from a surprising source.

SUBMISSION, by Michel Houellebecq. Translated by Lorin Stein. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25) Notorious for his cynically provocative take on contemporary French society, Houellebecq’s “Submission” hit like a bomb when it was published in France on what turned out to be the day of the deadly Jan. 7, 2015, attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. This dystopian portrait of a near-future France that, more out of social fatigue than anything else, elects a Muslim president who quickly moves to transform the country into a Muslim state is a darkly humorous book that manages to offend just about everyone.

VERNON SUBUTEX, Vol. 1, by Virginie Despentes. Translated by Frank Wynne. (MacLehose Press, £12.99.) Despentes is France’s most famous bad-girl author. A rape survivor who has worked as a prostitute and a housemaid, Despentes’ unapologetically feminist eye picks out the telling details of contemporary French society’s casual ennui and petty hypocrisies. Her “Vernon Subutex” series of novels — there are three — are critically acclaimed best-sellers in France. In Volume I, we meet the book’s eponymous hero, a fallen former record-store owner who has nothing left to his name except interview tapes of a recently deceased rock star that could be his ticket off the streets.

PETRONILLE, by Amélie Nothomb. Translated by Alison Anderson. (Europa Editions, $15.) Born in Japan to Belgian diplomat parents, Nothomb is one of the French language’s most prolific writers, publishing nearly a book a year since her debut novel “Hygiene and the Assassin” came out in 1992 when she was just 26 years old. Petronille, a frothy exploration of female friendship set in the Champagne region of France, is just the kind of lighthearted book Nothomb’s fans expect from her.


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