Beyond Words – Full Line-Up and Programme

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Institut français has announced an impressive line-up of author events and films screenings for the inaugural Beyond Words Live French Literature Festval.

2017 has been a busy year for translated fiction, with an exceptionally dense list of books coming out in English translation, and a flurry of European writers attending UK festivals. Amongst an unusually rich French contingent of books published this year, there are no less than four Goncourt prizes (Lydie Salvayre, Alexis Jenni, Mathias Enard and Laurent Binet) one Renaudot Prize (Delphine de Vigan), and three selections for major UK prizes (Maylis de Kerangal shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust prize, Mathias Enard and Alain Mabanckou longlisted for the Man Booker International 2017).

The Beyond Words Festival will be showcasing these works and other recent books with a relevance to France, through an entirely bilingual series of guest writer appearances, panel discussions, staged reading performances and film adaptations. The festival opens on Thursday 11 May

Venue: Institut français, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT – Info & bookings: www.beyondwordslitfest.co.uk

Programme – at the Institut français

Thursday 11 May 2017

David Bellos: Victor Hugo revisited

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is the most loved, most read and most adapted novel of the nineteenth century. Prizewinning biographer and translator David Bellos argues that it outshines even its most illustrious contemporaries— for War and Peace, Madame Bovary, Great Expectations, Crime and Punishment were all published within a few years. His talk will bring to life the extraordinary story of how Victor Hugo managed to write his epic work despite a revolution, a coup d’état and political exile; how he pulled off an astonishing deal to get it published, and set it on course to become the novel that epitomizes the grand sweep of history in the nineteenth century. This biography of a masterpiece insists that the moral and social message of Hugo’s novel, its plea for a new sense of justice, is just as important for our century as it was for its own.

5.30pm -6.30pm – £10, conc. £8
In English

The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis

“Before I had a chance to rebel against the world of my childhood, that world rebelled against me”. The festival opens with an exceptional staged reading of a book which took the French literary scene by storm. Translated into twenty languages and now into English by Harvill Secker, Edouard Louis’ The End of Eddy (translated by Michael Lucey) tells the life of a young gay boy growing up in a French town crushed by misery, alcoholism, racism and homophobia. Giving a voice to the voiceless, it is a painful and vibrant story of escape and revolt. How to reinvent what has been forced upon us? How to get the better of a life not chosen? Adapted to the stage by French director Richard Brunel, director of the Comédie de Valence National Theatre, with Henry Pettigrew in the title role, and actors newly graduated from the Manchester School of Theatre.

7pm – 8.30pm – £15, conc. £13
In English

Friday 12 May 2017

Michael Rosen: The Disappearance of Emile Zola

Discover the incredible story of Emile Zola’s escape to London in the aftermath of the scandalous Dreyfus Affair. Michael Rosen, Children’s Laureate and author of more than 140 books enjoyed by children and adults alike, offers an intriguing and personal insight into the mind, the love, and the politics of Zola in a book published this year by Faber & Faber. He will take you behind the scenes of the famous “J’accuse” that forced Zola to leave Paris in disgrace.

6pm – 7pm – £10, conc. £8

French Poetry Live

Poems are to be shared, embodied, whispered and spoken out loud, and our poetry libraries are full of fragments of wisdom and beauty waiting to be re-read. Come and bring to life an exciting selection of French poetry from the National Poetry Library’s collection, by Baudelaire, Cendrars, Apollinaire, Vénus Khoury-Ghata and more. A collective performance led by Erica Jarnes – no preparation necessary, just bring your voice and ears.

6.30pm – 7.30pm – £10, conc. £8

In English and French

Alexis Jenni and Hisham Matar: Rewriting History

To celebrate the UK launch of The French Art of War (Atlantic Books) and the French publication of The Return (Penguin/Gallimard), we welcome Goncourt prize winner Alexis Jenni and PEN America 2017 laureate Hisham Matar. Jenni’s novel spans essential decades of recent French history, from the aftermath of the Second World War in the 1950s, to the decolonisation and Algerian war of the 1970s. Meanwhile, Matar tells his illuminating journey to find his father, kidnapped and handed over to the Libyan regime in 1990, and retraces his steps to rediscover his country after years of exile. Both authors will be joined by their translators, French writer Agnès Desarthe and Frank Wynne, for a discussion on writing, generations, history and violence.

7.30pm – 9.00pm – £10, conc. £8

Corniche Kennedy
Film
FRA | 2016 | dir. Dominique Cabrera

Adapted from a novel by Maylis de Kerangal, Corniche Kennedy follows a group of adolescents from the working class neighbourhoods of Marseille who defy the laws of gravity in this ode to youthful sincerity and blue summers by the Mediterranean sea. Maylis de Kerangal has just been shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust prize for Mend the Living (MacLehose Press). Followed by a Q&A with director Dominique Cabrera.

8.40pm – 10.30pm – £12, conc. £10
In French with English subtitles

Saturday 13 May 2017

Truth and Fiction

For this special festival edition of our Café Philo, come and discuss the question of truth and fiction. In times of PostTruth and alternative realities, what do we hope for when we read fictional stories? To what extent do fragments of reality impact the imaginary quality of the narrative? What narratives and fictions seem most relevant to today’s concerns?

10.30am – 12pm – £2
In English

Emmanuelle Pagano and Ananda Devi

Join Emmanuelle Pagano, Ananda Devi and the brand new Librairie Caravanserail for an afternoon of readings and more. In Trysting (And Other Stories), Emmanuelle Pagano presents a myriad of minutely choreographed vignettes on love and desire. Ananda Devi sets Eve out of her Ruins (Les Fugitives) in her native island Mauritius, telling the loss of innocence of four teenagers against the backdrop of postcolonial fin-de-siècle. Pagano and Devi will talk about their work and the influences of other voices and art forms. The talk will be followed by a festive moment to celebrate the launch of Caravanserail.

3pm – 4pm – £10, conc. £8
In English and French

A Woman’s Life
Film
FRA | 2016 | dir. Stéphane Brizé

In this compelling adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s A Woman’s Life, Jeanne, a young noblewoman, copes with the loss of her ideals as she sets out on the path of adulthood and gradually experiences the harsh realities of a woman’s life in the nineteenth century.

4pm – 6pm – £12, conc. £10

In French with English subtitles

Mathias Malzieu: Diary of a Vampire in Pyjamas

“To have had my life saved has been the most extraordinary adventure I have ever had” says Mathias Malzieu. Best known as the lead singer of the French band Dionysos, Mathias is now also an acclaimed writer. He will join us – possibly with some music – on the occasion of the UK launch of his latest book, Diary of a Vampire in Pyjamas by Quercus. Insightful, tragic and funny, it is the memoir of one who lives to tell the tale of his close encounter with death, and of his addictive wonder at the triumph of the human spirit.

5pm – 6pm – £10, conc. £8
In English and French

Man Booker International Readings

Mathias Enard’s nocturnal and musical Goncourt-winning novel Compass (Fitzcarraldo Editions, translated by Charlotte Mandel) spans the restless night of an insomniac musicologist drifting between dreams and memories of the Middle East, of Aleppo, Damascus and Tehran, as well as of various writers, artists, musicians and orientalists. Meanwhile, Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses (Serpent’s Tail, translated by Helen Stevenson), a larger than life comic tale set in 1970s Congo, shows the struggle of a young man obsessed with helping the helpless in an unjust world. Storytellers Alia Alzougbi and David Mildon, accompanied by oud player Rihab Azar, invite you to celebrate these two novels, both longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

6.30pm – 7.30pm – £10, conc.£8
In English and French Related

Sunday 14 May 2017

Sophie’s Misfortunes
Film
FRA | 2016 | dir. Christophe Honoré

Christophe Honoré’s recent adaptation of the Comtesse de Ségur’s classic collection of stories about mischievous little Sophie will delight kids and young at heart. Far from being a model little girl, she’s constantly up to no good, cutting her mother’s fish into tiny pieces, making chalk tea or torturing her wax doll.

11am – 1pm – £5
In French with English subtitles

Hiroshima mon Amour
Film FRA | 1959 | dir. Alain Resnais

One of the most influential films of all time, Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour features Marguerite Duras’s clear, minimalist and haunting prose and revealed Emmanuelle Riva to the world as a French actress who engages in a brief, intense affair with a Japanese architect in postwar Hiroshima.

2pm – 4pm – £9, conc. £7
In French with English subtitles

Lydie Salvayre: Cry, Mother Spain

Goncourt Prize-winning Cry, Mother Spain takes us to the heart of the Spanish Civil War, as seen through the delicate transcription of a politically, emotionally and linguistically charged conversation between mother and daughter. Montse is fifteen as Franco’s forces begin their murderous purges and cities across Spain rise up against the old order. Those troubled times, both the happiest and most miserable years of Montse’s life, are set against darker extracts taken from the contemporary account Les Grands Cimetières sous la lune by Georges Bernanos. Lydie Salvayre will be in conversation with her translator Ben Faccini.

4pm – 5pm – £10, conc. £8

Delphine de Vigan: Based on a True Story

Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan is a prize-winning, sophisticated and chilling novel of suspense which continually blurs the line between fact and fiction. Just published by Bloomsbury in a translation by George Miller, this unputdownable book takes the reader into a nightmarish story of master manipulation. Rarely seen in London, Delphine de Vigan will tell us more about the boundaries between reality and fantasy, friendship and fascination, and a little too about her previous bestselling books No and Me and Nothing Holds back the Night.

5.30pm – 6.30pm – £10, conc. £8
In English and French

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Laurent Binet: The Seventh Function of Language

February 1980. Roland Barthes is knocked down in a Paris street by a laundry van. History tells us it was an accident. But what if it were an assassination? What if Barthes was carrying a document of global importance? A document explaining the seventh function of language – which gives whoever masters it the ability to convince anyone, in any situation, to do anything. Who can you trust when the idea of truth itself is at stake? Laurent Binet, author of the bestselling HHhH and winner of the Goncourt first novel prize, will be presenting this brilliantly erudite comedy, published by Harvill Secker, in discussion with British author and journalist Alex Preston.

6.30pm – 7.30pm – £10, conc. £8

In English and French

Programme – at the British Library and Dulwich Books

Dulwich Books: France Country of the Month

A discussion with Alexis Jenni, Emmanuelle Pagano, Mathias Malzieu and Ananda Devi led by British author, historian and French literary critic Graham Robb. Dulwich Books, shortlisted for the British Book Awards 2017 Independent Bookshop of the Year, celebrates France as their country of the Month this May.

Sunday 14 May
3 – 5pm – £5
Venue: Dulwich Books Bookshop
6 Croxted Road, West Dulwich
London SE21 8SW
www.dulwichbooks.co.uk

Le Grand Tour: The Best of Contemporary French Fiction

Join the crème de la crème of French authors, Alexis Jenni, Lydie Salvayre and Delphine de Vigan at the British Library, where they will showcase their newly translated works through readings and short performances.

Monday 15 May
7 – 8.30pm – £12, conc. £8

Venue: British Library Knowledge Centre Theatre
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB
www.bl.uk

Beyond Words – Live French Literature Festival

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Institut français has announced it will host a Beyond Words, brand new festival celebrating French literature. A six-day programme of events packed with guest appearances of French-language writers recently translated into English, and English-language writers who have a special love affair with France, including Delphine de Vigan, Alexis Jenni, Lydie Salvayre, Laurent Binet, Hisham Matar and Michael Rosen.

The festival opens on Thursday 11 May with a staged reading of Edouard Louis’ The End of Eddy with Henry Pettigrew in the title role. Star speakers Michael Rosen and David Bellos will talk about Emile Zola and Victor Hugo and their relevance to our times. Meanwhile, Goncourt Prize-winning Alexis Jenni, just published in English (The French Art of War), and PEN award and Pulitzer prize winner Hisham Matar, just published in French (The Return), will meet to discuss the Re-writing of History, accompanied by their translators Frank Wynne and Agnès Desarthe.

Hugely popular in France, prize-winning writers Lydie Salvayre, Delphine de Vigan, and Laurent Binet will be making exceptional London appearances to talk about their recently translated novels (Cry, Mother Spain, Based on a True Story, The Seventh Function of Language), both at the Institut français and at the British Library where a special evening on contemporary French fiction takes place on 15 May. To celebrate the 2017 Man Booker International Prize, a performance of staged and musical readings of Mathias Enard and Alain Mabanckou’s longlisted books (Compass, Black Moses) will take place at the Institut français on 13 May. Dulwich Books will also be hosting an afternoon session with festival guests on 14 May.

French poetry will not be forgotten, with an original collective live reading experience led by Erica Jarnes in partnership with the Southbank Poetry Library. Nor will philosophy, with a special session on truth and fiction. Other highlights include talks with Dionysos lead singer Mathias Malzieu who will be launching his Diary of a Vampire in Pyjamas, Emmanuelle Pagano and Ananda Devi, both recently translated into English this year (Trysting, Eve Out of Her Ruins).

There will be on-site booksellers and book signing sessions throughout the festival, as well as a special selection of film adaptations including Corniche Kennedy (Maylis de Kerangal), A Woman’s Life (Maupassant) and Hiroshima mon Amour (Duras).

Venue: Institut français, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT – Info & bookings: www.beyondwordslitfest.co.uk

Book Review: The Golem by Gustav Meyrink (Trans by Mike Mitchell)

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Labyrinthine expressionist horror novel.

A contemporary of Kafka, Gustav Meyrink was the illegitimate son of a minister of state and a Bavarian actress. Before the publication of his best-known work, he spent 20 years as the director of the Meyer and Morgenstern Bank in Prague. Clinically depressed he suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. In 1891 Meyrink stood in his apartment with a revolver in his hand fully prepared to end his life when he was distracted by a scratching sound. Crossing the room he noticed that someone has slipped a pamphlet under his door. The leaflet saved him from attempting suicide again. Promoting an occultist group the pamphlet inspired an interest in mystical teachings that would become a recurrent theme in his writings.

Meyrink’s best-known work was originally published as a serial. German director Paul Wegener helmed three cinematic adaptations. The first two of Wegener’s trilogy are now considered to be lost. Wegener’s 1920 film The Golem: How He Came into the World is a classic example of German expressionism. A restored version was released in 2011 featuring a new score by alt.rock band Pixies frontman Black Francis.

An omnibus edition of The Golem was published after the release of the first film in Wegener’s trilogy. Its initial print run is reported to have sold 200,000 copies.

Frequently compared to Frankenstein, Meyrink’s novel was inspired by Jewish literature and Prague legends of a mythical creature said to have been created in the seventeenth century by Rabbi Judah Loew. A disturbing and occasionally bewildering work which at times reads like the outpourings of a troubled mind seeking acceptance and understanding. Meyrink’s obsessions and life experiences are written into the unsettling narrative of a strange creature who visits Prague’s Jewish ghetto every 33 years and strikes terror into the hearts of its inhabitants.

Meyrink’s reputation was destroyed and career left in tatters when he was accused of financial impropriety. Maintaining his innocence he was sent to prison. His time in custody is dramatised in the novel.

Robert Irwin’s introduction draws the reader’s attention to similarities with Kafka’s work. Both authors wrote about trials, castles and Prague and were acquainted with Max Brod. Meyrink’s writing is infused with Cabalistic mysticism and is more explicitly horrific than Kafka’s work.

Meshing classic horror themes with Jewish mythology and offering a nightmarish vision of the now vanished ghetto, The Golem is a classic novel from the author regarded as Czechoslovakia’s Edgar Allan Poe.

The Golem is published by Daedalus Books.

Book Review: Moonstone by Sjón (Trans. by Victoria Cribb)

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Bjork collaborator’s potent novella is a celebration of silent cinema and elegy to the undocumented history of Iceland’s queer culture.

Born in Reykjavik, Sjón is considered to be one of Iceland’s most significant contemporary writers. Initially known to English-speaking audiences for his collaborations with Bjork which began with indie pop pioneers The Sugarcubes and continued through to her 2011 album Biophilia. More recently he contributed to the Museum of Modern Art’s Bjork retrospective. The creative partnership was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for the song I’ve Seen It All from the soundtrack to Lars von Trier’s feature film Dancer in the Dark.

Inspired by modernist poetry and the work of David Bowie he published his first collection of poetry at the age of sixteen. A high profile figure on Reykjavik’s cultural scene, in addition being an award-winning novelist, poet, playwright, and librettist Sjón was a founding member of the neo-surrealist performance art group Medusa.

Translated into twenty-nine languages, Sjón’s novels combine realism and surrealism, His best-known work internationally is the Nordic Council Literature Prize winning novel The Blue Fox.

Transporting readers to 1918, Sjón’s latest book is a mature work confirming his status as the most significant Icelandic author since Halldór Laxness. A moving and deeply affecting portrait of tumultuous times, Sjón’s complex novella rewards repeated reading. Underpinning a richly veined account of a nation confronting and being transformed by external threats is an absorbing chronicle of the nation’s largely undocumented gay culture in the early twentieth century.

Death is an ever-present presence over the course of three months that decimated Iceland’s population. Hopes are high when news breaks that World War One has ended. Officially neutral throughout the conflict’s duration, Iceland’s increased isolation precipitated a marked downturn in its citizens’ standards of living. The reopening of trade routes following the cessation of hostilities was greeted with optimism. Hopes about an upswing are soon dampened following an outbreak of Spanish Influenza.

Rapidly spreading throughout the country, the virus is thought to have wiped out 50 percent of Reykjavik’s population. Sjon’s lyrical prose recreates the horrors of the pandemic’s transmission with journalistic precision.

This chilling moment in Icelandic history is seen through the eyes of 16-year old Máni Steinn Karlsson. An anti-Peter Pan, instead of the “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” Sjón uses “The Boy Who Never Was” to tell a deeply-charged story filled with loss and transformation.

Drawing attention to the fictional nature of his lead character while ensuring the historical background is meticulously researched allows the author to draw the reader’s attention to tell a group of people that have until relatively recently been underrepresented in Icelandic literature and historical narratives.

An outsider, Máni Steinn Karlsson reflects the era and represents a challenge to its orthodoxy. Orphaned at an early age and living with his grandmother, he is obsessed about a local girl, Sóla G, and entranced by the power of silent cinema. Identifying with the lead character of classic serial Les Vampires he recognizes and embraces his status as someone who lives on society’s fringes.

A cinephile long before the term existed, he sees every film that arrives on Icelandic shores, frequently remoulding the plots within his mind as he blurs fiction and reality.

Máni is a sex-worker in an age when homosexuality was illegal and is despised by the very people who regularly pay for his services.

Dedicated to Sjón’s uncle who died of AIDs-related complications in 1993, Moonstone is a significant work from one of the most exciting writers of Nordic literary fiction. Dreamlike, unsettling, and moving. A truly unforgettable novella.

Moonstone is published by Sceptre

Book Review: Pedigree by Georges Simenon (Trans by Robert Baldick)

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Joycean novel recreates Simenon’s childhood.

Intended as the first volume of a trilogy, Pedigree stands apart from the rest of Simenon’s output. Borne out of a long-standing ambition to write an extraordinary novel and a response to a personal crisis, the prolific author’s magnum opus is a fictive redrafting of a memoir that has yet to be translated into English.

After an accident chopping wood Simenon experienced acute chest pains. Fearful that he might have broken a rib Simenon visited a radiologist in Fontenay-le-Comte. Misreading an X-ray the radiologist told Simenon that because his heart was enlarged he would be dead within two years.

For decades this misdiagnosis and the subsequent decision to write a memoir so that his son would about his lineage was an accepted part of Simenon’s mythology. Pierre Assouline’s biography claims that the spectre of death was lifted two weeks later when Simenon consulted several doctors who advised that the initial prognosis may have been due to wrongly positioned photographic equipment.

This reminder of mortality occurred during a period of renewed literary activity.

After an abortive attempt to retire Inspector Maigret Simenon sought to cement his literary reputation with a series of ‘roman durs’ (hard novels). Determined to transcend the confines of genre fiction the books written immediately after the publication of Maigret Returns were bleak studies of deviancy without the prospect of redemption.

Declining sales for the ‘roman durs’ forced Simenon to revive his most famous character. In the early days of World War II as the conflict spread to Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands he completed work on Maigret and the Spinster before being appointed “High Commissioner for Belgian refugees for the Département of Charente-Inférieure.”

Before the war Simenon had mentioned in correspondence his ambition to write a different form of novel. Contractually committed to writing three Maigret novels, he had to wait until the manuscripts had been delivered before commencing work on what was intended as his signature work. The recent misdiagnosis and France’s occupation may have preyed heavily on Simenon’s mind as he sat down to create a historical account of his family. Dedicated to his son Marc, the finished text was eventually published as Je me souviens. It remains one of the few Simenon books not translated into English.

After reading Je me souviens prior to publication André Gide advised Simenon to abandon the book and redraft all material as fiction. The revised text was published in 1948 and is an essential read to understand the biographical significance of themes prevalent throughout the ‘roman durs’ and Maigret novels.

Chronicling a family in the Belgian city of Liege during the years 1903 to 1918, Pedigree’s length, time taken to write, subject matter, and narrative structure marks it out as an atypical entry in the Simenon canon.

Simenon typically wrote in novel in seven to ten days. The writing of Pedigree represented an exorcism, possibly a painful one. In a break from his ritualised routine, it took him two years to finish the novel. A further five years would pass before it was published.

Confronting his feelings about people and a city that he had left behind in 1922 Simenon may have intended to finally purge himself from the influence of a life which continuously manifested itself through his novels.

In a repeat of the furore that greeted the publication of Je me souviens, Simenon was hit by several lawsuits from people who felt they had been libelled. Pedigree’s second edition removed offending passages and left blank spaces. The available version is sans the visibly noticeable blank spaces but has not restored the offending passages.

Simultaneously bildungsroman and a roman-fleuve, Pedigree largely corresponds with what is known about Simenon’s early life. The chronology of certain events have been rearranged while others are purely fictitious. While some characters remain relatively unchanged from their real-life counterparts others are composites, or inventions.

The absence of Simenon’s brother has provided scope for analysis by numerous biographers. Representations of Christian Simenon appear in several Maigret novels, most notably Pietr the Latvian. His exclusion is either revisionism as wish fulfillment, an acknowledgement of irreconcilable differences, or an attempt to avoid controversy concerning allegations that Christian collaborated with occupying forces during the war.

Demonstrating that Liege’s inhabitants, weather, and topography would appear repeatedly in transposed form throughout the Maigret novels Pedigree is also a portrait of influences and obsessions that remained with Simenon for the rest of his life.

Pedigree is published by NYRB.