Mauvignier Talks Trash in France, Celery Stalks Italy, and Holland Peeps at Lost Souls
The dustbin has popped open in France this month and rendered up Laurent Mauvignier’s elegiac second novel, Learning to Finish, which details the plight of a trash collector who announces he is leaving his wife — only to maim himself in a bad car wreck on the way out. As we learn from the heroine’s monologue, she takes her hubby back in hope that nursing him to health will repair the marriage as well. Psychic debris from the war in Algeria interferes, however, and then there’s that junk heap known as the Other Woman. Critics have invoked nothing less than Stephen King’s Misery, marveling at the book’s “hypnotic structure” as it lays bare “the silence of a defunct love.” As the 34-year-old Mauvignier explained, “I write like a brute, without limits.” In fact, an act of violence hobbled his writing ability when he was 16. But four years ago, he picked up the pen and out rushed his first book, Far from Them, to which Minuit’s Irène Lindon responded within 48 hours (it was published in 1999). Though it has slipped off the top ten list, the new novel won the Wepler Prize last fall and has sold over 80,000 copies in France. Rights have been picked up in Germany (Eichborn), Taiwan (Crown), and Israel (Kinneret), with negotiations continuing in Korea and China. US rights are available from agent Georges Borchardt.
Also of note in France, the beguilingly titled And Rising Slowly Into Immense Love by former journalist and feminist-provocateur Katherine Pancol rises right into the top ten. It’s a tale of love found in — where else? — the elevator, where a man (named Mann) and woman (Angelina) discover fleeting but all-out-dizzying passion on their brief ascent between floors. Alas, she’s due to be married the next day, and much amorous intrigue ensues, the upshot being a dramatic rescue from the altar that plays into Pancol’s pointedly thoughtful consideration of nonconformity and social mores. The title, incidentally, is a line from Rimbaud. Last we heard, all rights were available from Albin Michel.
The hugely popular comic actress Luciana Littizzetto puts Italy in stitches this month with Alone Like a Celery Stalk, her new volume of “high-pitch confessions” on the plentiful perils of womanhood. Every chapter takes up a different theme, probing it from both the male and female point of view and yielding a ribald collection that is said to be “caustic, irresistible, and without modesty.” As Littizzetto puts it: “Every woman, sooner or later, looks at herself in the mirror and would like to slice her face off with a machete.” While men gain points with age, she adds, “women are more like gorgonzola.” All rights are available; see Emanuela Canali at Mondadori.
Also on tap in Italy, the flabbergasting Luciano de Crescenzo has been giving readers some Of This and That in his latest volume of pop philosophy, Neapolitan style. The book ponders the oddness of time’s passage after the protagonist wanders into a secret room where time stands still, and includes a bonus trip to the underworld of Naples, all told with Crescenzo’s trademark nonchalance. (Who else could spin the pre-Socratics as “a most likeable parcel of rogues,” as the author did in his History of Greek Philosophy?) As all Italians know, the 73-year-old Crescenzo is a former engineer whose first book sold 600,000 copies and launched a career spanning 24 titles and 18 million copies worldwide. The new one had a first print run of 100,000 copies, and at press time, no rights had been sold, according to Chiara Ferrari at the Laura Grandi agency.
All of Holland has been “peeping at stranded lives” as a sequel of sorts to Vonne van der Meer’s bestselling 1999 novel The Silence of Small Things hits the lists. The new book, The Last Boat, extends the tales of the first novel, which offered a collection of seven portraits that read as short stories, each one tracking a different visitor to an island cottage that serves as a bed-and-breakfast for lost souls: a pregnant teenager, a woman dying of cancer, and a maritally challenged couple among them. The cottage’s “cleaning woman” tidies up their lives with her “special view about hospitality,” prompting one reviewer to dub the series a “modern Book of Hours.” Both titles have been sold to Germany (Kiepenheuer) and Serbia (Prometej), and US rights are still available from Contact.
India’s abuzz over Ladies Coupe, the second novel from Bangalore-based Anita Nair, which chronicles five women as they embark on a train ride in the “ladies coupe,” as the women’s segregated compartment was known in the dark ages of gender history. Things get chugging when the fortysomething Akhila suddenly decides to climb aboard and ride to Kanyakumari, the farthest point on the map of India. The women trade tales (and also trade scathing remarks about Margaret’s “drawer-of-genitalia-in-library-books husband”) until Akhila reaches her destination and flings off the shackles of her tradition-bound family. The new one is a gender-switched counterpart to Nair’s first novel, The Better Man, an “imposing debut” with an “impact that sneaks into one’s dreams.” Rights for the new one have been sold in Spain and Holland, and others are available from Penguin India.
Shackles are also flying off in Australia this month, where the biography Nancy Wake chronicles the exploits of the Australian war heroine who was one of the Gestapo’s most wanted people, and who survived in German-occupied France working as a secret agent with the French Resistance. The 90-year-old Wake is renowned for her “casual impudence” and “film-star glamour,” and given her youthful follies, a reviewer writes, “It’s hard to resist planning the film version that must surely follow.” Fortunately, Sydney journalist Peter FitzSimons captures all the right shots: “Ever conscious of the finer things in life,” says the promo copy, “[Wake] still managed to sleep in a silk nightgown, even when camping deep in the forest.” Almost 20,000 copies have been sold, and US and UK rights are available from Curtis Brown Australia’s Fiona Inglis.
Lastly in Australia, Cecilia Dart-Thornton’s first novel The Ill-Made Mute has received a big holler from the fantasy crowd, as it plunges into the history of Scotland and Ireland to spin a tale “drawn from obscure folklore and the more secret places of the human heart.” The book opens with a “horribly scarred, mute creature” that tumbles into a series of adventures on the path to an ancient treasure. Warner will publish this one and two sequels in the US, and a deal has been sealed in the UK. See agent Martha Millard.