Twice the Trouble In France and Norway
Reminiscent of a campus novel by David Lodge, Helene Uri’s The Best Among Us presents a picture of contemporary life in the Norwegian university scene. If anyone is familiar with this setting, it’s Helene Uri. A linguist and writer, she resigned from her university job several years ago after becoming fed up with the politics and pandering necessary to get ahead in the field. This critique in the guise of a novel focuses on Pål and Nanna, researchers at the prestigious Insitute of Futuristic Linguistics, who are at work on a very large and very important project on how language will look in the future. All goes relatively well until Pål falls for the fifty-year-old professor, Edith Rinkel, whose moral compass points in a dubious direction when it comes to satiating her passion for research. She will go to any length to fulfill her goals and, unfortunately for Pål, she happens to have a penchant for young men. One critic describes The Best Among Us as “a wealth of satirical sketches…and a sparkling source of philological humor in its broadest sense.” Uri receives letters daily from academics and non-academics alike who, according to her agent, “confide in her [their] stories about intrigues, camaraderie, jealousy and envy from their workplace.” Uri reports that “I thought that I was grossly exaggerating and distorting in my novel, but the stories that my readers have given me after having read my book are by far surpassing my plot.” A bestseller since publication in June and a selection of Norway’s largest book club, the Norske Bokklubben, the novel has been well received in Norway with over 13,000 trade copies sold and another 20,000 to book clubs. Rights have been licensed to Klim (Denmark).
From the cerebral world of Norwegian academia, we move to the people’s Norway of Kjartan Fløgstad. Another bestseller from Gyldendal, Grand Manila tells the story of five families living in the author’s hometown of Sauda in western Norway during the 1950’s. Traveling through time and geography, the novel hits various moments in the lives of the local families and follows them as they travel around the world from the Finnish Civil War to the Kanawha Valley in West Virginia. The Grand Manila, the preeminent café back in Sauda, serves as the nexus for action and history. It stands as a backdrop for social change brought about by the new post-war economy. Fløgstad points a critical lens at post-industrial society in previous work as well, often siding with the oppressed and under-privileged rural family as it transitions from a provincial to industrialized life. Having won numerous awards, among them the Nordic Council Prize, the author is one of Norway’s most influential writers. Rights have been licensed to Times are Changing in Denmark. Contact Eva Lie-Nielsen (email@example.com) for information on both Grand Manila and The Best Among Us.
The turbulent mind and complex emotional life of French writer Christine Angot serves as the exotic locale in her latest novel Rendez-Vous. “Irritating, compelling, like always” says a critic, the novel stars a fictional writer named Christine Angot who bears an uncanny resemblance to the author herself. A peeve for some critics, Angot conflates her personal history with that of her characters and the lives of past figures in literature, most controversially in a group of texts written in the late 90’s in which she writes of an incestuous relationship with her father. In Rendez-Vous, Christine becomes entangled in an affair with Éric Estenoza, a charming actor who’s been obsessed with the writer for six years. They meet at a double reading where their intense connection crackles over the audience, turning the beginning of their romance into both a public and private experience. His adoration consummated, Éric hastily leaves his wife to join in a heady intellectual and emotional union with Christine. Doubts, fears, and obstacles soon confront the lovers and the novel follows the abstract paths they take to simultaneously escape and explore each lurid stage of their romance. Published in August, Rendez-Vous has sold over 30,000 copies. All rights available. For more information, contact Patricia Stansfield (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Another French writer, Jean-Yves Cendrey, reveals a similarly conflated experience of abuse and pedophilia in last year’s Living Toys (l’Olivier). After the author moves to a small French village with his wife, the renowned writer Marie N’Diaye, and his family, he finds out his children’s schoolteacher has been molesting students for almost 30 years. Sickened by his discovery, Cendrey becomes even more outraged when he realizes the townspeople are aware of the crime, but haven’t acknowledged it or even believed the victims’ stories. He takes matters into his own hands, interviewing past students, combing through records, and finally, in what became a much-publicized event in France, driving the perpetrator to the police station. Divided into three distinct sections, Living Toys describes the reality of pedophilia through memoir, fiction, and factual account. Himself a victim of abuse, Cendrey struggles with the decision to attend the funeral of his violent father in the first section, then gives a fictional account of the small town in Normandy, and finally reports on the apprehension and trial of the perpetrator (who is ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison). According to a critic, Cendrey “denounces the cowardice of adults, the indifference and silence that makes them accessories to the crime. And, also, reveals the necessity, the beauty of indignation and rage.” Contact Virginie Petracco at email@example.com for information.
Austrian author Arno Geiger won last year’s first German Book Prize with We’re Doing Well (see PT April 06) and this year, it’s possible another foreign-born writer could nab the 37,500 euro prize (for the best novel written in German). First time novelist Saša Stanišić, one of six German-language authors who has made it to the shortlist, was fourteen when his family emigrated from Višegrad, Bosnia to Germany during the Yugoslavian civil war. How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone (Random House Germany) tells a story not so different from the author’s own. The protagonist, Aleksandar, grows up in provincial Višegrad where he has a tough time keeping his imagination in check and conforming to the small town’s conventions. When the war finally arrives in the village, Aleksandar’s family flees to Germany where his knack for story-telling helps keep Bosnia alive for them. Eventually, Aleksandar returns to his childhood home and must confront the aftermath of a harsh war. With a following in Germany and Austria, Stanišić bagged the Readers’ Favorite award at the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Wettbewerb competition in 2005 and was recently named the official writer for the town of Graz. Though no deals have been signed yet, major French, British, and American publishers have shown significant interest. Five Dutch publishers are currently vying for the title and an Icelandic deal is wrapping up as well.
Following Geiger’s win last year, rights were licensed in twelve countries including China and Russia but not the US or UK. Contact Gesche Wendebourg (gesche. wendebourg@ randomhouse.de).