Damsels In Distress
Calmel in Aquitaine, Hermann Does Damascus, And Norway’s Queen of Crime
Druids, troubadours, wenches, and the golden-haired, green-eyed Duchess of Aquitaine make for a rambunctious menagerie who all wind up in Eleanor’s Bed, a first novel that’s had ladies-in-waiting sighing all over France. This medieval coming-of-age story from Mireille Calmel unfolds in Poitiers in 1137, as young Eleanor of Aquitaine strikes up a fast friendship with her fetching new lady-in-waiting, Loanna. Unbeknownst to Eleanor, however, doe-eyed Loanna descends from a line of druids — sired by Merlin, no less — and has a few alchemical tricks of her own buried in that plunging bodice. A dizzying decade of intrigue, passion, and Crusades ends in the triumphal marriage of Eleanor to Henry, destined to be King of England. The 38-year-old Calmel, who hails from Aquitaine herself, ransacked the historical record for her portrait of fabled Eleanor (the book was five years in the making), and seems to have Merlin on her side: she was stricken with a mysterious, leukemia-like illness and pronounced hopeless at the age of eight, but fully recovered 15 years later, conquering her affliction by “living in the world of books.” The novel has been sold far and wide in Germany, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Poland, among other territories, but we’re told no deals have been made in the US or UK. See Valerie-Anne Giscard d’Estaing at XO Editions.
Meanwhile, marital discord strikes in Denmark, where Bjarne Reuter’s novel The Barolo Quartet details the jarring matrimony of thirtysomething journalist Anne and acclaimed concert pianist David. The tempo takes a sharp swerve when debonair globe-trotter Lau comes on the scene (he drops by to fix Anne’s flat tire one day), and it soon becomes clear that hubby David’s headed for a little “accident” involving a long flight of stairs. Marital musicologists take note: as Anne tells her new beau, “I get all my things back after a divorce, which means a picnic hamper, a watercolor from Hué, and Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Stan Getz.” Author Reuter is a prolific Danish literary star who has written more than 40 books, many of them for teens. Rights to the latest have been sold only to Germany (Heyne). Get yours today from Esthi Kunz at Gyldendal.
Also in Denmark, Where the Moon Lies Down by Iselin C. Hermann is a novel “of the modern Middle East stretched out between the past and the present.” Samia, an American journalist, drops boyfriend Isaac and ships out to Syria, where she was conceived while her father was stationed there as a diplomat. Before long a triangular game of fate is engaged, with the narrative passed on like a baton among the main characters, including a famous Arab Sufic musician named Jameel, for whom Samia soon has the hots. Hermann’s first novel, Priority, was considered “one of the most successful first novels in Danish literature ever,” and became an international hit published in 14 countries (including a Grove edition in the US). That one chronicled “the sensuous, poetic journey of two lovers who have never met, but are on an inevitable collision course with destiny.” Some 3,800 copies of the new one are in print, and all rights are available from Ingelise Korsholm at Rosinante Publishers.
Sweden’s insatiable thirst for mayhem has been temporarily slaked with Karin Alvtegen’s latest crime novel, Missing. Police tracking a string of horrific murders carried out by a bloodthirsty, possibly cannibalistic maniac turn up prime suspect Sibylla: a beautiful and witty young woman persecuted by the media and sent into a slough of despond as a wrongfully accused pariah. How she manages to outrun the cops and collar the killer is a “truly cunning medico-legal puzzle,” with a bonus subplot about the world of homelessness and the Swedish welfare state. Dubbed the Nordic “Queen of Crime Writing,” Alvtegen is set to be published in France (Plon), Italy (Rizzoli), and Spain (Mondadori), among other nations, and the author will be published in English for the first time by Canongate in 2003. Alvtegen’s great aunt, incidentally, was the late Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren. See Niclas Salomonsson at the Salomonsson Agency for rights.
In the Netherlands, a “compelling road novel” about one man’s travels on the seamy side of the street has been hooking readers, though it’s just below the top ten this month. Six Stars opens with Uncle Siem and faithful nephew Justus, who run a magazine about hotels in Holland. In their exploits among the nation’s hostelries, however, Siem turns into a rampant adulterer, veering from boutique bedrooms to roadside brothels and eventually turning up dead in his apartment. Alas, the good nephew’s frantic efforts to keep up appearances soon go awry. Author Joost Zwagerman has published 14 books, with several selling in excess of 100,000 copies, and critics call his work “extremely smart and well put.” About 30,000 copies of the new one have been sold, with a deal on tap in Germany. See Laura Susijn at the Susijn Agency for rights.
Further to Katarzyna Grochola’s ruthless siege of the Polish list (see PT, 3/02), we’re told her latest, Heart in a Sling, has just been published as the second salvo in the hugely popular Frogs and Angels series. The first volume, Never Again!, has now sold 100,000 copies (with rights sold to ATS in Russia, Heyne in Germany, and the Bertelsmann club in Poland), while Heart in a Sling is up to 75,000 and counting. That book extends the author’s “landscape of femininity” as inhabited by journalist-heroine Judyta, who must grapple with a topsy-turvy love life and fend off her daughter’s teenage tantrums, all while battling workaday anomie. Critics cited the first volume’s “vibrant colloquial language” and deemed it “chatty in the feminine fashion, yet not overly talkative.” (A third Grochola title on the list recently, Application for Love, is a collection of the author’s stories written for women’s magazines.) See Wojtek Wodz at WAB for rights.
And a final note from Spain, where two enigmatic love stories intertwine for the “exceptional and irresistible” title The Daydreamer by Gustavo Martín Garzo. On one hand, a young architect in Barcelona dumps his babe for his blueprints, leaving the jilted lover adrift, while on the other, the beautiful Adela is plunged into tragedy in a Castilian town in the 1930s. The hyper-literate Garzo won the Nadal Prize in 1999 for The History of Marta and Fernando, and has been praised for his “personal style, extreme sensitivity, and devotion to the world of letters.” English-language rights to the new one are open from Carmen Pinilla at the Balcells agency.