Arab riposte to Camus tipped for France's Goncourt prize

5th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

France awards its top literary prize on Wednesday, the Prix Goncourt, with four books in the running including an Algerian writer's revisiting of Albert Camus' famous work "L'Etranger".

Shortlisted for "Meursault, contre-enquete" (Meursault, counter-inquiry"), Kamel Daoud's first novel picks up Camus' story from the perspective of the murder victim's younger brother, Haroun.

In Camus' 1942 novel -- translated into English as "The Outsider" -- the main character Meursault shoots and kills a man known only as the "Arab" on a beach in colonial-era Algiers.

Now, over 70 years after the fictional killing, his brother delivers a bar room monologue in which he rails against the treatment of his family's in the aftermath of the crime and how the murder marred his own life.

Daoud, 44, a journalist in the Algerian city of Oran, has said that his book has been misinterpreted by some as an attack on Camus' novel.

In fact, he says, it was intended as a homage to another of Camus' works "La Chute" ("The Fall"), in which a man reflects on his life in a series of monologues.

Published in 1956, that book was Camus' last complete work of fiction before his death four years later at the age of 46.

The annual Goncourt prize is France's most prestigious literary award and comes in a week that sees three other prizes handed out -- the Femina, the Medicis and the Renaudot.

- Literary jackpot -The winner of the Goncourt receives the nominal sum of 10 euros ($12) but can expect to see sales of around 400,000 in what is considered a literary jackpot for authors.

Sales of Pierre Lemaitre's 2013 winner "Au revoir la-haut" soared from 30,000 to 620,000, according to his publishers Albin Michel.

The Goncourt jury, which has been poring over entries since January, unveiled its shortlist of four last week.

The other three finalists are Pauline Dreyfus, "Ce sont des choses qui arrivent" ("These things happen"); David Foenkinos, "Charlotte"; and Lydie Salvayre, "Pas pleurer" ("Don't cry").

In Dreyfus's novel the writer evokes World War II through the fate of one woman, the Duchess of Sorrento, while Salvayre interweaves the voices of her mother, Montse, and French writer Georges Bernanos during the Spanish Civil War.

Foenkinos, meanwhile, pays tribute in his book to a young artist, Charlotte Salomon, who was killed at Auschwitz in 1943.

Thanks to his 2009 novel "La delicatesse" ("Delicacy"), which was made into a film starring Audrey Tautou, the 40-year-old writer is now one of France's best selling authors.

Foenkinos and Daoud are the favourites to win the Goncourt, which in keeping with a century-old tradition will be announced at Paris's Drouant restaurant.

France's packed week of literary prizes got started on Monday with the Femina, awarded by an all-woman jury to Haiti's Yanick Lahens.

Lahens scooped the French-language section of the award for "Bain de lune", a novel about three generations of the same family set against the backdrop of her home country.

Israeli author and suicide attack survivor Zeruya Shalev won the best foreign-language part of the prize for "The Remains of Love", about a mother in her twilight years who reflects on painful memories linked to her demanding father and her uneven love for her two children.

Then, on Tuesday the Prix Medicis for best foreign book went to Australian Lily Brett for "Lola Bensky", a novel drawing on her experience both as a 1960s rock journalist and the daughter of Holocaust survivors.

The winner of the Prix Medicis's main category, meanwhile, went to Antoine Volodine for "Terminus Radieux" ("Radiant Terminus"), set in Siberia in the aftermath of nuclear disaster.

The lesser-known Renaudot prize will also be awarded on Wednesday.

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© 2014 AFP

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