French writers don’t make their mark in Anglo countries

Interesting BBC article here on why French literature is so under-appreciated internationally, particularly in Anglophone countries.

I’ve often wondered this fact, too. There are some American writers who household names in France (Paul Auster, Toni Morisson, Richard Ford) but it doesn’t work the other way: there are almost no contemporary French writers that have international reputations beyond, perhaps, one or two (and even they are generally not writers that anyone outside the literary world would know). Sometimes when a French writer’s book gets made into a movie, there will be a minor blip in attention about their work, but this is usually the exception and usually only when the movie gets some attention as well in North America.

Even in my work I will mention huge French writing stars to very well-read Anglophones and they’ve never heard the name. And these are often people who know international writing, too (Murakami, Zaffon, Pamuk, etc.).

Maybe it’s that French writers are rarely part of the “New York” scene or establishment? But that can’t be right because Murakami, though well-known in that scene, isn’t really part of that world to any large degree (same can be said for many other well-known international writers). Also, I know several French writers that do live in New York and are part of that world but rarely figure on any international lists and rarely get buzzed about in North America. Maybe it’s some underlying bias that Americans and British have towards anything French (that’s wine, perfume or cuisine?). There’s something to this, perhaps.

French movies (La vie d’Adele excepted) also rarely figure into important discussions on film and haven’t for probably 20 years. Personally, I find most contemporary French cinema dullsville but I feel strongly that there is much of interest in contemporary French writing.

That said, I feel much more akin to French writers from “outside” France: Alain Mabanckou (Congo), Abdella Taia (Morocco), Marie NDiaye. But there are still some French writers that I think should be at the top of every serious reader’s list: Le Clezio, Bernard Pivot, Emmanuel Carrere, among others.

And as Marie Darrieussecq notes in the piece linked above, French writers are doing interesting biographies, crime writing, and other kinds of writing (not just novels of ideas, etc.)