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DYN-O-MITE! Horace Was Right

from the Financial Times


French novelist wins Nobel literature prize

By Natalie Whittle

Published: October 9 2008 12:16 | Last updated: October 9 2008 14:14


The novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio was yesterday awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. He is the first French writer to win the title since Claude Simon in 1985.

JMG Le Clézio, as he is more commonly known, was born in Nice in 1940, and hails from a Breton family which emigrated to Mauritius in the 18th century. A peripatetic childhood took him from Nice to Nigeria and back again to his birthplace, where he finished his studies having begun an English literature degree at Bristol university in the late 1950s.

His first novel, Le Procès-Verbal (The Deposition), published in 1963, brought him immediate recognition, winning the Prix Renaudot. It is a nightmarish, experimental vision of insanity, as experienced by Adam Pollo, a student who loses his memory and subsequently his mind.

The Nobel laureate has since written more than 30 works of fiction, non-fiction and essays, including the novel Désert in 1980, which won the Grand Prix Paul-Morand, awarded by the Académie française.

Le Clézio, who has been writing since boyhood, was first seen as a literary wildcard, though his later work has been characterised by a softer approach to content and form. His latest novel, Ritournelle de la Faim (Gallimard), was published last week and is written in memory of his mother.

Le Clézio had been tipped to win the prize but was not the favourite. The more favourable odds had been given to the Italian writer Claudio Magris and the Syrian poet Adonis.

Perennial candidates from the US, including Philip Roth and Don DeLillo, had been all but discounted from the frontrunners, after the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Horace Engdahl, last week told the Associated Press that ’’Europe is still the centre of the literary world’’.

The US, he said, is “too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.’’

Awarding the prize, the Academy praised Le Clézio as an “author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization”.

At a speech Le Clézio gave in April in Seoul at the International Publishers Congress, he championed literature’s power to cross borders and enhance cultural understanding.

To prove this point, he imagined a world in which Gutenberg had not invented the printing press. The result, he said, would be “un monde fermé”, catastrophically unjust and unbalanced.

He also speculated that if the internet had existed in the Third Reich, Hitler might have been an easy target for ridicule, and so might not have come to power.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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Posted on October 10, 2008 by Editor

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