Similar to years past, we’re going to be featuring each of the 25 titles on the BTBA Fiction Longlist over the next month plus, but in contrast to previous editions, this year we’re going to try an experiment and frame all write-ups as “why this book should win.” Some of these entries will be absurd, some more serious, some very funny, a lot written by people who normally don’t contribute to Three Percent. Overall, the point is to have some fun and give you a bunch of reasons as to why you should read at least a few of the BTBA titles._
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A Life on Paper by Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin
Publisher: Small Beer
Why This Book Should Win: Craziest (in a fun way) French author to finally make his way into English; looks almost exactly like Kurt Vonnegut; first book from Small Beer to make the list; Edward Gauvin is one of the brightest up-and-coming translators working today.
We will have a more formal post about this book in the near future, but in the meantime, I wanted to draw some attention to Edward Gauvin’s blog, which is very interesting and includes a post on A Visit with Chateaureynaud that provides some good material on why Chateaureynaud deserves more attention—and even a prize:
Châteaureynaud had just come from signing 300 press copies of his latest book, a memoir of his early life from Grasset, entitled La vie nous regarde passer [Life Watches Us Go By].
“I lost fifteen copies,” he said. “I left them in the metro. The stockroom did a good job sealing the box up really tight, so instead of trying to open it, the police have probably blown it up by now.”
“It’s one way to spread the word… or words,” I said.
“Yes . . . you could say that book really burst onto the scene!”
Châteaureynaud’s latest work of fiction, Résidence dernière [Final Residence], had come out a few weeks earlier from Les Éditions des Busclats, a small press founded by poet René Char’s daughter, Marie-Claude, and her partner, critic Michèle Gazier. Since 2007’s De l’autre côté d’Alice [Through a Looking Glass Darkly]—three adult meditations on popular children’s heroes Alice, Peter Pan, and Pinocchio—Châteaureynaud had been experimenting with thematically linked triptychs of short stories. The tales in Résidence dernière, featuring a decrepit sphinx, a magic mirror, and a nightmarish limbo, revolve around writer’s retreats, examining such typically Castelreynaldian themes as solitude, the anxiety of creation, and the writing life. I thought the final, title story among the finest he’d written. In it, a number of aging writers, worrying over posterity, find themselves on a bus headed for a mysterious residency. [. . .]
An alcove off the dining room is stocked top to bottom with the handsome red Hachette hardcovers of Jules Verne, a few postcards and figurines propped against the gilt backdrop of their spines. In a corner of the glass-fronted armoire, among china services collected from his days as an antiques dealer, the certificate naming Châteaureynaud a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur stands rolled up in its original mailing tube. A photocopied picture was wedged between mirror and frame, above the liquor cabinet.
“Guess who it is?” G.-O. asked. A weathered-looking Vonnegut with a hat and a cane stared out from a street corner. “He does look like me, doesn’t he?” [. . .]
G.-O. said that he himself had met Borges’ friend, the Argentine fabulist Adolfo Bioy Casares, “in Nice once, or maybe Cannes. Somewhere warm.”
He’d asked Bioy Casares a question only to be met with practiced deflection. “But he was very old by then, you know; I don’t think he could’ve stood up straight without his nurses.”
I pictured the author of The Invention of Morel, one of Châteaureynaud’s favorite novels, flanked by a pair of Russ Meyer valkyries. Among the many ways in which meeting Georges-Olivier has not disappointed me is that he never plays the persona card. You have the feeling of talking to a real person who pays you the compliment of his attention and does his best to answer, an approachability almost shocking in a public figure. There is, of course, the hat and the merry air of slight befuddlement most often worn at book fairs, but even that, one suspects, is less pretense than actuality, and endearingly human.
“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“And this—what. . .
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When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .
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Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
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